2008 BMW 135i: Interior Design and Quality, or, BMW Qua Star Pupil
March 05, 2009
Let's settle this once and for all, people: the 1 Series interior is a step down from the 3 Series. As it should be -- the 1 is, after all, BMW's entry-level car. But I'm tired of hearing that the 1 and the 3 have comparable interior design and quality. They don't, and here's proof.
First, the lead photo. Bryn posted a similar shot awhile ago, but she was talking about the wood trim strip. This time, let's talk about that random four-inch-wide chunk missing from the end of the dash, which a 3 Series would not be caught dead with. As I wondered in a comment on Bryn's post: "Maybe this is the interior equivalent of flame-surfacing? Or maybe this dash was originally intended for a car that was four inches narrower? Or maybe German passengers have really long right femurs?"
Now let's talk dash materials. I addressed this in my "Not Interested" post, but without a visual aid, I had a hard time convincing certain cantankerous commenters. So for all you visual learners out there, here's the lowdown. The region labeled (1) is hollow hard plastic. Rap your knuckles on it and it sounds like a Tupperware bin. Couldn't be cheaper. The 3 Series has soft, dense material here that imparts a sense of quality. (2) is hard plastic covered with a paper-thin vinyl veneer. Again, the 3 has high-quality soft stuff here. Come to think of it, so do the Hyundai Genesis Coupe and Nissan 370Z.
3 Series interior > 1 Series interior. QED.
But let's return to that "Not Interested" post for a minute or three. I was definitely all up in the 135i's grille that day, but did you notice what my main reference point was? The 3 Series! That post was all about how I'd rather have a Sport-Packaged 328i sedan than a 135i for my $37 grand. What about the non-BMW competition? How does it stack up against the 1 Series?
Frankly, it doesn't. The stiffly sprung Z makes the numbers, but it's plagued by a nasty engine note, a relatively clunky clutch/shifter team, and excessive road noise; much the same goes for the G37, though noise levels are dialed back considerably. The Genesis Coupe is a home run for Hyundai, but its shifter and clutch aren't even up to Z standards, and the 3.8-liter V6 pales in comparison to either 1 Series motor. At least these three rivals have genuinely pleasant interiors, unlike the more expensive Evo and STI econoboxes.
Moral of the story: if you're looking for the best combination of performance and refinement under $40k, BMW is really just competing against itself.
In this sense, BMW has become autodom's star pupil. It's that annoyingly smart kid who excels at virtually every subject. As a teacher, what do you do with a kid like that? If you care, then you'll hold her to a higher standard. You won't just judge her by her peers; you'll also try to find ways in which she could do better, even though she's already number one. Hence my "Not Interested" post: I was telling the star pupil, "I don't care that this is the best project in the class. You've done better work elsewhere [i.e., the 328i], and that is the standard I'm going to hold you to."
Yeah, yeah, "BMW bias" and all that. Nope. Sorry. We're not afraid to call a spade a spade around here. Supposed sacred cow Honda has been dropping bombs recently -- notably the new TSX and Pilot -- and we've told you all about it. Meanwhile, BMW has been relentless in its pursuit of automotive excellence, and that pursuit has yielded quite possibly the strongest top-to-bottom lineup in the world, 1 Series included.
Josh Sadlier, Associate Editor, Edmunds.com @ 18,344 miles