What's New for 2008
The 1 Series is BMW's all-new entry-level car available in coupe and convertible body styles.
Few brands have grown more than BMW in the past 25 years. That growth can be seen in their sales figures and the vehicles themselves. Today's 335i is larger than 1986's 535i, for instance, and it certainly sells in much greater volumes. This trend toward bigger and heavier has altered the brand's lineup to the point that there's now room for a cheaper, smaller entry-level car. Stepping boldly into the gap is the 2008 BMW 1 Series.
The 1 Series already debuted in Europe earlier this decade as a four-door hatchback, but that body style's limited appeal to American shoppers prevented its journey across the pond. With the introduction of new coupe and convertible body styles, however, BMW believes the timing is right for a small car revival.
With their compact two-door bodies, high-performance engines and scalpel-sharp handling, the 2008 BMW 128i and 135i are arguably the spiritual successors to BMW's classic 2002 coupe. Yet the 1 Series features many of the modern high-tech and luxury features that have become just as much a part of BMW during this decade as the raw driving experience. Some features like active steering and navigation with iDrive are dubious in terms of value, while others like keyless ignition/entry, premium hi-fi stereo and the convertible's heat-reflective leather seating are welcome niceties in a small car.
The 1 Series coupe is 8.7 inches shorter than a 3 Series coupe and a bit narrower as well. Though its front engine, rear-wheel-drive configuration is pretty unpopular in this size category because of its lack of space efficiency, BMW reckons its layout has unique appeal to people who care more about driving than carrying passengers. As such, the 1 Series comes with the same engines as the 3 Series: a 3.0-liter, 230-horsepower straight-6 for the 128i and a twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter six good for 300 hp in the 135i.
Paying between $29,000 and $38,000 for a small coupe may seem shocking, but it's important to remember that this is a car without any real apples-to-apples competitors. Compared to this finely tuned sport coupe/convertible, potential rivals are either too big (Infiniti G37), have front-wheel drive (VW Eos), are too mechanically different (Mazda RX-8), are more an unrefined muscle car (Ford Mustang GT and even Shelby GT500) or don't offer the same high-quality interior (all of the above). The 135i can even hold its own against more expensive cars like the Porsche Cayman or BMW's own Z4 Coupe, meaning that as a pseudo sports car, the 1 Series can actually be seen as a value buy with a pinch of practicality and under-the-radar performance.
Therefore, the 2008 BMW 1 Series is a car like no other that may have a limited audience, considering its size and price. But for that money, it's hard to think of a car that brings as much performance, handling and refinement in a package that's still fairly user-friendly -- except for maybe all those BMWs of yore.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2008 BMW 1 Series is available as a compact coupe and soft-top convertible. Both come in 128i and 135i trim levels. Standard equipment on the 128i includes 17-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlights, a sunroof (coupe), cruise control, rain-sensing wipers, leatherette premium vinyl upholstery, a tilt-telescoping leather-wrapped steering wheel and a 10-speaker stereo with CD player and an auxiliary audio jack. The 128i convertible adds a power-operated soft top and an upgraded climate control system.
The 135i trim level comes with a more powerful engine, a sport-tuned suspension, 18-inch wheels, xenon adaptive headlights and automatic climate control. To make the 128i similar, there's that model's Sport Package, which features different 17-inch wheels, performance tires, the 135i's sport suspension and sport seats. The 135i Sport Package includes the sport seats and an M sport steering wheel. The Premium Package adds auto-dimming interior and exterior mirrors, upgraded interior trim, mood lighting, BMW Assist, Bluetooth, leather upholstery and power front seats with driver memory. Popular stand-alone options include active steering, keyless ignition/entry, a navigation system with iDrive controller, rear parking assist, HD radio, an iPod interface, satellite radio and a premium audio system. Heated front seats are also available by themselves or in a Cold Weather Package.
The 1 Series convertible's options list includes the Moonlight Black soft top, which includes shiny metallic fibers that produce a metallic silver appearance in sun- and moonlight. The convertible's optional leather upholstery also features BMW's exclusive sun-reflective pigments, which the company claims can lower the seat surface temperature by up to 20 degrees.
Powertrains and Performance
All 1 Series send their power to the rear wheels. The 128i is powered by a 3.0-liter inline-6 that produces 230 hp and 200 pound-feet of torque. The 135i features a turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-6 making 300 hp and 300 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed manual is the standard transmission, while a six-speed automatic with manual shift control is optional. Expect 0-60-mph times in the low 6s for the 128i and in the low 5s for the 135i. Fuel economy estimates are 18 mpg city and 28 mpg highway for the 128i coupe and 17/25 mpg for the 135i coupe. Opting for the convertible and/or an automatic transmission decreases fuel economy only by a mpg or two.
The 2008 BMW 1 Series comes standard with antilock disc brakes (with brake drying and standby feature), traction and stability control and start-off assist for manual-equipped cars. Front-seat side airbags and full-length side curtain airbags are standard on the coupe, while the convertible features front seat side airbags that extend higher to protect the occupants' heads. The convertible also features pop-up rollover hoops.
Interior Design and Special Features
The 1 Series features four seatbelts, but how many get used depends on how large the front passengers are and/or how forgiving potential rear passengers are. There's not much legroom in back -- especially the convertible -- but most small coupes suffer from less-than-welcoming rear quarters, so the 1 Series is certainly not damned in this regard. In fact, the 3 Series coupe doesn't really offer much more head- or legroom.
Despite being the cheapest BMW sold, the vehicle's interior materials are consistent with its larger and more lavish siblings. This little car may be expensive, but you pay for quality to match. The 1 Series convertible, for instance, offers optional sun-reflective leather seating. Also like those siblings, the overall design is a little bland, but certainly functional and unfettered. Ordering the navigation system also brings BMW's infamous iDrive control interface, which many people find exasperating to use.
Whether in coupe or convertible guise, the 2008 1 Series is a pure BMW, feeling just as confident and adept at carving a serpentine strip of pavement as its larger siblings. Body roll is minimal, and overall grip on models fitted with the sport package is superb. This isn't a mini M3, however, as BMW engineers tuned the 1 to be comfortable enough for daily use and built in some understeer to prevent rear-wheel-drive neophytes from spinning their highly powerful first BMW off a cliff. As such, the 1 Series (135i especially) is the perfect "training Bimmer" for aspiring driving enthusiasts -- it's docile enough for just about anyone to drive, yet still has the excellent suspension tuning and telepathic steering to please even the most ardent track-ready pilots. And with 300 hp going to the rear wheels, it's still possible to hang the tail out for a little muscle car hooliganism.
Having said that, it's a safe bet that most owners will find the less-powerful 2008 BMW 128i plenty quick for their daily drive. With an estimated 0-60-mph time in the low 6-second range, the 128i is certainly no slouch, even if the 135i gets all the headlines. And with 300 hp and 300 lb-ft of torque, those headlines will be filled with exclamation marks. The car's twin-turbo straight-6 engine is incredibly flexible, delivering strong power in any situation with no discernible turbo lag. (The torque peak is maintained from 1,300 rpm all the way to 5,000 rpm.) Yet whichever 1 Series you choose, you're assured of a fun time.
Read our BMW 135i Long-Term 20,000-Mile Test