BMW doesn't usually do retro. But the new BMW 1 Series, a spiritual successor to the now iconic 2002 coupe, comes pretty close. As the company's entry-level model, the 1 Series is meant to evoke the same passion that the 2002 did. That nimble and unassuming coupe caught America's attention in the late 1960s and '70s but gave way to larger and plusher models in successive decades. While BMW has certainly never lost sight of its "Ultimate Driving Machine" mission statement, it's the 1 Series that most closely reflects the company's roots.
Available as a coupe or convertible in the United States, the 1 Series features a traditional front-engine/rear-drive blueprint that is sure to delight purists or those just wanting an affordable way to get into a premium-badged BMW. Falling neatly between the Mini Cooper and its 3 Series brother in terms of price and size, the BMW 1 Series is a thrilling little car that strikes a balance between sports car and luxury coupe.
Current BMW 1 Series
Though the BMW 1 Series is the company's least expensive model, it's hardly an underperforming stripper. The base-model 128i comes with a naturally aspirated 3.0-liter inline-6 producing 228 horsepower. The performance-oriented 135i comes equipped with BMW's impressive turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-6. It produces 300 hp and 300 pound-feet of torque. Both engines come with a six-speed manual as standard equipment, but the optional automatic differs based on engine. The 128i gets a traditional six-speed automatic while the 135i has a seven-speed dual-clutch automated manual known as DCT.
In the convertible, a fully automatic cloth top stores underneath a hard tonneau cover. Beyond engines, the 135i differs from its less powerful sibling due to its aero body kit, 18-inch wheels and sport suspension. The last two items are optional on the 128i, though. Both models also offer a bevy of luxury items normally available on BMW's pricier offerings.
Measuring 171.7 inches in length and 76.1 inches in width, the 1 Series checks in about 8 inches shorter and 2 inches narrower than the 3 Series coupe. The rear seat is strictly for two, and how often it gets used depends on how large and how forgiving potential rear passengers are. There's not a lot of space in back, so it's almost better to consider the 1 as having a 2+2 seating arrangement -- especially the convertible.
The BMW 1 Series' handling is simply superb. Precise steering combined with a well-balanced chassis make the coupe and convertible feel right at home on a freeway or a serpentine road. Body roll is minimal, and overall grip on models fitted with the Sport package will win approval from all but the most hard-core enthusiast drivers.
The 135's twin-turbo inline-6 engine is incredibly versatile and offers an intense slug of power and acceleration without any perceptible turbo lag. And although this top-of-the-line powertrain seems to get most of the attention, most people will find the 128i more than adequate for their daily commutes. But no matter which 1 Series you choose, you're in for a good time.
Used BMW 1 Series Models
The BMW 1 Series was introduced for 2008. For its first three years in production, the 135i's engine had the same output as the current 3.0-liter inline-6, but was in fact a different engine, featuring twin turbochargers instead of a single twin-scroll turbocharger. Performance was similar, but fuel economy was 3 mpg less efficient. Prior to 2011, the 135i's optional automatic was a traditional six-speed. Besides having slightly different styling prior to 2012, other changes were restricted to the features list. Buyers should at least note that the first-year 1 Series when equipped with navigation had an older, less user-friendly version of BMW's iDrive electronics interface. We would avoid it.
Although it was new to the North American market for 2008, the 1 Series actually debuted for the European market in 2004 as a hatchback. But this isn't the first time in recent years that BMW has introduced an affordable entry-level car to North America; a 3 Series-based two-door hatchback, called 318ti, was sold from 1995 to 2000. It suffered from poor reviews and slow sales, and likely influenced BMW's decision not to offer the hatchback version of the 1 Series in the U.S. market.
Read the most recent 2013 BMW 1 Series review.
If you are looking for older years, visit our used BMW 1 Series page.