Who says you can’t appease the slushbox-loving American public while still providing some manual control over gearchanges? Those skeptics likely haven’t driven a properly tuned dual-clutch gearbox, like the one in this 135i. For 2011, BMW dumped the six-speed automatic option in the 135i, and instead pairs this seven-speed doppelkupplungsgetriebe to the new, single-turbo N55 engine.
In normal driving, the seven-speed transmission is just as smooth and benign as any other automatic offered in BMW’s portfolio. Tap the shifter over into the manual mode and punch that sport button, and its demeanor quickly changes. You’ll be ripping off shifts in less time than it takes to blink an eye, thanks in no small part to the wheel-mounted shift paddles thrown in with the Sport Package.
Is it for everyone? Perhaps it isn’t for those who must heel-toe their way in to work (you know who you are), but it’s a great choice for those of us who regularly encounter long stretches of stop-and-go driving on a daily basis, live with someone who doesn’t enjoy performing the three-pedal tango each time they take the wheel, yet still enjoy holding gears until redline when an open, winding stretch of two-lane blacktop presents itself. Even the price is attractive; it’s only a couple hundred dollars more than what the Bavarians charged for the six-speed auto. Sign me up.
Evan McCausland, Web Producer
The 135i’s new seven-speed dual-clutch transmission mates beautifully with the new single-turbo in-line six. As Evan McCausland notes, this gearbox rips off upshifts with incredible speed and ease. I was amazed by how fast the 135i accelerates: hit the hammer from a stop on a two-lane road and you’re hurtling along at 80 or 90 mph practically before you can utter “B-M-W.”
That said, I think I would still prefer my 1-series with a manual. I like smaller cars like this to have a manual, and my bigger cars, like the 5-series, to have an automatic. I just can’t shake that bias. But for all the reasons Evan lists, I can completely understand why someone else might want their 135i with this new dual-clutch gearbox.
Joe DeMatio, Deputy Editor
Holy alacrity! The 135i isn’t the fastest car I’ve ever driven, but it sure can move briskly. Paired with the new seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, the 135i executes upshifts with the sound of a pressurized click rather than BMW’s old sequential manual gearbox’s clunk. And the engine noise was sweet enough that it’s worth rolling the windows down even on a muggy day.
Even with a dual-clutch transmission, though, I would bet that manually rowing through seven gears in the daily grind becomes tiresome. I got into the 135i after reading the recent announcement by Mercedes-Benz that it’s capping future transmissions at nine forward speeds. Seven is already a lot.
I haven’t driven a 1-series equipped with a manual gearbox, but based on how smooth this dual-clutch is in real-world driving, it certainly merits a look.
Jeff Jablansky, Associate Editor
The seven-speed gearbox in this 135i is one of the best executions yet of dual-clutch technology. It provides all the things we already love about these gearboxes — lightning-quick upshifts and speedy downshifts — with none of the herky-jerkiness that plagues other dual-clutches in daily driving. Still, it doesn’t approach the involvement of a traditional manual transmission. Particularly in a little car this powerful, there’s nothing better than dumping the clutch, steaming away from a stoplight, and catching more rubber in second. No, you won’t be as fast as the dual-clutch and its computers, but you’ll have more fun.
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor
The great thing about the 1-series is how BMW has managed to imbue it with all the performance of the 3-series but give it a smaller package at a theoretically lower price. I say theoretically because I was taken aback when I looked at the sticker of this car and saw that it comes in at $42,500. Yes, the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic is a paragon of engineering, allowing you to zip through the gears seemingly instantaneously. And the 300-hp turbo six is an engine almost without peer. However, I can’t help but think that if I wanted that powertrain, I’d opt for it in the larger, more practical 3-series.
Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor
As I wrote in my first drive of this car a couple months ago, BMW’s new dual-clutch transmission is bad news for stick shifts. The DCT is so good that only people who really, really, really want a manual gearbox aren’t going to pay the extra $1575 for the seven-speed DCT (especially on a car that, as Amy points out, starts out precariously close to $40K anyway). Not only is the 1-series superbly well balanced and wonderfully trimmed, the coupe is also a really nice cruiser when you open the huge sunroof and the windows at 60 mph or so on a balmy summer evening — it’s not nearly as windy in the cabin as most cars but still lets in lots of fresh air and impressions of openness. There’s little reason to buy the convertible with a sunroof like this. Especially when it still allows you to hear that glorious powertrain sound track.
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
2011 BMW 135i coupe
Base price (with destination): $36,925
Price as tested: $42,550
3.0-liter inline 6-cylinder engine
6-speed manual transmission
Dynamic stability control
Dynamic traction control
Four-wheel disc brakes with ABS
Xenon adaptive headlights with auto-leveling
Heated dual power mirrors
Tire pressure monitoring system
AM/FM stereo CD/MP3 player audio system
Auxiliary audio input
Adaptive brake lights
Options on this vehicle:
Premium package — $1950
Universal garage door opener
Power front seats
BMW assist with Bluetooth connectivity
Sport package — $1100
Sport steering wheel with paddle shifters
Value package — $0
iPod and USB adapter
7-speed dual-clutch transmission — $1575
Comfort access keyless entry — $500
Heated front seats — $500
Key options not on vehicle:
Navigation system — $2100
Active steering — $1550
Satellite radio — $350
Harman/kardon surround sound system — $875
18 / 25 / 21 mpg
Size: 3.0L turbocharged I-6
Horsepower: 300 hp @ 5800 rpm
Torque: 300 lb-ft @ 1200-5000 rpm
7-speed dual-clutch automatic
Curb weight: 3373 lb
18-inch aluminum wheels