Expert review written by the Kelley Blue Book vehicle review editorial team.
Make no mistake: The smallest member of BMW’s family is still a BMW. This pint-size 4-seater packs a powerful 6-cylinder punch and the razor-sharp driving dynamics made famous by its bigger 3 Series sibling, all at a price that’s more welcoming to buyers entering the luxury segment.
You'll Like The 2012 BMW 1 Series If...
If, within the vast menu of the new-car market, you prefer your automotive calories "straight up," the 2012 1 Series is your machine. Front engine, rear-wheel drive, fully independent suspension and enough options to skew your order either "luxe" (leather) or "loud" (BMW performance exhaust), the 1 Series presents itself as completely appropriate to your automotive aspirations, and no one else’s.
You May Not Like The 2012 BMW 1 Series If...
The 1 Series, in either Coupe or Convertible guise, is about as simple in spec as an automotive purchase can get. That won’t, however, mask its cost of engineering, manufacture and transportation to the U.S. In short, if "driving dynamic" means little or nothing to you, you’ll probably find a better transportation alternative at an Acura, Audi or (even) VW showroom.
The 2012 1 Series is given little more than minor tweaks. The most notable update in 2011 was under the hood of the 135i, when it received a more responsive version of the tried-and-true 3.0-liter in-line six. At the same time, the 135i received a 7-speed Double Clutch automatic transmission (optional), while the 128i continued with an optional 6-speed Steptronic automatic. The most significant change on the 2012 BMW 1 Series landscape is the discontinuation of the 1 Series M Coupe. Its limited production run is marked "Sold."
Nissan once suggested that its Xterra SUV had "everything you need, nothing you don’t." Much the same descriptive could be applied to the 2012 1 Series Coupe and Convertible. These are interiors drawn for the motoring athlete, and while upgrades – notably leather and wood trim – are available, they remain largely irrelevant for those with an interest in the 1 Series as a driving instrument. For them, the available sport bucket seats and M Sport steering wheel are the only necessary or appropriate upgrades.
Moving into the 2012 model year, this specific collection of compound curves is nearing the end of its production cycle, and while the simple, unadorned form doesn’t reek of planned obsolescence, neither is the sheet metal so fresh or original as to suggest "classic." The 1 Series’ architecture suggests a "shrink-to-fit" approach, but we appreciate a footprint that remains a tossable alternative to the ever-larger 3 Series.
With reasonably light curb weight, an almost perfect 50:50 weight distribution and a choice of responsive powertrains, the 2012 1 Series Coupe and Convertible provide an entertaining envelope of spirited performance, dynamic handling and reasonable efficiency. As with most cars and SUVs in the BMW lineup, BMW’s smallest entry is well-connected to the road via its principal touch points: steering, braking and acceleration. Of course, the most exhilarating is the 135i Coupe, but an argument can be made for the better balance of the 128i. And if you live near a beach, or have access to scenic roadways, going slower with a top down is a viable alternative to tickets – or jail time.
When ordering, should you wish to build on the 128i’s sporting intent you can do so with little more than the Sport package and metallic paint. With transportation the Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) of that combo would be under $34,000. Similar equipment on the 135i Coupe would bring the price to just below $42,000. For those wishing to take their BMWs with open air, the price rises faster than the tops will drop, with the 128i Convertible starting at around $38,000, and its more powerful 135i variant starting at under $45,000. If thinking to spend over $50K on a 1 Series Convertible you’d be well served to consider a CPO (Certified Pre-Owned) 1 Series or 3 Series drop-top as a more affordable alternative. Be sure and check kbb.com’s Fair Purchase Price for a clear idea of what consumers pay in your market area. And if you consider the cost of ownership and what you pay less what you receive at trade-in, you’ll be glad to know the 1 Series is among the top in its category for residual (retained value) performance.
Most notable – in a driver’s view – is an in-line six fitted to the 1 Series’ standard spec. Whether normally aspirated or turbocharged, 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.
Were we building our own 2012 1 Series, we’d opt of one of two Sport packages. At a relatively low ($1,300) cost of entry is the base Sport package, providing a firmer suspension, staggered tire size, an increased top-speed limiter and sport buckets (with more aggressive bolster). The M Sport ($2,450) takes the above additions and supplements them with an aggressive aero kit and M Sport steering wheel. (Given the simplistic mechanical menu of the 1 Series Coupes, we’re inclined to leave ours cosmetically stock.) Of course, for those wanting to stay connected to both the road and the world around them, BMW Connected Drive affords you a host of technologies, all within the reach of a thumb.
In-line SixWhile 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. BMW’s 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 ServiceYou’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 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
BMW’s in-line six is legendary, and has been a signature ingredient of small BMWs (in the U.S.) for some 25 years. For those finding the classic, normally aspirated recipe most desirable, the 128i synched to the standard 6-speed manual transmission is your well-developed answer (a 6-speed automatic is available as an option). And while its 230 horsepower and 200 lb-ft of torque may be duplicated by its eventual replacement, a 2.0-liter turbocharged four, the silky smoothness of an in-line six will never be replicated by anything other than an in-line six. In the next 135i, the six will probably be retained; as with most automakers, however, BMW’s drive to efficiency will eventually trump any further attempts at engineered nostalgia. The 2012 135i’s 3.0-liter in-line 6-cylinder engine transmits 300 horsepower through a 6-speed manual or optionally available 7-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission.128i Coupe and 128i Convertible:3.0-liter in-line 6230 horsepower at 6,500 rpm200 lb-ft of torque at 2,750 rpmEPA city/highway fuel economy: 18/28, 18/27 (Convertible with automatic transmission)135i Coupe and 135i Convertible:3.0-liter in-line 6 turbocharged300 horsepower at 5,800 rpm300 lb-ft of torque at 1,400-5,000 rpmEPA city/highway fuel economy: 20/28 (Coupe with manual transmission), 19/28 (Convertible, manual transmission), 18/25 (automatic transmission)
Good enough to even to make some 3 Series buyers think twice, the 2012 BMW 1 Series Coupe and Convertible remain relevant to any number of BMW enthusiasts, as well as younger buyers wanting an easier entrée into the joy of driving. And you can enjoy the 1 Series as aggressively as you care to, with an entry-level 128i offering 230 horsepower for just around $32K, or the more expressive 135i delivering 300 ponies for roughly $8,000 more. Finally, drop-top variants are also offered, at price points roughly $5,000 higher. If an address ending in "Ocean" is within an hour’s drive, you should consider the 1 Series Convertible. And sunscreen.