October 16, 2009
Lap after lap we've failed to shake them. As if fused to our doors, the 2008 BMW 335i and 2002 BMW M3 keep pace with our 2008 BMW 135i. We pour into the turn dead even, but the M3 beats us to the exit. Flat out on the straightaway, the M3 slides to our rearview mirror but the 335i remains pinned to our fender. This 135i has much more in common with its BMW brethren than we first realized.
Compare lap times and you'll find the three BMWs separated by just 0.35 second on this 1.5-mile, 10-turn road course. In a quarter-mile drag, the difference is 0.4 second. Lateral grip and braking competence are nearly identical. If a winner can be named from these results, it requires attention to the smallest details.
Senior Road Test Editor Josh Jacquot concluded from this all-BMW comparison test, "It's in these tiny details where the hair-splitting gets done. It's in these details that we realize how far BMW has come between its E46 and more recent E87 and E90 platforms. It's here that we find ourselves in awe of the new 3.0-liter turbo engine's ability to be turbine-smooth and locomotive powerful. It's here that we learn to respect a chassis with high dynamic limits and smooth-riding comfort. And it's here that, on this occasion, it's impossible to choose between the razor-sharp M3 and the docile-yet-quick 135i. There is no true victor here. These Bavarians are just too evenly matched."
Why We Bought It
Our decision to purchase a 2008 BMW 135i was largely the result of this comparison test. We already owned a long-term E46, our all-time favorite M3. This test portrayed the 135i as an equally quick, yet civilized version of the E46. That in itself was enough to earn it a place in the long-term fleet, but it wasn't the only reason we bought one.
This was the first year of the 1 Series. It filled the entry-level BMW niche vacated by the 3 Series, which had recently grown in proportions. Over time the 3 Series won numerous Inside Line comparisons and did so by balancing performance and affordability. Would adding a 135i to the lineup, priced so closely to the 3 Series, upset this balance? Price was one point of contention. Performance was another. To what degree would the 3 Series become obsolete alongside the comparably agile 1 Series? We hoped an extended stay with the 135i could answer these questions.
When we introduced the 135i to our long-term fleet, we were quite familiar with how it drove. By this time we'd already pitted the 1 Series BMW in comparisons (both formal and informal) against the 335i and E46 M3, not to mention the Mini Clubman, BMW 128i and Nissan 370Z. Nearly every confrontation ended with the 2008 BMW 135i on top. Its personality combined nimbleness, suspension compliance and tractable power. This coupe offered the total package.
Having defeated all comers in stock form, we decided to change gears and modify the BMW. We invited our pals at DME tune to reflash the 135i, bumping peak power by 55 horsepower and torque by 67 pound-feet. Following the flash, Engineering Editor Jason Kavanagh noted, "When you lay fully into the throttle, the 135i pulls with a vigor that in no way can be mistaken for stock. There's a load of midrange grunt on tap, and the redline comes up right quick. There is no downside to the way this thing now drives. It's all gravy and no lumps."
Inside the cabin our impressions were a bit mixed. We found the driving position, visibility and supple suspension favorable. Its engine's wide power band even enhances driving comfort, as it was so manageable that in most situations you never really have to use the gearbox. But there were downsides to the 1 Series as well.
As we documented extensively, we still would have preferred the sport seats. There just wasn't much interior space. And the cupholders were virtually useless. We also found disappointing quality differences between the interior of our 1 Series and 3 Series — the 3 Series was certainly more refined than this new kid.
We experienced two mechanical issues of note during our 18-month test of the 2008 BMW 135i. At 12,000 miles, both front brake pads and wear sensors were replaced under warranty due to excessive noise. From that point on, the brakes were never mentioned in our logbook again, aside from their tendency to generate pad dust. A pesky hard-start issue also surfaced. We delivered the car to BMW of Santa Monica to learn that our VIN did not fall within the fuel pump TSB parameters for this known problem. We experienced an extended crank upon starting only a few times following the appointment. Then it mysteriously disappeared for good.
Our only other visit to the dealer was for regular maintenance at 15,000 miles. And that didn't cost a dime thanks to BMW's four-year or 50,000-mile free full maintenance package. It turns out the only out-of-pocket expense brought by the 135i was $1,400 for new tires after an open track day.
Total Body Repair Costs: None
Total Routine Maintenance Costs (over 18 months): None
Additional Maintenance Costs: $1,431.69 for tires, mounted and balanced
Warranty Repairs: Front brake pads and sensors replaced
Non-Warranty Repairs: None
Scheduled Dealer Visits: 1
Unscheduled Dealer Visits: 2 for brake pad replacement and fuel pump TSB
Days Out of Service: None
Breakdowns Stranding Driver: None
Performance and Fuel Economy
We knew going into this long-term test that the 2008 BMW 135i put up good numbers at our test track. So we mixed things up a bit. We noted a performance degradation over time as usual. But we also threw in a DME Tune reflash mid-test to see just how much power we could squeeze from the 135i's stock parts.
Time proved the stock-tuned 135i to be consistent, as it mirrored preliminary tests. With nearly 28,000 miles on the odometer we recorded a 0-60-mph time of 5.1 seconds (4.8 seconds with 1 foot of rollout like on a drag strip) and a quarter-mile pass in 13.4 seconds at 103.4 mph. The DME-tuned 135i felt far quicker by the seat of our pants, but on paper there was still a decent improvement. There was a 0.2-second gain in the 0-60-mph time, 4.9 seconds (4.6 with 1 foot of rollout like on a drag strip) and a similar increase in its quarter-mile time, 13.2 seconds at 105.1 mph.
All other tests proved equally impressive. By the end of the test the 135i still reached a stop from 60 mph in just 104 feet. We attribute an increased resistance to lateral force to new tires, as the car improved from 0.86g at 1,000 miles to 0.93g by test end. Its quickest pass through the slalom dropped slightly from 69.6 mph to 68.5 mph between tests, however.
Best Fuel Economy: 27.7 mpg
Worst Fuel Economy: 13.9 mpg
Average Fuel Economy: 20.0 mpg
We purchased our 2008 BMW 135i at a slight premium, paying $400 over the $37,145 MSRP. Then we proceeded to accumulate miles at a furious pace. By the time our extended test was complete 18 months later, we'd accumulated almost 28,000 miles. So when it came time to sell the 135i we expected to take a hit. Edmunds' TMV Calculator valued the BMW at $27,300. With no takers in a depressed used car market, we eventually accepted an offer of $26,000.
True Market Value at service end: $27,300
What it sold for: $26,000
Depreciation: $11,545 or 31% of original paid price
Final Odometer Reading: 27,912
We added the all-new 2008 BMW 135i to our long-term fleet to test the merits of the new entry-level BMW. We were familiar with its performance and handling qualifications going into the test. But we questioned its durability and just how much its quality differentiated it from the 3 Series it, in a sense, replaced. And while we were at it, a performance mod would hint at the true potential of our 135i.
After 18 months with the 1 Series, one thing is clear: This is a real BMW. It offers the precise handling, comfort and commanding driving position we've come to expect from the brand. And the smooth 300-hp turbo inline-6 sets it apart from others in its class. But when we questioned just how far of a step back it was from the 3 Series, something else became clear. Because we've noticed that the 1 Series clearly lacks the refinement of a 3 Series. Misaligned trim pieces on the dash and tight interior proportions left us wanting more. Yet we've also learned that a quick, wiry personality is also unique to the 1 Series. With this subtle differentiation, BMW ensures the 3 is under no threat of becoming obsolete.
With the 135i, BMW shows us that it can still set the benchmark. Not only is this coupe capable in the turns, but it also offers the suspension compliance to generate a smooth ride when the road is straight. We paid a premium up front for BMW's free maintenance program and it was more than worth it. Had we held onto the 135i any longer, the money saved on service would inevitably have been traded for performance modifications.
The 2008 BMW 135i is not without its shortcomings. But in the end it remains the performance-oriented coupe we've come to expect from BMW.
Edmunds purchased this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.