2008 BMW 135i: Change of Heart on the Track
January 19, 2009
On Friday I told you about my efforts to trash our 2008 BMW 135i's tires on the Big Track at Willow Springs. Today I'm telling you that I'd really like to buy and modify a 135i for my personal track-day use.
In stock form, this coupe is as quick as I'd need it to be. In fact, after taking a few laps in our 135i, my instructor, who races a stock-class 135i, said it was no slower than his race car. (Removing the backseat took weight out of the race car, but putting in the rollcage put it back in, apparently.)
Complementing that speed is pretty decent gas mileage: I got a consistent 12 mpg out of the 135i in 230 miles on the track. That would be terrible on the street, but it's about as good as I'd ever hope for during track use.
Our 135i is also very stable through high-speed turns, which describes nearly every turn on the Big Willow course. I'd want to stiffen up the suspension for use on tighter, more technical tracks, but the factory state of tune really isn't that bad. And the ride up to Willow was just fine.
I kind of wish our 1 would take attitude more readily like our E46 M3. But the 1's less oversteery, less personable nature probably makes it safer for someone like me to handle at high speeds... ah, well, maybe that's true, but there's gratification to be had in catching and manipulating a slide, too.
I really like the driving position in our 1 Series coupe -- both for comfort and visibility -- whether I'm on the track or driving to or away from it. The steering wheel, which seems a half-size smaller than the 3 Series wheel, feels just right.
However, the optional power seats with no lateral bolstering have got to go. My left knee got bruised from a day of bracing against the driver door. If I had this particular 135i, the driver seat would be dumped for a Recaro something or other in a hurry.
I'm also getting tired of BMW's rubbery shifters. Our 330i had one, the M3 has one and our 135i has one. They are not that positive. They are not that precise. It's the kind of thing I can put up with, but it's not ideal.
The poor FM reception in our 135i is another annoyance. My favorite LA public radio station usually lasts all the way to Lancaster, CA, but in the 1, it had cut out by Santa Clarita, making it impossible for me to catch up on the morning news. I shouldn't have to buy a satellite subscription just to listen to the radio.
These issues are a nuisance, but somehow the BMW 135i tugs at my heart a little. At $37K and 3,400 lbs, it's not exactly a simple, affordable car. But I like that it's BMW's smallest, cheapest, most unassuming rear-drive, six-cylinder car. I like that it feels just as OK on a road course as it does on the open highway. And something tells me it'll be cheaper to keep up than an E46 M3.
Erin Riches, Senior Editor @ 16,363 miles