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2008 BMW 128i Convertible Review



2008 BMW 128i Convertible

It may be hard to believe at this late date, but in the early 1960s BMW was a faltering manufacturer of baroquely-styled luxury cars and small sedans and coupes powered by flat-twin engines derived from the motorcycle division, which supplanted the single-cylinder Isetta microcar. The "New Class" of sedans, which debuted as the 1.5-liter 1500 in 1962, saved the company and spawned a line of sedans, coupes, and convertibles that brought BMW to its present position in the automotive world.

The boxy New Class sedans were technologically advanced for their day, with overhead cam, cross-flow engines when most manufacturers were still using pushrods and had the intake and exhaust ports on the same side of the cylinder heads, and fully-independent suspension when solid rear axles were the norm. Front disc brakes were another advance over the standards of the day.

But the New Class sedan, even with a two-liter engine, didn't make much of an impression in the American market. The two-door 1600-2 of 1966 got a bit more notice, but it was not until the 2002 of 1968 that BMW became a major player in the sports sedan world, and cracked the US market.

The 2002 was developed principally for the US market, as early emissions laws denied entry to the high-performance 1600ti. Solution? Drop the big (relatively) engine into the small car... and with 100 smog-legal horsepower, the 2002 had nearly as much as the 1600ti's 105, with more torque. The 2002 had acceleration, braking, and cornering abilities equal to or better than any similarly-priced two-seat sports car of the day, and even some costing considerably more, yet held four people and plenty of luggage in comfort. It wasn't the first sports sedan, but it was quickly the best-known.

What happened to the 2002? By the mid-1970s its styling, dating from a time when Germans doted on the original bathtub Corvair, was wearing out, not helped at all by massive add-on bumpers. 1976 was the last year, and it was then replaced by the 320i. The 3-Series is still going strong, although the 3 cars have grown larger and more expensive over the years.

Which led to a need for a smaller, entry-level BMW. That car was the 1-Series, and it made its European debut in 2004, in hatchback form reminiscent of the 2002 Touring. (Which never officially came to this country.) Now the 1-Series is here, in coupe and sedan body styles, with the 3.0-liter six-cylinder engines from the current 3-Series.

Forty years, same game plan - big engine in a small car. Yes, the 1-Series is larger and heavier than a 2002, but the plan still works. Depending on the model, the 1 is four or so inches shorter than a current 3-Series in wheelbase, eight inches less in length, and several hundred pounds lighter - with the same power. The 128i has the naturally-aspirated 230-horsepower engine of the 328i, while the 135i has the 300-hp twin-turbo mill from the 335i.

I owned a 2002, very used, 25 years ago, and I've spent the past week with a 128i convertible. The two aren't really comparable - automotive standard have risen considerably in the past 40 years - and the 1, while small by today's standards, is larger, much better-appointed, and over 1,000 pounds heavier than the 2002. It's also quicker, faster, and better-handling, with similar fuel economy. The two cars do share a giant-killing, joy-to-drive character, and that is the most important legacy left by the 2002.

APPEARANCE: In coupe or convertible form, the 1-Series will be immediately recognized as a BMW. Disregarding the blue-and-white roundels, the twin-kidney grille and sculpted body lines could be nothing else. BMW styling has been simplifying, and so there is less clutter on the 1-Series's surfaces than on the current 3- or 5-Series cars. The strong horizontal shoulder line is the only styling aspect that could possibly be seen as homage to the 1600/2002. The Convertible looks good with its cloth top up, and even better with it down.

COMFORT: Don't expect the 2002's flat vinyl seats and large, non-adjustable plastic steering wheel or optional (and generally not worth the trouble) air conditioning in a modern BMW, 1-Series included. The 128i can be as fully-equipped as any other contemporary Bimmer, and the cloth top is fully-automatic, just hold the button at any speed below 25mph, no manual latching needed. Expect multi-mode air conditioning that works well, good leatherette or real leather upholstery, a manually tilt- and telescope-adjustable, leather-trimmed, thick-rimmed steering wheel, available power seat adjustment (except for manual cushion length - and few other manufacturers give you cushion length adjustment at all) and the support, comfort, and good instrumentation to make the driver's office a fine place from which to conduct the seriously enjoyable business of driving. The instrument panel has the single-brow design of older BMWs, not the current 3-Series double-brow, so if the navigation system is specified, as in my test car, the screen pops up from the center top of the IP. That also means iDrive, which has been simplified over the years so as to be relatively intuitive - or I've driven enough iDrive BMWs to be used to it. Both the coupe and convertible are two-door cars, but rear accommodations are far more than "+2" afterthoughts, and access is easy and painless thanks to control buttons of the front seatbacks to move the front seats forward. There is reasonable space for two people. I haven't seen the 1-Series coupe trunk, but the convertible's is actually useable with the top down, something that can't be said of quite a few small (or even large) convertibles available today.

SAFETY: BMW 1-Series Convertible passengers are protected by multi-stage front and front seat-mounted side airbags as well as seats and headrests designed to reduce injury from rear impact. A roll-over sensor deploys twin roll bars from behind the rear seats if imminent rollover is suspected. The windshield surround also protects in the even of a rollover. For active safety, Dynamic Stability Control is standard equipment, as are strong antilock disc brakes and excellent handling characteristics.

RIDE AND HANDLING: The 2002 established BMW's reputation for handling, and the 1-Series follows in its footsteps with a rigid chassis with the engine in front, driving the rear wheels, and fully-independent suspension developed from the seminal New Class MacPherson struts in front and semi-trailing arms in the rear. It's front double-pivot struts and multi-link rear now, for better control with much wider, stickier tires and far more power, and it works very well. Add the optional Sport Package, with upgraded wheels and performance tires and firmer springs and shocks, for a true sports experience.

PERFORMANCE: The 128i Convertible is the slowest member of the class, and it can hardly be called "slow". It weighs nearly 3600 pounds, but with 230 horsepower (at 6500 rpm) and 200 lb-ft of torque (at a low 2750 rpm) it's still far quicker and faster than any 2002, even the ultra-rare factory Turbo. Speaking of which, if you want turbo, the 135i speaks turbo, twin, with 300 forced-induction horsepower and 300 lb-ft of torque. My test car came equipped with the optional six-speed automatic. Which proved a non-issue, as in D in everyday driving it was one of the best I've used. Wick it up a bit, and it still did well in semi-sports driving, thanks to the engine's broad torque band and the transmission's smooth, quick shifting. In more serious driving, use manual mode, via the lever on the console or the paddles on the steering wheel. With large, vented disc brakes at all four corners, it stops as well as it accelerates.

CONCLUSIONS: The BMW 1-Series isn't Return Of The Son of 2002, it's better. Time marches on.

2008 BMW 128i Convertible

Base Price			$ 33,100
Price As Tested			$ 46,895
Engine Type			dual overhead cam 24-valve inline
Engine Size			3.0 liters / 183 cu. in.
Horsepower			230 @ 6500 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)			200 @ 2750 rpm
Transmission			6-speed automatic with manual-shift mode
Wheelbase / Length		104.7 in. / 172.2 in.
Curb Weight			3571 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower		15.5
Fuel Capacity			14 gal.
Fuel Requirement		91 octane unleaded premium gasoline
Tires				Goodyear Eagle NCT5
				f: 205/50R17 89W, r: 225/45R17 91W
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc / vented disc; ABS, 
Suspension, front/rear		independent double-pivot strut /
				 independent multi-link
Drivetrain			front engine, rear-wheel drive

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		18 / 27 / 21
0 to 60 mph				7  sec

Cashmere Silver Metallic paint			$  475
Cold Weather Package - includes:
  through-loading system, heated front seats,
  headlight washers				$  750
Premium Package - includes:
  universal garage door opener, digital compass mirror,
  auto-dimming mirrors, power front seats, 
  lumbar support, BMW Assist			$ 3,600
Sport Package - includes:
  17" wheels with performance tires, sport seats,
  sports suspension, shadowline trim		$ 1,200
Sport steering wheel with paddles		$   100
Steptronic automatic transmission		$ 1,275
Comfort Access System			$    500
Xenon headlights				$   800
iPod and USB adapter				$   400
Navigation system				$ 2,100
HD radio					$   350
Satellite radio					$   595
Premium  hi-fi system				$   875
Destination charge				$   775