Is 300 hp too much power for a compact, four-passenger sport coupe? Back in 1974, singer Barry White softly spoke the timeless line, "I've heard people say that too much of anything is not good for you, baby." Although White, of course, was referring to the love of a woman, nearly everyone who got behind the wheel of our Four Seasons 2008 <a href="http://www.automobilemag.com/new_cars/01/bmw/index.html">BMW</a> 135i coupe had similar thoughts about the twin-turbo six under its hood: was it simply too much for this little car?
But hang on. White's next line was, "But I don't know about that." And that was the reaction of most drivers once they'd revved, rev-matched, and redlined our 1-series: if anything, it wasn't enough. After all, as White continued, "the more you give, the more I want." Greedy bastard, just like us. Our 135i's logbook was filled with comments from staffers who first wondered if the 1-series had too much power and then, suddenly slapped silly by its absurd accelerative capabilities, wrote love letters to the engine. Case in point - after a ten-day, 1500-mile road trip, assistant editor David Zenlea got out his pen: "I am an enthusiast of the American <a href="http://www.automobilemag.com/new_cars/27/sports_cars/index.html">muscle car</a> persuasion, but I admit that the rush of the 135i's in-line six at full throttle is every bit as satisfying as that of a big pushrod V-8."
Although all of us, from time to time, wondered if the 135i suffered from powertrain overendowment, no one thought the 135i's chassis couldn't handle the Jurassic grunt. Still, everyone seemed to question whether maybe, just maybe, a 1-series really needed to be this fast. After all, it's not an M car, and in our minds, the 1-series was supposed to mark a return to BMW's traditional strengths of performance by virtue of thoughtful engineering and light weight, rather than simply the brute force of a disproportionately muscular powertrain. When our Alpine white coupe arrived, we had a hard time wrapping our heads around its design and its size. Is it too big and heavy to be called a One? Is it too small to cost what it does? One confused staffer couldn't decide whether it was "the deal of the century or the ultimate rip-off."
Compared with premium German compacts like the <a href="http://www.automobilemag.com/am/2013/volkswagen/gti/index.html">Volkswagen GTI</a> and the Mini Cooper S, the 1-series seemed overpriced and underequipped, and it lacks hatchback versatility. On the other hand, the 135i was a more practical, more powerful, and far less expensive alternative to the <a href="http://www.automobilemag.com/am/2014/porsche/cayman/index.html">Porsche Cayman</a>.
In truth, the 135i steals some thunder from all of those cars, but we soon realized that it doesn't compete with any of them. In fact, for all of the talk we once heard about the 1-series being the spiritual successor to the 2002, it's almost a dead ringer, size-wise, for the E30-chassis 3-series. The 1-series, in its taut dimensions, driving experience, and even silhouette, reminded every editor who'd ever driven a 1987-1991 E30 325i of those beloved old Bimmers. And remember - that 325i is the <a href="http://www.automobilemag.com/new_cars/01/bmw/index.html">BMW</a> that made BMW what it is today, a favorite not just of yuppies but also of keen car enthusiasts. It was seriously expensive ($25,135 in 1989, or about $44,000 in today's money) but also seriously quick and seriously well-built. Suddenly, the 1-series wasn't so hard to understand.
Nor did it seem particularly overpriced, with a sticker of $39,125 that included $3450 in extras - leather, cold weather and sport packages, and an iPod adapter. We soon regretted not ordering power front seats, however, as many drivers found the manual seat adjustments difficult to use. Complaints also flowed in almost immediately about the 135i's lack of Bluetooth hands-free telephone connectivity, which we could have specified for an additional $750. Then again, BMW's pricey options can easily shoot the 135i's sticker price well into 3-series territory.
That's not to say our car was a stripper - the 135i came standard with adaptive xenon headlights, a power moonroof, rain-sensing wipers, and a slew of advanced safety features. And, of course, the 300-hp, 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged in-line six. Even longtime critics of the Bavarians' occasionally notchy transmissions loved the six-speed manual in the 135i; copy editor Rusty Blackwell deemed it "the best BMW shifter I've ever experienced."
In fact, our logbook contained almost nothing but praise for the way the 135i drove. Great steering, powerful brakes, and smooth power - these are qualities we have admired in the current 3-series, the car upon which the 1-series is heavily based. Despite its sport package, our big-wheeled One even rode well - until you encountered a nasty bump in the road. As if the progressive bump stops were mistakenly omitted on our car, the 135i suddenly would run out of wheel travel, crashing over potholes and pavement seams and transmitting a horrifying whack to the cabin. "I hate this suspension," cried senior Web editor Phil Floraday. And that was months before he hit a double-whammy sequence of classic Detroit road craters severe enough to blow the left front tire. "I momentarily panicked since there was no shoulder on the road," he recalled. "Then I remembered those run-flat tires we've been complaining about forever - it turns out they work great. When I was able to pull over, I inspected the rim. It seemed fine, so I carefully drove home with no air in the tire."
The tire needed to be replaced, of course, but otherwise, our 1-series spent very little time in the shop. In fact, besides one unscheduled visit to the dealership to proactively replace a low-pressure fuel pump, the <a href="http://www.automobilemag.com/new_cars/01/bmw/index.html">BMW</a> entered the service bay only once more, after it asked politely for an oil change - which was covered by BMW's free maintenance program.
The 1-series wasn't always polite in its demands, though - Zenlea commented that "this car likes to chime. It chimes when you open the door; it chimes when you insert the key. My favorite was when it chimed to tell me I needed to buckle up the turkey sandwich I had placed on the passenger seat." But then, his butt warmed sufficiently by the seat heaters that he and everyone else agreed "set the standard," Zenlea saw the bigger picture: "Whereas BMW's propensity for mining niches is baffling in some cases (read: the X6), the 1-series is a bull's-eye, letting loose distilled BMW goodness into a price bracket where nothing can quite compete. And even though the interior is pretty bare bones for $39,125, it feels impossibly more luxurious than that of our $41,515 <a href="http://www.automobilemag.com/am/2014/mitsubishi/lancer/index.html">Mitsubishi Lancer</a> Evolution MR."
So our 135i was completely reliable, cost us nothing to maintain, and drew unanimous praise for its "absolute dream" of an engine. It attracted loads of attention from admirers and felt "awesome, with M-worthy levels of power and tight, precise steering," reveled senior editor Joe Lorio. Our resident skeptic, technical editor Don Sherman, said it "exceeds the adult daily requirement for powertrain and chassis sweetness and purity." And New York bureau chief Jamie Kitman, who drove the 135i back to his Hudson River hideaway from this year's Detroit auto show, found it "hard not to like the 1-series, which I'd take over a 3-series."
So what's the kerfuffle about having too much power? Well, we roasted the rear summer tires in about 12,000 miles, so we obviously enjoyed every last bit of the thrust. The only problem is that we've all driven the 128i. It rolls on smaller wheels and tires, giving it a more supple ride and much greater resistance to bottoming out. It also costs about $6500 less, leaving lots more room in the budget for gadgets like Bluetooth, power seats, and navigation, which, for 2009, comes with BMW's vastly improved iDrive system.
Most important, the 128i's 230-hp, normally aspirated 3.0-liter engine is more than powerful enough even for the Leadfoot Department at 120 East Liberty Street, and it sings the same sweet in-line six-cylinder song. We're still not sure if there is such a thing as too much power, but we all agree that there can never be enough of that classic BMW music coming from under the hood.
4-yr/unlimited-mile roadside assistance
15,548 mi: $0
5696 mi: Replace low-pressure fuel pump, per service bulletin
16,909 mi: Purchase, mount, and balance four Pirelli SottoZero run-flat winter tires, $956Recalls
Observed 21 mpg
Cost per mile
(Fuel, service, winter tires) $0.20
($0.77 including depreciation)
Prices & Equipment
Price as tested
ABS; traction and stability control; xenon adaptive headlights with retractable washers; rain-sensing wipers; aerodynamic kit; power windows, mirrors, locks, and sunroof; cruise control; trip computer; auxiliary audio input; front, side, and side curtain air bags
Leather, $1450; cold weather package (ski bag, heated front seats), $600; sport package (sport seats, M steering wheel, shadowline trim), $1000; iPod and USB adapter, $400
*Estimate based on info from kbb.com and edmunds.com
| 2008 128i || || 1989 325i |
| $30,150 || price || $25,135 |
| || || |
| || Dimensions || |
| 4/2 || Seats/doors || 5/2 |
| 172.2 x 68.8 x 56.0 in || L x W x H || 170.2 x 64.8 x 54.3 in |
| 104.7 in || wheelbase || 101.2 in |
| 58.3/59.6 in || track F/R || 55.4/55.7 in |
| 3252 lb || weight || 2811 lb |
| 10.0 cu ft || cargo capacity || 14.3 cu ft |
| 35.1 ft || turning circle || 34.4 ft |
| || || |
| || Drivetrain || |
| DOHC 3.0L I-6 || engine || SOHC 2.5L I-6 |
| 230 hp @ 6500 rpm || Horsepower || 168 hp @ 5800 rpm |
| || || |
| 200 lb-ft @ 2750 rpm || Torque || 164 lb-ft @ 4300 rpm |
| || || |
| 10.7:1 || Comp. Ratio || 8.8:1 |
| 91 octane || Fuelgrade || 87 octane |
| 6-speed manual 6-speed automatic || Transmissions || 5-speed manual 4-speed automatic |
| || || |
| || Performance || |
| 6.1 sec || 0-60 mph* || 8.5 sec |
| 130 mph || Top Speed* || 130 mph |
| 18/28 mpg || EPA mileage || 16/22 mpg (under 2008 procedures) |
| || || *per manufacturer |