The 1-series is the smallest BMW, but there’s nothing cut-rate about it. Its engine offerings mirror those of the larger 3-series on which it’s based. Not surprisingly, the driving experience is similar to that of its larger sibling, which is to say it’s pretty much above reproach. OK, the ride can be harsh, particularly with the optional sport suspension and the available eighteen-inch wheels and run-flat tires (seventeen-inch wheels are standard). Otherwise, there’s plenty to love here, starting with sublime steering (provided you avoid the optional active steering), a beautifully balanced rear-wheel-drive chassis, and very good performance. The base straight six in the 128i is smooth and strong, but the 300-hp turbocharged version makes the 135i a rocket. The 135i, for example, zooms to 60 mph in as little as 5.0 seconds with the available seven-speed dual-clutch automatic. A sweet-shifting six-speed manual is standard in both the 135i and the 128i; the 128i’s no-shift option is a conventional automatic with eight speeds. As good as this car is to drive, its popularity doesn’t approach that of the 3-series. There are a couple of reasons for that. Unlike the 3-series, the 1-series is available only as a coupe and a convertible, and back-seat space is tight. Second, although the 1-series is smaller than the 3, it doesn’t get appreciably better gas mileage — mostly because it uses the same powertrains. And the 1-series isn’t a whole lot cheaper, either. Although the 1-series is a blast to drive, that’s pretty much the case for the 3-series as well.

Drive: Rear-wheel
Trim levels: 128i, 135i
Body styles: Coupe, convertible, 4-passenger
Engines: 3.0L I-6, 230 hp, 200 lb-ft
3.0L turbo I-6, 300 hp, 300 lb-ft
Transmissions: 6-speed manual, 7- or 8-speed automatic
Passenger volume: (coupe/convertible)
82.0/78.0 cu ft
Cargo space: (coupe/convertible) 10.0/8.0 cu ft

Tuned to perfection by BMW’s M performance division, the 1M coupe is a very special car that arrived midway through the 2011 model year and blew our minds. But BMW said from the get-go that the 1M coupe would be a one-year-only model, and indeed it does not return for 2012. Fewer than 1000 were imported, and if you can find one lingering in the back corner of a dealer’s lot somewhere, stop what you’re doing and buy it right now.

Dual front, side, and side curtain air bags (except in the convertible); active head restraints for the front seats; traction and stability control; and ABS with panic brake assist are standard. Adaptive xenon headlamps are included on the 135i and optional on the 128i. BMW Assist, with automated crash response, is optional.

All: 18-20 mpg city/25-28 mpg highway

  • Fantastic steering
  • Tidy size
  • Very quick (135i)
  • Ride can be harsh
  • Fuel economy not great
  • Priced similarly to 3-series

The smallest BMW still packs a punch.

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