Well, here it is: the long-awaited return of a small, focused driver's car in BMW's North American lineup. For a long time, the 3-series was considered a part of that group, but it, like most other cars, has grown larger with each new generation. While the current 3-series is still compact by American car standards, it's not as petite as it once was.
Enter the 1-series. The dimensions and footprint cast by this new model are more in line with BMW's famous 2002 of more than thirty years ago. Like the 2002, the American market will be getting the two-door coupe version of this 1-series (three- and five-door hatches exist in other parts of the world, and a convertible is coming soon). The 1-series, available as either 128i or 135i, will be on sale in the spring of 2008.
The 128i is powered by the same 3.0-liter inline 6-cylinder engine that we know and love in the 328i. That engine moves the larger, heavier 3-series with ease, so it should prove to be quite quick in the diminutive 128i. For people that find "quite quick" not good enough, the 135i should satisfy: it will downright haul ass. Cramming lots of power into small cars has worked wonders for decades, and this application of that philosophy will be no different. BMW claims that the 300-hp twin-turbo 3.0-liter six-cylinder 135i can accelerate to 62 mph in 5.3 seconds and on to a limited top speed of 155 mph. We think that time is a bit conservative, and won't be surprised to see zero-to-sixty times below five seconds.
By now, most people have formed strong opinions regarding modern BMW styling. This car will be no different in its ability to turn heads either from admiration or contempt. Some surfaces and styling details are a bit fussy and bulbous, but the overall proportions look right to us - the long-wheelbase and short overhangs emphasize the 1-series' bulldog stance. Like other Bangle-designed BMWs, wheel choices are critical in affecting the overall appearance of the car, and the 1-series looks best when fitted with optional wheels that completely fill the fenders. As always, we'll reserve our final judgment until we see the car in person.
In contrast, the only complaints from people about in the interior of the car will be about the dreaded iDrive. Luckily, the much maligned interface remains an option that is bundled with a navigation system. Techies will be excited to know that all the usual audio and communication options are available, including satellite radio and Bluetooth connectivity. In addition, a USB port for controlling an iPod or iPhone is an option. All in all, the cabin should be a very nice place to spend time, providing that snug comfortable feeling that only a small car can give; a feeling akin to slipping on your favorite sweater.
We have driven European-spec 1-series cars on European roads, and found them to be great fun - although not without their faults. We look forward to driving the new coupe - especially the 135i - on domestic soil. While there's little question that it will be a hoot to drive, the jury is out on whether the American car-buying public will warm up to its small stature and firm ride. Then again, they loved the 2002, and it shared those qualities.