You'll Like The 2011 BMW 1 Series If...
If your mom or dad had BMW's 2002 while growing up, or you had one while in school, the 1 Series is a valid successor, delivering a tight, tidy package and a more nimble footprint than the bigger 3 Series. Without that point of reference, the 1 Series will succeed for its on-road dynamic, quality of construction and reasonable - albeit not great - fuel efficiency. Also, if you're a fan of convertibles with soft tops, this is where you find it; BMW's 3 Series has gone to a convertible hardtop.
You May Not Like The 2011 BMW 1 Series If...
Even in its 128i guise, this is not an inexpensive purchase. You pay a real premium - $30,000 plus - to enjoy the benefits of BMW badging and rear-wheel drive. For those with an affection for front-wheel drive platforms, VW's GTI, Audi's A3 or Acura's TSX deliver far more bang - and arguably more style - for your automotive buck. And while not in the same segment, a V6-equipped Mustang delivers 300+ horsepower and 30 miles per gallon for a well-equipped price of under $25,000.
Most notable update for 2011 is under the hood of the 135i, which receives a new 3.0 liter in-line six. Although horsepower and torque (300/300) remain the same as in 2010, the peak torque is now achieved at a low - make that very low - 1,200 rpm. The 135i also receives the 7-speed Double Clutch Transmission as an available option, while the 128i continues with its optional 6-speed Steptronic.
In our view the 1 Series interior, while tightly drawn, is everything a BMW interior should be. While a base of over $30,000 should deliver - we think - leather as standard (or provide you with the option of cloth), the leatherette is both durable and easy to clean. You'll be pleased by the gauge layout, well-considered ergonomics and contemporary design which - ten years from now - will still look well executed. The rear seat should be regarded as little more than temporary seating for full-size adults, although it's much more expansive than your boss' 911. We'd note that the available sport steering wheel is one of the nicest contact points available anywhere, at any price. Finally, headroom on the convertible is virtually unlimited...
Although described as one of the most refined applications of BMW's "flame surfacing," we're not sure that the end result works any better than those applications which were unrefined. In short, the 1 Series - at least in U.S. Coupe and Convertible spec - is an abbreviated footprint onto which the design team has attempted to project traditional proportions familiar to a U.S. consumer. While the end result works well enough (and we think the best perspective is the rear three-quarter view), we wish BMW would bite the bullet and give us the 3-door and 5-door variants of the 1 Series. Those we'd describe as refined - and still unavailable stateside. For drop-top fans, the 1 Series is undeniably cute, which may (or may not) be a good thing.
At track day events hosted for automotive media, the 1 Series Coupe may not represent the latest or greatest in automotive sheetmetal, but you wouldn't know it from the people waiting in line to drive it. The car is an absolute blast on a winding piece of asphalt, and if everyone on that asphalt is going in the same direction, so much the better. The 135i, of course, is the most entertaining, but we like the balanced approach taken by the 128i (as well as a window sticker that's significantly less), and think that it most successfully channels the spirit of BMW's 2002. And while all iterations of the 1 Series will handle well, equipping your choice with the Sport option would seem to be the best blend of logical thinking and emotional strategy. You only live once, you know...
The 2011 BMW 128i Coupe has a Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) of just over $30,000. With metallic paint, leather interior and the M Sport package, the MSRP is slightly less than $35,000. In contrast, a similarly equipped 135i will add a $7,000 premium, and drop-top fans should expect to pay close to $38,500 (and you thought sunshine was free!). BMW typically offers some sort of finance incentive, as well as a competitive lease program for those that qualify. Be sure and check kbb.com's Fair Purchase Price for a better idea of what consumers pay in your market area. And take satisfaction from the historically good resale for BMW's smaller, more enthusiast-oriented models.
Most notable - in a driver's view - is an in-line six fitted to the 1 Series' standard spec. Whether normally aspirated or with BMW's TwinPower Turbo, the smoothness and flexibility of BMW's iconic six will spoil you for other drivetrains, especially at the 128's low-$30,000 price point. Beyond what's under the hood, we'll give a shout-out to what's behind the driver - a rear seat available to close friends or family. With an almost perfect 50:50 distribution of mass, the fact that the 1 Series can accommodate four is utterly amazing. In tougher economic times the best economy car is one car capable of doing most things, and that summarizes a 1 Series perfectly.
Among the typical sprinkling of options for the 128i are two Sport packages, both of which take an already sporting platform and sharpen it. The base Sport offering ($1,300) provides a sport suspension, a staggered tire size (205/50 front - 245/45 rear), an increased top speed limiter and sport buckets providing more bolster. The M Sport ($2,450) takes all of the above and adds an aggressive aero kit and M Sport steering wheel. Either choice provides entirely too much fun for a relatively small amount of coin. Stand-alone options are fairly predictable, and include navigation, Harman Kardon surround sound stereo and smartphone integration. On the 135i, the available DoubleClutch transmission is a huge gain for the performance enthusiast.
While we're hard-pressed to describe the 1 Series Coupe or Convertible as "near-luxury," that seems to be where the market perceives them to be. And in that context an in-line six is still very unusual in the segment, and very premium in its operation. The TwinPower Turbo, of course, gets the big ink, but we'd be happy with either the 135's turbo or 128's normally aspirated. And with the 128's base engine needing an additional second to get to 60, we'd leave one second earlier.
BMW Ultimate Service
You've written the big check (or financed the big number), and you simply want to sit back and enjoy the ownership process. BMW's Ultimate Service makes that possible, covering all (ALL) maintenance for the first four years and 50,000 miles of your ownership. From oil to brake pads to wiper blades, if it wears out or needs replacing, it's covered. And it's awesome!
Under the Hood
The smoothness of the 128i's normally aspirated, 3.0 liter engine is to die for, and with its 230 horsepower it comes close to matching what Ferrari was offering in the 308 less than 30 years ago. As noted, the TwinPower Turbo is undeniably more powerful and flexible, but we're not sure it's worth the $9,000 premium - unless you plan to use it. Regardless of engine or transmission, the enthusiast will find the powertrain soul-stirring, while the daily commuter will find it eminently tractable and - given its performance envelope - extremely efficient.
3.0-liter in-line 6
230 horsepower at 6500 rpm
200 lb.-ft. of torque at 2750 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 18/28
3.0-liter in-line 6 Turbocharged
300 horsepower at 5800 rpm
300 lb.-ft. of torque at 1200 - 5000 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 18/25 (automatic), 20/28 (manual)
Although the 1 Series Coupe received its stateside launch (early 2008) prior to the global economic downturn, its spec and - to a degree - its pricing seem tailor-made for a motoring public moving to more efficient transportation while attempting to hold on to what we used to regard as motoring fun. All iterations of the 1 Series - Coupe and Convertible/128i and 135i - make for a compelling argument from a driving standpoint, while one might argue (and we will) that the savings afforded by the 135i is minimal when compared to its 3-Series stablemate.