The 2013 BMW 1-Series is part small luxury coupe, part sports car, and if you're okay with a tight interior and a sometimes-frustrating iDrive, you'll find happiness.
The smallest model in BMW's U.S. lineup, the 1-Series, continues mostly unchanged, as anticipation builds for a replacement due next year. Despite its age on the market, the 1-Series remains one of the most impressive entry-level luxury sports cars on the road. And in the meantime, there's new excitement in the lineup this year: a more performance-focused 2013 135is model that follows up on the excellent limited-edition 1-Series M Coupe.
Unlike the M, the 135is, as with other 128i and 135i models, can be had in Coupe or Convertible models, and it gets a higher-output, 320-horsepower version of BMW's excellent turbocharged in-line six, plus a special tune for the stability control, as well as a sport suspension, 18-inch wheels, and various feature extras.
Otherwise, both the 128i and 135i share similar styling, and are available in coupe and convertible form. It's a well-proportioned coupe, with crisp and clean detailing that still manages to fit in with the rest of the BMW lineup. Inside, the 1-Series can feel a bit drab, with its functional but overly simple dashboard and center stack, plus predominantly black finish in base configuration, and more plastic than you'd expect from a luxury car. For a price, you can change this with all sorts of trim improvements.
You're probably not going to look at the 2013 BMW 1-Series for flat-out practicality--although if you're weighing it against a traditional sports car, it may impress as a better daily driver. Whichever version of the 1-Series you're looking at, it's quite comfortable and easy to use--provided you're not thinking about using the back seat too much. Laid out like 2+2s more than true four-seaters, the 1-Series Coupe and Convertible models offer plenty of comfort up front for adults, with the rear seat best left to kids. Trunk space is quite good, though.
With the 128i generating 230 horsepower from a naturally-aspirated 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder engine, and the 135i adding a twin-scroll turbo to bump things to 300 hp, there's never really any shortage of power in either of these models. Both standard 1-Series models are fun and quick cars, with snappy reflexes balanced against excellent ride quality; get the 135is if you're willing to sacrifice just a little more comfort in the name of sizzling performance. The 128i can be ordered with either 6-speed manual or automatic transmissions. The 135i offers the 6-speed stick or a 7-speed dual-clutch.
The 2013 BMW 1-Series has a good list of safety features, but like many luxury vehicles and sports cars, it hasn't been crash-tested by either of the U.S. programs. Front, side, and side-curtain airbags are standard, as are ABS, traction control, stability control, tire-pressure monitoring, and daytime running lights. And although rearward sight lines can be blocked by the headrests, the rather thin roof pillars, low beltline, and generous glass space all help outward visibility.
Bluetooth connectivity, keyless entry, cruise control, rain-sensing wipers, power accessories, steering wheel-mounted controls, and HD Radio capability are all standard on the 2013 BMW 1-Series models. In addition to all of their performance upgrades, the 135is adds xenon headlamps, retractable windshield washers, power front sport seats, an M Sports multi-function steering wheel, automatic climate control, and a special anthracite headliner to the feature set.
And throughout the lineup, there's plenty of room to upgrade; options range the gamut from high-grade leather and wood inside to tech like BMW's iDrive infotainment and a heated steering wheel. All in, the 1-Series can feel like a true luxury ride. The one thing to beware of when outfitting your ultimate 1-Series, however, is how quickly the price tag can rise as the extras pile on; a loaded 335is can top $52,000, and at that price point you'd better like the 1-Series more than the 3-Series or any number of more exclusive sports cars.