Tan on the Run
When you're a bronzed young thing living in L.A., there are really only two places you go to get a tan and some attention. You have poolside next to the Sky Bar at the Mondrian Hotel on the Sunset Strip or the tanning salon/drama-filled reality TV show that is Sunset Tan.
But now there's one more haute spot for sun-worshipping scenesters (or those seeking their company), and that would be the twin-turbocharged 300-horsepower 2008 BMW 135i Convertible. It's that heady mix of a soul-warming afternoon in the sun and the confident laughter of It girls and boys everywhere, all in one tidy example of motorized Bavarian self-indulgence.
The newest drop-top Bimmer is available as the BMW 128i and BMW 135i, and this 1 Series convertible slots in comfortably between the Mini Cooper and 3 Series convertibles. But young social climbers have no reason to be turned off by the entry-level position of the 1 Series drop top in the BMW lineup. At a base price of $39,100 (which can quickly be ratcheted up via option choices), the 2008 BMW 135i Convertible is a financial burden weighty enough to earn a head nod of respect from Hollywood PAs lunching on the Strip. While it might be small, the 135i's electrically operated, fully insulated soft top with a heated glass rear window and a hard tonneau cover lends this car's appearance a sense of moneyed legitimacy.
See and Be Seen
This 2008 BMW 135i Convertible in Sparkling Graphite Metallic made us feel like we were stepping into an ultra-exclusive outdoor nightclub on wheels with a $44,450 cover charge. The $500 Comfort Access feature gained us easy entrance and a quick-start getaway with the keys still in our pocket.
The interior is accented with light burl-walnut trim and covered in sexy $1,450 Coral Red Boston Leather made with BMW's Sun Reflective Technology; pigments in the upholstery keep surface temperatures 20 degrees cooler than the usual leather. We were able to readjust ourselves without fear of scorching our bare legs on the solar-heated seats. A good thing, since the 135i spent most of its time with us with its top stored under the hard tonneau cover.
With this lightweight, Z-fold, electrically operated fabric top, the great outdoors can be had in just 22 seconds. Because of its simple operation, any time became top-down time, whether running a mundane errand or sacrificing our carefully styled 'do for a blast on the freeway. (The optional wind deflector reduces in-cabin air turbulence and noise very nicely.) Also, the top goes down in the interval at a traffic light, and it operates at up to 25 mph if traffic starts to move before you've finished the job.
The freedom of roof choice isn't the only enviable aspect of our 2008 BMW 135i Convertible. This compact, rear-wheel-drive two-door is powered by a twin-turbo 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder engine that generates 300 hp and 300 pound-feet of torque.
This is the same engine found under the hood of the pricey BMW 335i, but since the 1 Series is 9 inches shorter, 1.4 inches narrower and 288 pounds lighter than a 3 Series hardtop convertible, this package is a lot more fun to drive on the twisties. The most important difference might be a wheelbase that's 4 inches shorter, which adds lots of agility without too much sacrifice in ride quality.
This all translates into a car that accelerates smoothly yet authoritatively, and slices through traffic like a well-sharpened Wüsthof. Slow-moving cars on the Pacific Coast Highway never had a chance when we were at the wheel. Even better, this engine emits a deep, throaty hum — surprising coming from a small car — so it's especially nice to hear it when the top is down.
There's a price, though, as even this lightweight top requires some added hardware and structural reinforcement compared to the 135i coupe, so it carries a 287-pound weight penalty that becomes apparent at the test track. The convertible reaches 60 mph in 5.5 seconds (5.2 seconds with 1 foot of rollout like on a drag strip) and then gets to the quarter-mile in 13.8 seconds at 101.3 mph. When we last tested the 2008 BMW 135i coupe, it hit 60 mph in 5.0 seconds and ran the quarter-mile in 13.3 seconds at 104 mph.
But what's a few tenths of a second when your priority is getting some rays? Besides, our experience shows that powerful straight-line acceleration and a power top are almost always mutually exclusive. Just look at the 2009 BMW M3 Convertible.
Even so, the convertible's weight handicap doesn't seem to hurt its performance in the slalom, as it records a speed of 68.6 mph. True, it isn't as structurally rigid, well damped or as easy to control as the 1 Series coupe (which achieves a slalom speed of 72.4 mph), but we wouldn't kick it out of our garage either. It's still a blast to drive and considerably well-mannered even with the compromise to its structure and weight.
And the convertible is able to stop shorter than the coupe at 107 feet versus 109 feet. Plus it displays the same braking performance we've come to expect from BMW — immediate effectiveness with a solid and consistent pedal feel. The 1 Series convertible's standard stability control and dynamic traction control will let you know that the electronics are watching you, but plenty of fast cornering is there to enjoy.
Rhapsody in 'Bu
For a cool grand, the optional sport package styled our tester for the kind of fun you can have in L.A. Eight-way, manually adjustable front sport seats with adjustable back bolsters and thigh support held us in place during some canyon dancing around the 'Bu (or Malibu, as it's known to those forced to live in the Valley or someplace like that). The chubby rim of the M-division steering wheel feels reassuring when you give into twin-turbo temptation while tackling tight corners. The sport package also includes some smart exterior trim, 18-inch wheels with performance tires and an electronic limiter that permits a top speed of 155 mph.
With the optional $400 iPod/USB adapter, we could scroll through our iPod for just the right soundtrack to go with our day of flogging the 135i on the Mulholland Highway or cruising Topanga Canyon.
But Wait, There's More
As stylish as the convertible might look, we never let it lead a pampered, one-dimensional, Sunset Strip kind of life. We always volunteered to drive during a night on the town or even for transporting groceries.
Four people can travel together, though it's best if they are friends. The mechanism for the convertible top restricts shoulder room in the rear and forces the passengers to sit slightly askew. The top also requires a more upright seatback, so you wouldn't want to take any long road trips with a backseat buddy. Nevertheless, there is enough room for starter families to secure a rear-facing child seat, even with the front seats moved all the way back on their tracks.
One advantage of a soft top versus a hardtop lies in the amount of trunk capacity when the top is down, and there's enough room in the 1 Series to store both a large carry-on roller and a bag of golf clubs for that weekend getaway (yes, top down, we said). We evaluated the 8 cubic feet of available space by using it to transport two large bags of old designer clothes to the consignment store. Both bulky sacks slotted in the trunk without interfering with the retracted top. Cleaning out the closet was never this much fun.
Into the Sunset
As a BMW with a 3.0-liter engine, all that horsepower and a base price of $39K, there really aren't any competitors for the 2008 BMW 135i Convertible. All you can do is compare it to the other convertibles in the BMW lineup. Do you want to pay less for the lesser-powered Mini or about $10K more for the larger 3 Series convertible with its heavy, all-weather hardtop?
And with the option to put the top down and decent performance numbers comparable to the coupe, we can't think why anyone would want the plain old 1 Series coupe. Just fork over that extra $4,200 and call it a day. A beautiful, sunny day.
In any case, we predict that the 2008 BMW 135i Convertible will be right up there with Sunset Tan and Cabo San Lucas on the list of impressive answers to the question, "Where did you get your tan?"
Senior Copy Editor Doug Lloyd says:
I didn't know quite what to expect when I approached the 135i convertible. BMW's new turbo inline-6 has lots of usable power, and I love convertibles. Better yet, this one is festooned in the rich red leather that sexifies our long-term 2002 BMW M3. But it wasn't until the photo shoot that I really got to appreciate the 1 Series convertible's alert handling and the full capability of its torquey turbo. As the sun set, I took the time to study the car as we posed it for the photos, and as the colors of the surrounding rock changed from gray to pale pink, the 135i changed from a charcoal gray to a lighter gray to a reddish pale blue. That's nice. Three colors for the price of one.
But it was the drive down the hill that really made me a convert. I was put off at first by the car's rather heavy feel, but I figured that if the turbo-6 could handle the larger 5 Series, surely the 135i would dance. And dance it did. The trip down the hill was a delight, and the more I drove, the more confident I became, braking later and accelerating harder out of the turns. What a sweet car.
I have a long-held bias against 2+2s, however. I'm 6 feet, so in this car, rear-seat passengers would require amputation at the waist, making the layout even more absurd. But in the 135i convertible, you wouldn't want to be anywhere other than the driver seat.
Vehicle Testing Assistant Mike Magrath says:
The BMW 1 Series is a fan favorite and media darling for obvious reasons. It's fast, even with the normally aspirated 3.0-liter inline-6 in the 128i. It's well sorted and cheaper than a comparable 3 Series. It's also prevailed in our comparison with some BMWs of substance, trouncing the 335i and earning a tie with the E46 M3. Besides the questionable looks and smallish backseat, the 1 Series has been impervious to all challengers.
Until that is, we drove the 135i Convertible.
Sure, this car has the same fantastic motor, six-speed transmission and sport seats. But this 1 Series lacks confidence-inspiring stability in the real world. Buckles and bumps cause the 1 Series convertible's chassis to flex and rattle like it was made from Tupperware. There's a fair amount of wind noise with the top in place, too.
If you must go topless, buy the 3 Series convertible with its retractable hardtop. BMW tells us that the hardtop does nothing to increase structural rigidity, and that its chassis integrity comes from beefy braces, but the multipiece folding wonder seems very un-convertiblelike, especially with wind noise.
In any case, when the 135i convertible's roof goes down, this car bangs around like a cheap, small car. In comparison, when the 3 Series convertible's hardtop retracts, it still feels like a BMW. Sure, the 3 Series convertible might cost a little more, but imagine the money you'll save in chiropractor bills.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.