August 20, 2009
It had been a while since I had stepped foot in our long-term 2008 BMW 135i. We've had the darn thing since May of last year (we're about the sell it) and we've put over 26,000 miles on it. I've driven it quite a bit over those 15 months, but haven't given it a whirl or posted a blog about it since way back in June.
Pure circumstance. I've always liked the 135i, so when the opportunity arose I took the little coupe home last night.
What a great car.
As the headline says, the 135i is fun, fast, refined and dead reliable. What an engine. It's easily one of the best powerplants in the world. This car is "lose your license" fast yet it never feels crude or adolescent.
As small, quick and athletic as the 135i is you never feel like you're driving a kids car, and that isn't always the case when you're banging around in an equally expensive STI or Evo. Even the GT-R feels so high school compared the little 1 Series.
And the 135i has been one of our most reliable long-term cars ever. I looked it up this morning. Nothing has really gone wrong with this car. It was serviced once for free at 14,980 miles and it got new brake pads for free at 12,133 miles. That's it.
Okay, we did replace the tires at 16,643 miles, but that was because we beat the car at a couple of track days. It was our fault, not the cars.
Fact is, nothing, absolutely nothing, has broken, fallen off, or failed to work as it was intended. Sure, it should always be that way, but it isn't. We've had plenty of cars through here with legendary reputations for reliability that haven't lived up to expectations. This time BMW and our 135i have exceeded them.
Scott Oldham, Inside Line Editor in Chief
August 17, 2009
I like to complain about our 2008 BMW 135i, because it proves that it's possible to for a very quick car to be boring. The torque curve is just too flat and accessible, I've argued, and the suspension too soft and/or too compromised by this particular run-flat tire compound.
Then, I went and put on a bunch of miles over the weekend and realized what an easy life I could have with the apparently boring 135i. Even with the twin-turbo inline-6 its de-reflashed state, the car accelerates from 70 to 130 mph on a closed course with ridiculous ease. Mountain passes might as well be tabletop plains.
Plus, I love driving this car at night. As often as I lament the cheapy leatherette upholstery and nonexistent Bluetooth (got the buttons but didn't the buy the option), it delights me that adaptive bi-xenon headlights are standard, because they address the one big problem about driving at night: not being able to see far enough ahead. Add in some precise steering and you've got a car that feels incredibly adroit and secure on dark roads.
Erin Riches, Senior Editor @ 26,672 miles
August 04, 2009
Our 2008 BMW 135i is too much fun to drive. Smooth-shifting, super-fast and better steering than the 7 Series. Problem is, on the rare open highway, I often find myself hitting extra-legal speeds. Oops! Getting there was so effortless! Not a peep from the car. How can I stop myself from doing this since I just don't have it in me to lighten my lead foot? The Bimmer has so much to give!
Then I discovered a way. Simply pretend there isn't a 6th gear...or a 5th gear for that matter since in the lower gears I can feel and hear when I'm hitting the legal speed limit. It's kinda like hiding the carton of Ben & Jerry's Oatmeal Cookie Chunk ice cream behind the frozen chicken in the freezer. Can't see it, won't be tempted.
Caroline Pardilla, Deputy Managing Editor @ 25,052 miles
July 28, 2009
Give it up for brand-specific internet fansites. Get past all the flame wars and troll fests and you'll always find a few sharp guys and gals.
After I posted up our 2008 BMW 135i's dyno comparison geek-out a few weeks back, one or two members of e90post.com pointed out that I incorrectly stated that our car's stock redline was 6500 rpm.
Although the engine's speed ceased to increase beyond 6500 rpm while on the dyno, those chaps are correct. Here's why.
The key bit is that our longterm 135i does not have the Sport Package. See, BMW governs non-Sport Package-equipped 135is to 135 mph. Sport Package versions enjoy a 155-mph speed limiter.
On the dyno, I was caning the 135i in fourth gear, which can reach 135 mph before the rev limiter is touched. The car simply shuts down the party when 135 mph is reached. In fourth gear, 135 mph happens to be right around 6500 rpm.
Had I dynoed in third gear instead, our 135i would have gone all the way to 7000 rpm.
A little digging around suggests that the Sport Package included summer tires with a higher speed rating than the rubber on the non-Sport Package versions. It's fairly impressive that BMW didn't simply emasculate all versions of the 135i just to account for the lowest-common denominator trim level.
And while this distinction doesn't have too much relevance in the US, I'm sure autobahn users appreciate it.
Jason Kavanagh, Engineering Editor
July 02, 2009
A few days ago I heard Oldham complaining about the steering feel in the 750i. He said it felt too artificial, too light and just plain screwed up.
I thought for sure he was nuts. Every time I drove the big 7 it felt fine to me. A little light maybe, but not anywhere near as awful as Oldham was making it out to be. Then I got in the 1 Series last night and before I had even left the parking garage I knew what he was talking about.
The steering is the 135i is dead on. Sure, it feels a tad heavy at parking lot speeds, but it's all in the name of road feel. Get up to speed and it lightens up perfectly and it never leaves you guessing. Why our 2008 1 Series would have better steering that our 2009 7 Series is a little puzzling, but Oldham was right on this one.
Ed Hellwig, Senior Editor, Inside Line @ 23,706 miles
June 29, 2009
Big "hell, yes" for reflashing. The 135i now feels pleasantly wired when driven around town. Eager -- champing at the bit and all that. I couldn't keep my hands off it over the weekend, and it reveled in the attention.
The little Bimmer was on fire this weekend -- it even got a couple of compliments regarding its appearance. When it comes to its sheet metal, the 135i has had its share of detractors here on our staff. Based on my experience, though, John Q. Public seems to like the look of it just fine.
Warren Clarke, Automotive Content Editor @ 23,644 miles
June 21, 2009
As mentioned previously, my keenly-honed butt accelerometer had me curious about the acceleration results we measured. Said the cheeks, "you introduced too many uncontrolled variables for a proper apples-to-apples test, dummy."
I'm usually concerned about voices that come out of my posterior, so to quell them we spent a few hours at MD Automotive in Westminster, CA. The goal? To shed a brighter light on the degree to which DME Tune's reflash pumped up our 135i's urge.
There, proprietor Mark DiBella rented out his Dynojet chassis dyno to us for the afternoon. In fact, anyone can rent his dyno. Mark's swell like that.
What's that? You want less rump talk and more dyno charts? Jump, then:
June 15, 2009
OMG our 2008 BMW 135i is kick-ass. It's so easy to get into trouble with all that power in this small, compact package. Shifts are so smooth and that exhaust note is addictive. But look for a dyno test in the near future to give you all the info about just what this newly reflashed 1 Series can do.
Instead I'll just talk about how tiny the side mirrors are and how difficult it is to see anything at night. And is it just me or are they slightly tinted?
June 08, 2009
Being the guy who shepherded our longterm 2008 BMW 135i to and from DME Tune, the test track and all over southern California, I've spun up quite a few digits on the odometer in its newly invigorated state. And here my impressions.
The first thing I noticed immediately after DME Tune reflashed it is that driveability around town is actually better than stock. In these off-boost conditions, the 135i now accelerates more brightly, as if it just downed a half-serving of espresso. Miata guys would describe this as "crisp."
Then, when you lay fully into the throttle, the 135i pulls with a vigor that in no way can be mistaken for stock. There's loads of midrange grunt on tap, and the redline comes up right quick. And as other editors have noted, there is indeed no downside to the way this thing now drives--it's all gravy and no lumps.
An observation: the oil temperature gauges now stabilizes at about 10-20 degrees cooler than it did with the stock flash. Could it be that the DME Flash also includes tweaks to the (electronically controlled) thermostat?
Also, I'm convinced that the performance test results we measured for the reflash don't fully represent what this car can do. The reason? It was about 20 degrees hotter when we tested the reflash.
Now, we don't weather-correct turbocharged cars since they largely compensate for ambient conditions. However, when you modify a boosted car, you eat up a bit of this ability to compensate. I'd really like to re-test in in weather conditions that more closely match the test conditions of the stock flash for a more apples-to-apples comparison.
Hmm. With the variables associated with acceleration testing, maybe we just need to suck it up and do a full-on dyno geek-out comparison of stock vs reflashed.
That's a lot of work, though. And I'm busy enjoying this 135i.
Jason Kavanagh, Engineering Editor @ 22,620 miles.
June 07, 2009
Okay, so the 128i ragtop in our Edmunds.com Convertible Comparison Test technically represents year two of the 1, being a 2009 model and all. But it is the 135i's little brother, and it does take on a 2009 Mini Cooper S Convertible in the aforesaid top-down smackdown. Give it a read, and check out the full track numbers over at Straightline, and tell us what you think.
May 26, 2009
The following is the actual text message I sent to Mike Magrath upon arriving home from work Friday afternoon:
1:47PM Fri, May 22
Thoughts on new 1 engine: weeeeeeeee!
I've never been a big fan of modifications. They usually result in offensive noise, back-breaking rides, unrefined neck-snapping acceleration and horrendously tacky body modifications. Other than the latter, it's the reason I've never driven our long-term GSR home. Call me a wimp and there certainly are folks who do the job right, but in general, no thank you.
The DME Tune Reflash of our 135i, on the other hand, is a modification I can get behind. As Jay noted yesterday, the reflash had a relatively minor effect on straight-line acceleration times but its added midrange punch makes it feel faster. Get above around 3,500 rpm and the twin-turbo-6 blasts forward with giggle-inducing thrust -- it makes the biggest difference on the freeway. The 135i was always faster than you expected it to be, but now it's been turned up to 11.
Best of all, the 135i remains livable. When casually accelerating in the muck of city traffic, it remains the same pleasant car it always has been. There's no neck-snapping throttle response or crazy turbo lag. It feels very natural, as if no Frankensteining had been performed.
Not that this is scientific in any way, but our first tank post-reflash returned 17.62 mpg.
So call me a fan of the reflash. It makes BMW's 35 engine even sweeter.
James Riswick, Automotive Editor @ 22,454 miles
May 25, 2009
(this photo doesn't have anything to do with the words below; I just dig the image)
Before and after. That's how we test the cars in our longterm fleet. We test them when they first arrive, and then we re-test after we've driven them for about a year.
As our longterm 2008 BMW 135i is nearing the end of its stay with us, a few weeks ago we performed the "after" testing. Our 135i produced the following acceleration performance after its year with us:
Stock 0-60--5.1 seconds (4.8 seconds with one foot of rollout like on a drag strip)
Stock 1/4 mile--13.4 seconds at 103.4 mph
Even more recently, we had DME Tune reflash our 135i. Do the nature of the space-time continuum, we had to test it at an even later date. We would have preferred to test both configurations (stock vs reflash) on the same day but Einstein frowns upon universe tinkering.
Click the jump to see the result of the DME Tune reflash.
DME Tune 0-60--4.9 seconds (4.6 seconds with one foot of rollout like on a drag strip)
DME Tune 1/4 mile--13.2 seconds at 105.1 mph
Thus, the reflash sliced 0.2 seconds off its acceleration time and bumped up the trap speed by almost 2 mph.
Not bad, but it sure feels a lot quicker than those results indicate. Indeed, the midrange punch of the DME Tune reflash is substantial.
When we're running through the gears during an acceleration run, though, we only see the midrange once. In every gear outside of first gear, the engine is operating around peak power and redline.
It could be that the DME Tune reflash is relatively conservative at higher engine speeds relative to what it delivers at lower engine speeds. Just a guess.
Jason Kavanagh, Engineering Editor
May 22, 2009
You can tell the 135 is different now from the first time you roll into the throttle. It's no lounder, and the revs don't raise any quicker, but it takes fewer revs to get the clutch out smooth from a stop. And then once it's rolling the differences are even more apparent.
I can't speak for the full-throttle gains before and after the new tune as I was driving on public roads, but even in those highly limited scenarios, the DME reflash proved its worth. There's a whole new midrange. There's no turbo lag, there's just a powerful surge that doesn't stop 'till you let off the gas. Why they didn't do this from the factory is beyond me. It's as driveable as it ever was before except now there's more power everywhere. Not like the GSR with unreasonable power surprising you somewhere north of 5-grand, the 135 is smooth and linear instead of peaky. It hasn't reinvented the nature of the 135i, just brought it out into the light a bit more.
If I had a 135 and didn't want to go whole-hog with a plug-in tuner, I'd get this on day-one and just consider it part of the cost of purchase. Again, it should've-- and could have-- come from the factory this way.
Mike Magrath, Vehicle Testing Assistant
May 22, 2009
Fortunately for us, our office is literally minutes away from DME Tune. Scott hooked up said Versace-class battery charger and a magic reflashing box to our longterm 2008 BMW 135i and we split for grub.
Over a bowl of steaming pho at the local Vietnamese joint, Scott described the company's tuning philosophy. In a nutshell, they have examined various aspects of the engine and settled on a few states of tune that they reckon provide meaningful power increases while maintaining healthy safety margins. And by employing a reflashing strategy, they have access to virtually every operational parameter of the engine which gives them full control over the changes they make.
He continued by explaining that our 135i is receiving his Stage 2 reflash. This is, apparently, one better than Stage 1. The price for either flash is $649.
More specifically, Stage 2 can be used on turbocharged N54 BMWs equipped with, at a minimum, the factory oil cooler. And our 135i has one. If you want to see if yours does, take a peek in the passenger side wheel well. If you see a heat exchanger lurking behind slots in the plastic liner, you just found the oil cooler.
When we returned to the car, the process was complete. We were back on the road minutes later and giving the spurs to our homely little German coupe.
We'll have driving impressions and performance test results for you shortly. So keep your ears on, fine IL blog readers.
Jason Kavanagh, Engineering Editor
May 21, 2009
As good as our longterm 2008 BMW 135i's twin-turbo 3.0-liter inline-six engine is--and it is undoubtedly good--there are people out there that think it can be made even better.
We recently crossed paths with Scott Barbour of DME Tune, a purveyor of BMW go-fast tuning solutions. In fact, tuning BMWs is all the company does.
After a brief chat, it became obvious that DME Tune is serious about doing it right. Company principals include Jim Conforti, a well-known name among BMW performance tuning, and Scott Barbour of Harman Motive tuning fame. An example of their anality is that they use a $1300 battery charger while reflashing, just to ensure the voltage stays absolutely stable.
Shortly thereafter, we decided to take the plunge and have DME Tune reflash our little 135i to give it some more punch.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. Some background first. Click the jump to learn more.
Who: DME Tune is a Los Angeles-based company specializing in extracting more performance from the 335i, 135i and, well, any BMW with the turbocharged N54 engine.
Jim Conforti creates the DME Tune calibrations. Scott Barbour handles the front end customer interface.
What: DME Tune's approach to increased performance is to reflash the car's engine control unit with a revised calibration that dials up the boost a bit, re-maps the ignition timing and fueling strategies, tweaks the cam timing and more.
There are no additional pieces of hardware to install on the vehicle.
Why: Increased performance, of course. In addition, DME Tune's reflash is said to be completely invisible to the dealer and will not trigger fault codes.
How: Today, their process goes like this--you bring your car to them, go out for a sandwich, and 30 minutes later your car is ready.
This approach obviously has limitations if you live beyond driving distance of them. The company is aware of this potentially inconvenient situation and plans to address it in the near future.
So what's it like? Is it fast? Are there any downsides? How much power does it make? Can a reflash make the 135i less ugly?
One thing at a time. We'll have answers to at least some of these questions in the coming days. Don't go far.
Jason Kavanagh, Engineering Editor
May 18, 2009
As a single guy who loves small rear-drive performance cars, I should be totally smitten by our longterm 2008 BMW 135i. Yet the 135i doesn't haunt my dreams. In a way, I'm in a similar boat as my colleague Mr Sadlier is with the 370Z.
Not that the 135i isn't enjoyable to drive. On the contrary, it is a fine car. It rides well, is plenty quick and has a big dose of refinement in the way it takes to the road. The engine is flat-out sensational in just about every way you could conceivably ask for. Maybe the interior doesn't offer the last word in gadgetry, but that's not what I'm after. The seats in our long-termer do suck, though, as you're already well aware.
In analyzing my indifference, I've finally settled on this well-rounded docility as the source. 300hp in a car this small? On paper the 135i should be a cold-blooded assasin. It should be the performance car to take on all performance cars. A hooligan's delight. A rabid wolf in a droopy clown costume. You get the idea.
Instead, this small car is accessible and has the comport of a larger car. To BMW's credit, this no doubt helps with appealing to the masses. But there's another reason they're keeping the 135i meek. Fully exploiting the potential of what they hath wrought with the 135i would tread on the territory of the 335i and possibly the M3 too.
I can't deny that this is probably smart business sense. But whenever I drive the 135i, I think about what might have been.
Jason Kavanagh, Engineering Editor @ 22,095 miles.
April 27, 2009
It's easy to lay into the BMW 135i for its price tag: As equipped , our 2008 BMW 135i coupe cost $37,145. But these adaptive, bi-xenon headlights are standard on the 135i, and as I learned on Saturday night, they work very well.
That afternoon a friend (with a modified WRX) and I caravaned to Yerba Buena Road north of Malibu and took our cars through some corners. Yerba Buena is a rough road, but the 1 Series has plenty of suspension travel and managed fine over the ruts, remaining composed and compliant. It's hard not to notice the car's safety-minded predisposition toward understeer, but between its small footprint, sharp steering and gargantuan torque, it was still very fun on this narrow road.
We then parked the cars and hiked 1.5 miles up to Sandstone Peak, oooh and aahhing at the panomamic ocean/mountain vista upon reaching the top. Unfortunately, we turned down the wrong trail on our descent and had to do almost 2 miles of backtracking, using our cell phones to light our path. When we got back to the parking lot (shown above), we were tired, hungry and cold.
But the day wasn't over. With the BMW 135i lighting the way down Yerba Buena back to the coast, there was more driving fun to be had. With the high beams on (low beams shown above), I could see through most of the corners and we kept a decent pace on the way down.
Erin Riches, Senior Editor @ 20,996 miles
March 30, 2009
I had a free afternoon yesterday, and I looked at our 2008 BMW 135i coupe in my carport and decided a drive was in order. We went to Little Tujunga Canyon Road , a favorite of mine because of its convenient location and pretty even mix of fast sweepers and tighter turns.
We've written before that the 135i is an easy car to drive quickly because it is so benign -- perhaps the most benign of any rear-wheel-drive car currently on sale in the U.S. Slow down on your entry to counteract the understeer; then, exploit all that torque (300 lb-ft from as low as 1,400 rpm) on your exit. Find your rhythm, know your road and you'll be fast. And safe.
I love the steering feel in this car. You never have any doubts about front tire grip.
And I love the driving position: It's not sexy; I'm not going to see the curves and contours of the car as I do in our 370Z or a G37. Really, I might as well be sitting in a sedan when I'm in our One. All I see is a flat hood, and I jack the seat way up so I'm sitting high. But I don't care. The steering wheel fits perfectly in my hands, and flat and squooshy as the driver seat is, it orients me perfectly for steering, shifting and working the pedals.
Other than the sneaking suspicion that this car doesn't need me (with all that torque, it barely even needs me to shift), the one complaint that came up during the drive is the 135i's lack of a limited-slip rear differential. Mind you, I probably could live without one if I owned this car. But, occasionally, when the rear tires had trouble getting the power down on exit, I thought about driving the Genesis Coupe 3.8 and wished te One had a torsen limited-slip, too.
Erin Riches, Senior Editor @ 19,455 miles
March 25, 2009
After reading the comments in yesterday's open thread, I took our 2008 BMW 135i coupe on a quick drive through the coastal canyons this morning.
On the way there, I experimented with shift points. If you were bound and determined to exploit the twin-turbocharged, 3.0-liter, inline six-cylinder's flat torque curve, you could upshift anywhere between 1,250 and 1,500 rpm without lugging the engine. Shifting at 2,000 is more comfortable, though, and in normal driving, I usually upshift between 2K and 3K. I usually don't get the best fuel economy, though.
I also noticed that the engine responds well to throttle if you're down around 1,500 in 5th gear (during a city-traffic slog) and don't want to bother with a downshift. I'd never noticed this previously, because I never drive the car this way. Not only is it boring, it's a waste of the car's excellent pedal spacing, which makes it so easy to rip off heel-and-toe downshifts.
By 3,000 rpm, the engine really starts to feel good. By 4,000, it develops an angrier note that grows as you approach the 5,800-rpm horsepower peak (300). Redline is at 7,000, of course, but there's just enough vibration creeping in at 6,500 that I usually upshift there.
I like this engine a lot. Everyone does. But I find that with all that torque waiting for me between 2K and 4K, I don't go to redline (or even 6,500) very often. I get lazy. And so I wonder if I might get more day-to-day enjoyment out of a normally aspirated BMW inline-6. Because I sure went to redline more often in our 2006 BMW 330i.
March 24, 2009
We've tested our little 2008 BMW 135i twice. The first time was on May 6th of last year when it had just 1,735 miles on its odometer. Then we tested it again in early December as part of a comparison test with the new 2009 Nissan 370Z. At that point, the car was approaching 15,000 miles.
As is usually the case when you test the same car more than once, the 135i test numbers do vary a bit from test to test. Regardless, there's no denying that this car is stonk fast, and its awesome ability to turn and stop put the littlest Bimmer in rare air.
No it's not cheap, (base price is $35,000) but the 135i remains one of the great performance buys out there. Heck, it runs circles around our long-term Challenger R/T, out sprints the Mustang GT and almost keeps up with the new 426 hp Camaro SS. And guess what, they all cost about $35,000.
We'll test our 135i again before we flip it, but until then, check out the BMW's present performance numbers after the jump.
0-60 mph.......5.0 seconds
0-60 mph (with one foot of rollout like on a dragstrip).....4.7 seconds
Quarter Mile......13.3 sec. @ 103.7 mph
60-0 mph.....105 ft.
30-0 mph......27 ft.
0-60 mph.......5.1 seconds
0-60 mph (with one foot of rollout like on a dragstrip).....4.8 seconds
Quarter Mile......13.4 sec. @ 103.5 mph
60-0 mph.....108 ft.
30-0 mph......27 ft.
Scott Oldham, Inside Line Editor in Chief @ 19,085 miles
March 16, 2009
"Aren't you goin' out on the track?" I asked the young guy from the tire industry publication. We were at a tire event at Cal Speedway and were taking the ex-Long Beach celebrity race Celicas on the big oval at speed.
"I can't drive stick," he replied. He never had a manual transmission car and never had a chance to borrow a friend's car to learn. It's a shame, and unfortunately, this situation is much too common nowadays.
It's too bad he doesn't have access to a 135, because this is my favorite MT car to drive. The shifter is light, but positive. The clutch is also light, but with a good engagement feeling and a smooth stroke.
But where the 135 shines is the pedal arrangement, particularly the placement of the brake (B) pedal in relation to the throttle (A) pedal. For me, it's perfect: the B- and A-pedals are not only close enough laterally, but also almost on the same plane with the B-pedal depressed, so you don't have to roll your foot so much.
Some carmakers are afraid of this placement, as it can induce "unintended acceleration" from a few morons.
In most other cars, I can butcher my heel-toe downshifts. But in this car it's easy to get them near-perfect. The flexible, zingy engine doesn't hurt, either.
I should have told that tire guy to rent a 135 -- at least after he gets some shifting proficiency.
Because it's one of the best cars to practice your blipped downshifts.
At least until BMW ruins it and comes out with their own synchronized rev-match system.
Albert Austria Sr Evaluation Engineer @ 18,770 miles
March 03, 2009
Our long-term BMW 135i is starting to stretch its legs. Though it's just ticked over the 18,000-mile mark, it finally feels as if this twin-turbocharged mill is breaking in. Many of us were wondering if this would ever happen, as BMW has done such a remarkable job of refinement in this force fed mill that it almost feels too civilized. Now past the 18K mark, the baby Beemer is finally starting to loosen up.
We'll have to wait and see if updated performance numbers back it up, but this little terror of a coupe seems to be exhibiting some sweet, newly found mid-range snarl. Nuttier still, it actually almost feels slightly turbocharged. The sweet 3.0-liter twin turbo inline-6 still has an incredibly linear powerband, but as if maturing slightly with age, there seems to be more urgency to its thrust, and a slight crackle to its exhaust note. This only adds to what is quickly becoming one of my favorite BMW's ever. A silken 300-horsepower engine powering the rear wheels with minimal body work for four seats and sharp steering? Your license may be in jeopardy...
Shift action on the six-speed manual tranny is still disappointing compared to rifle-bolt Hondas (and even compared to likely rose-colored memories of the E36 M3), but this shifter doesn't get in the way of driving fun. I'd opt for the sport seats, but otherwise, the 135i is pure grins, and slowly starting to gain some edge. Maybe today's ultra-tight engine tolerances and finer quality engine oils are extending break-in, but has anyone else seen slowly emerging BMW powerplants?
Paul Seredynski, Executive Editor @ 18,302 miles
February 20, 2009
I've never really cared for the manual transmission in any BMW. Mainly, I find their action too light. But I also dislike the spring-loaded feel when moving it out of gear, and the general soggyness and excessive play once the shift lever is in gear. To be fair (and I've always kept this at the back of my mind) the only Bimmers I've driven heretofore were knackered old Bavarias, salvage titled M3s, and various and generally worn out 3-Series'. And don't get me started about the shift action in our 2002 M3; think about moving around a dislocated cadaver's elbow. Go on, think about it.
So when I got the chance to drive our six speed 2008 BMW 135i, I decided to put aside my past experiences and give this new, non-beat to Hades gearbox a try. And guess what? I really don't like it. The action is too light, and I don't like the way it wants to spring out of a gate and into neutral. But what I really don't like is the combination of a short, almost cut down, gear lever and that center armrest. As you can kinda see in the above picture, going from any of the bottom gears (two, four or six) into another gear requires you to more of less underhand the shifter. I find it uncomfortable and annoying to bend my wrist down with every other shift. A taller shift lever to match the height of the center armrest would solve that problem. But I still couldn't live with the action of the shift lever.
So would it keep me from buying the car? It's not the only one, but it's a big reason I wouldn't buy one of these.
Kurt Niebuhr, Photo Editor @ 17,548 miles
2008 BMW 135i: Spoiled by the N54 or; Why I wouldn't buy an E46 M3 or; Why Sadlier is off his rocker.
February 13, 2009
Last week Associate Editor Josh Sadlier went all Tom Cruise on us. (Although he did it via internet tubes instead of Oprah's couch, but hey, we take the soap boxes we can get.) He's in love, it's cute. But it's also scarred a scary amount of psychosis on his already shredded psyche. Like Katie Holmes, I think he's got Stockholm Syndrome.
Following the jump will lead you down a path to understanding why the 135 is a fantastic drivers car. Why the M3 is overrated and why Sadlier needs an M3 intervention. (That, or it'll be a fantastic waste of about 5 minutes.)
1) Old BMWs smell: Every BMW more than four years old smells like crayons. It's an acrid burning smell that certainly causes the driver's brain to melt. I need to carry aspirin and drive with the windows open in our M3 just to tolerate the excellent drive. They also smell like old oil as every single one of them has spare oil hidden somewhere in the car for when the light inevitably turns on. The 135 smells like new car and burning rubber. Maybe it's just ours that smells that way. Whatever, it was worth it. (Neither Sadlier nor Editor In Chief Oldham mentioned the smell when picking the M3 as his darling. No idea how. Too much M3 stink to remember?)
2) Old BMWs are expensive: Service Inspection II is over a grand. And that's just periodic maintence. When things break it's even more expensive. The 135 still has a warranty.
3) The interior on the M3 is sad: Some call it patina, I call it old. The buttons sort of stick and the plastic is scratched and worn virtually everwhere a human could touch.
4) The M3's shifter is BEAT: The clutch is in similar shape. Each time I take that car I'm sure that this will be the clutch's final ride. When we tested it with the new tires, the driver asked, "Is the clutch going to survive this?" 135's shifter is light, precise and unabused. Just like the clutch. Go ahead and rip a no-lift 1-2, it can take it.
5) The E46 M3 looks dated: Yeah, I said it.
6) The 135 has an iPod adapter: The M3 has a cd changer. In the trunk. This is 2009 people, going fast doesn't need sacrifice anymore. If I can go faster with more convenience features I'm going to.
7) Sadlier has a beard: Kind of. Who do you trust: an upstanding gentleman with a new haircut, or some guy with a beard who went to school in Massachusetts?
8) The title item N54 engine: Useable torque everywhere. And unlike the S54 it doesn't sound like it's about to spin itself into oblivion. You're worried about CERN's LHC creating a black hole? It's more likely that an S54 would do it. The N54 is the strong, quiet type only offering a dull whir when pushed to the limits. It's less engaging than the S54, but also more refined and less frantic.
9) M guys: Like buying a Corvette or a Mustang or a Ferrari, when you buy an M car you have to buy a jacket with the M badge on the back. And the keychain with the M. And some cool M badges with the colors of the German flag instead of the M stripes. And you've got to wave at other M cars. And then you've gotta disapprove of every other fast car for not being an M. It's a vicious circle and I just don't have the time to join a cult. Drive a 135 and nobody looks. Ever. It's under the radar masquerading as a chick car.
10) Love ruins everything: Sadlier and others in the office love the M3. They love the image it offered when new. They love the direct feel and feedback. They love the performance advantage it used to have over virtually everything. Love is blind and if you fall into its trap you'll soon be the same way. The 135 offers a better ride, better interior and more features. It's faster and less harsh. It's also soulless. I don't care about soul. I want to go fast and be comfortable. It's why I don't own anything British.
When we ran a comparison test between our 2002 M3, a 335i and a 135, I wrote a second opinion that pretty much said the same thing.
At the start of the M3's long term test I was excited, the E46 was on my short list for a weekend toy. It's not anymore. I just don't love it enough to deal with the flaws. I'll still gleefully take the keys on a clear day and head to the mountains, I just don't want to own one.
Mike Magrath, Vehicle Testing Assistant
February 04, 2009
Way back before the gas crisis, the housing crisis and the credit crisis, we did a comparison test between a new BMW 135i (very much like our long term BMW 135i), a new BMW 335i and our newly aquired long-term 2002 BMW M3 E46. The idea was simple. Where is your money best spent on a BMW hot rod coupe? And it played out like this:
335i: Great in every way, but unnecessarily expensive.
135i: Almost great in every way, the quickest of the bunch, but still unnecessarily expensive.
E46 M3: Still great where it counts, fast, although the slowest of the three. Also the cheapest by a bunch. Best looking too. And the most viceral. We have a winner.
Well, I just spent some time in our E46 and I just spent a night in our 135i. As much as I'm a lover of both, I would spend the extra bucks a month and buy a 335i sedan. Turns out I don't think it's unnecessarily expensive. For the extra cash you get the best drivetrain, the most refinement and the best interior. I also prefer the suspension tuning and directional stability of the 335i, even with the sport package, which I would hope to afford. The 135i is bit all over the place on the highway and it rides a bit choppy for my taste.
Still, the 135i is my second choice. Some lowering springs and a set of deep dish wheels to set it off and I'd be happy for a long time. Choppy ride and all.
And then there's our E46. It's a car I lust after. And owning one would be a privilege. However, I'm taken by the awesome refinement, the subtle tuning excellence and the turbocharged thrust of the new cars.
What do you think?
Scott Oldham, Inside Line Editor in Chief
January 20, 2009
It was a quiet weekend for our long-term 2008 BMW 135i, which is waiting for new tires following last week's visit to Willow Springs. Still, I put on another couple hundred miles running around Los Angeles.
Our 1 Series coupe averaged 24 mpg, which is twice what it got on the track. A check of the fuel log revealed that my 307-mile tank is actually the longest we've ever driven the car before fueling up. The car's previous best was 306 miles, and that tank netted its best ever mpg reading -- 25 mpg. Not exactly frugal, but then, this is a 3,400-lb car rated for 300 hp and 300 lb-ft of torque.
Also, as you can tell, I used the driver-side door bin. I'd never had much use for its funky three-slot design previously, but when I found myself traveling with 3 CDs and a snack, the compartmentalization proved useful. None of the slots will fit my sunglasses case, though, nor will the cupholders in the console. Whatever. For more detailed analysis on 1 Series storage, see Brent's earlier entry.
The thing is, you don't really worry about storage bins when you're driving a BMW 135i coupe. There's a whole backseat for sunglasses cases, jackets, caps and random pieces of paper. It's not like you'll be putting people back there because it's too cramped and they'd just get carsick anyway.
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
January 16, 2009
Months ago, I lit into our long-term 2008 BMW 135i for having an insipid personality. But I didn't go to work yesterday. I took the day off and drove up to Willow Springs for an Evosport driving school on Big Willow. And there I buddied up with our 1 Series like never before.
Undoubtedly you've heard or know that Big Willow is a fast but not very technical track. Its turns don't require much actual turning, so if you have some idea about what you're doing, torque is pretty much all you need. The 135i has plenty of that. There doesn't seem to be a weak spot anywhere in its twin-turbo inline-6's powerband. As a track car, the 1 is incredibly user-friendly. It felt very quick, too, at full throttle down any straightaway.
Although I've criticized the 135i for not having good enough steering feel, the truth is that I knew exactly when the tires were gripping and when they weren't -- all that really matters on a track.
The One also has very strong brakes (13.3-inch front discs with 6-piston calipers, 12.8-inch rear discs with 2-piston calipers) and excellent pedal feel. It was very easy to skim off speed in preparation for Turn 1 at the end of the front straightaway. The brakes lasted well, too, and seemed none the worse for wear by the end of the day. But I can't say the same about the tires.
January 05, 2009
Why? Rest, readers. The answers are coming.
1. Irredeemably ugly. To paraphrase Wesley Snipes' character in White Men Can't Jump, it is hard, god-damn work, making the 135i look good. I did it once before, and I think I've pulled it off again in the shot above -- but I had to work for it. What's the secret? Get below the car and shoot up, which gives those sagging rocker panels a purposeful downward slant and minimizes the goofy top-hat profile of the greenhouse. Otherwise, only the big wheels stand between the 135i and monumental ugliness. This is a deal-breakingly unattractive car.
2. Lacks BMW suspension magic. The 135i handles great. But unlike its 3 Series stablemates, for example, it doesn't ride great, as Warren C has attested. BMWs are justly renowned for striking a magical balance between sporty handling and ride compliance. The 135i doesn't have it.
December 25, 2008
Recently we used our long-term 2008 BMW 135i in a hard fought comparison test against the new Nissan 370Z. At first it seemed like a crazy idea. You know, a four-seat, turbocharged BMW vs. a two-seat, normally aspirated Nissan.
But the more we thought about it, the more it made sense. Perfect sense. Their prices, performance and reason for being are actually very similar, and our two-car shootout, BMW 135i vs. Nissan 370Z, turned out to be a good fight between two great cars.
Which would you choose?
October 20, 2008
A few months back, Dan mentioned the 135i's brake dust in his post titled "It's not all wonderful."
I'm not so sure. Though the baby Bimmer does make a hell of a lot of the stuff (this is a one-week accumulation) it also happens to stop from 60 mph in 109 feet. And it has a rock-solid pedal stop after stop. I've now hammered this little coupe over the Angeles Forest and Angeles Crest Highways twice and am yet to have anything but confidence in its stoppers.
Six pistons. Amen.
Josh Jacquot, Senior road test editor @ 11,265 miles
September 29, 2008
Holy cats, does the 135i show you a good time. It added some real spice to a vanilla weekend spent running vanilla errands and driving to vanilla places like Burbank to connect with friends.
Thanks to our compact Bimmer, that drive to Burbank was actually one of the high points of my weekend. Said drive was some 21.39 miles. Most of the journey was comprised of freeway travel, and since I left home early Saturday morning, the city's arteries were uncharacteristically unclogged. That, of course, meant that I got to really enjoy the 135i's 300-horsepower twin turbo. The little car soared like an uncaged bird, and I was happy to be along for the ride.
But the rough roads in my 'hood brought the 135i back to earth. Its run-flat tires absorbed minor surface irregularities, but deeper pavement pockmarks were received in a significantly less favorable light. There's one jumbo pothole in particular -- more like a lake bed, really -- that's impossible to avoid, since it's on the street that leads to my apartment building. It's bearable in cars with regular tires, but in the 135i... ouch. Every time I traveled over it, I got a jolt that surely shifted the location of an internal organ or two.
All in all, though, this is one fun ride. More, please.
Warren Clarke, Automotive Content Editor @ 9,881 miles
September 15, 2008
I can't write a title of "Poor Man's M3" because at $37,145 our 135i isn't exactly affordable. Still, for about half the price of a new M3, you're getting a larger percentage of the M3's renowned traits -- namely, the engaging handling and steering, a potent engine and enough refinement and room to make it a viable daily driver.
I drove our 135i last week on the same curving mountain road I've used recently to test out our long-term Lancer Evolution and Impreza WRX STI. Of these three near-$40K 300-hp machines, the BMW was by far the most enjoyable to drive.
Brent Romans, Senior Automotive Editor @ 9,221 miles
September 02, 2008
With plans to head up north (from L.A.) to San Luis Obispo for the long weekend, I requested the 135i. I figured with its effortless power, roomy (for two) cabin and (hopefully) decent fuel mileage, the baby Bimmer would be trumps for the trip. Rather than get tangled up in all the Friday traffic, we hit the road early (7:15am) Saturday morning as I wanted to enjoy the drive.
The 135i's suspension just confirmed my belief that, if you're driving a BMW, you don't need an electronically-adjustable suspension. Striking a perfect balance between athleticism in the turns and a supple ride on the freeway, the 135 was a great road tripper. The seats were comfortable too; no complaints from my sometimes finicky back in spite of the rather flat bottom cushion and lack of lumbar adjustment.
Taking an exit off the 101 for a break, we came upon Los Alamos (population about 1200) where we couldn't resist a cupla photo ops:
July 24, 2008
As Karl wrote in his blog this morning, you really don't need the 135i. The 128i is plenty of fun -- if you didn't know the twin-turbo 3-liter was out there, well, ignorance is bliss.
But, should you want the 135i? Is the difference really that big? To find out, John Di Pietro (JDP) and I just got back from bombing through Topanga and Old Topanga canyon roads back to back in the 128i and 135i. No matter what the answer is, what a blast.
I should first note that the LT 135 is handicapped by its lack of manual sport seats, which are in this particular 128i and offer more adjustment and support. We've said it before, but buy these.
Anyway, during our drive we were lucky enough to have clear sailing on Topanga, which is usually filled with leisurely minivans and sewage trucks going about 25 mph. Without them, it was practically a roller coaster as we flew through the canyon, the 1's gripping through turns with tenacity. With its bigger wheels and tires, though, the 135 was a tad grippier. We could have gone faster -- especially the 135 -- but going 90 on a main canyon road isn't the wisest move.
James Riswick, Automotive Editor @ 9,655 miles
July 07, 2008
I noticed this little detail on our 135i over the weekend. Kinda cool. A nice addition on the first model year of a car this unique.
What's more, our 135i has recorded an even 19.0 miles per gallon since Ed Hellwig's last post on the subject at 3,837 miles. This is a significant decrease in fuel economy, but is probably more realistic than the 20.2 mpg the car had earned up to that point.
Anyhow, this little Bavarian rocket truly is special. I drove it over Angeles Crest Highway one night last week and was able to appreciate its abilities on many levels. A few observations: 1) It has excellent headlights. Never once did I wish for more reach or coverage. With the high beams on I could comfortably see far enough to keep up with my rapid pace. 2) The handling difference between this car and a 335i is significant enough to matter. If you're considering the 1 and don't need the 3's additional space, don't bother spending the money. 3) The looks are growing on me. I'll never love the details, but the proportions are right.
Josh Jacquot, Senior road test editor @ 5,307 miles.
June 26, 2008
More and more cars are making dizzying power numbers these days, yet few stand out in my mind as being really eye-openingly fast. Our long-term BMW 135i is one of those few. I hadn't really put it the car through its paces until last night, when I snagged the keys and headed for the canyons. Quite simply, this is a lot of motor for such a diminutive car...
Sounds great too -- the exhaust note is throaty yet refined, encouraging windows-down throttle-blipping at every opportunity. Notably, there's no discernable turbo whistle or any other audible indication that you're driving a turbocharged car. There's just the typical inline-6 smoothness that you'd find in a 128i, along with an absolute truckload of torque from just off idle. I think I like this motor more every time I experience it.
Incidentally, an interesting 135i-vs.-STI debate has been raging over at Erin's recent STI post. Here's two cents from my bully pulpit. If you need a fifth seat, or all-wheel drive, or the ability to haul a bunch of stuff, then the STI is the no-brainer choice. But if you don't, consider the following: (1) though the STI's rated at 305 hp, you don't really get that heady turbo rush until about 3,000-3,500 rpm, whereas the 135i offers stupid stonk speed on demand; (2) in tight corners the 135i is frankly in a different league due to its relative lack of body roll and superior (if not quite E46 M3-like) steering feel; and (3) the 135i's clutch and shifter are a joy to operate, unlike the STI's (see Erin's opinion in her post, which I share).
Josh Sadlier, Associate Editor, Edmunds.com @ 4,697 miles
June 23, 2008
Like many BMWs, our 2008 BMW 135i emits brake dust--a lot of brake dust. At least the open 5-spoke wheels are easy to clean. And these brakes squeal a bit when I gently apply them at 30 mph or so in creep-along freeway traffic.
Do I care? Not much.
They feel excellent and the stopping distance is mega-short. At a photo shoot at a racetrack, another 135i's brakes never faded after lap upon lap. We recorded 105 feet when this car went through its check-in test. That's what brakes are for, right?
I'd much rather have this problem than quiet brakes with no dust that stop in 120 feet with wishy-washy pedal feedback and fade after a few stops.
But here are some 135i minor problems that nevertheless do irritate me:
June 20, 2008
That's what I'm talking about. The last couple of days and nights in the 2008 BMW 135i reminded me of why I loved this car so much the last go 'round. Excellent steering and handling, mega brakes and that 300 hp (at least) twin-turbo engine in a compact body--it's just the way I like 'em.
A six-speed shift-it-yourself gearbox is great on mountain roads, but any manual just has to suck in rush hour traffic, right?.. Wrong. An impressively broad and table-flat torque curve pulls from way down low--about 1500 rpm--making frequent downshifting during my LA freeway commute largely unnecessary. And any gaps I see in traffic are mine, I tell you.
This is one sweet, inconspicuous ride. And it's still enjoyable when sentenced to a lousy 50-mile commute like mine. Sure, the 135i costs a bit if you get insane with the options sheet, but the level of refinement and detail, not to mention raw speed, make this one pretty damn desireable. I wonder if enough of the goodness remains in the more economical 128i to make that a winning proposition?
Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing @ 4,445 miles
May 29, 2008
When the BMW 135 first arrived, I had zero interest in the car. Maybe it's BMW owners, then again maybe that's just a stereotype. I'm sure they're not ALL posturing with leased 325s they can barely afford while living in a small rented apartment on the very edge of the trendy part of town. Surely some BMW owners have a real love for the purity of their cars...
And that's where the 135 comes in. At first, I couldn't imagine wanting, owning or even driving a car that' smaller than a 3 series. I may have even said out loud "what's the point?" Then I drove it - there is something so perfect about the 135i - the shifter, the engine, the clutch, the ride and it even has a nice clean look inside along with a very good stereo. Honestly, the 1 series may be the perfect sports coupe - it may even be the perfect car. Small, light, quick and fun - I stand corrected.
Brian Moody, Road Test Editor