What's New for 2009
Because the BMW 1 Series was all new for last year, not much changes for 2009. A heated steering wheel now comes with the cold-weather package, optional active steering is no longer available on 128i models and the optional navigation system now comes with BMW's fourth-generation iDrive.
Some said it didn't make sense. When BMW brought the 1 Series stateside last year, skeptics said there wasn't really a place in the market for another compact performance two-door. Now into its second year, the BMW 1 Series is proving the pessimists wrong. As the company's entry-level model, the 1 Series turns heads, even amid much more rare and expensive cars. Although "cute" is often used to describe this coupe and convertible, don't let the 1 Series' diminutive dimensions fool you -- this car is anything but demure. Under the hood are the same powerful engine choices as in the marque's more expensive and larger 3 Series.
The 1 Series' compact styling makes it somewhat of a spiritual successor to BMW's classic 2002 coupe. But unlike the BMW of old, the 128i and the 135i offer modern conveniences that make the driving experience much more luxurious. For example, keyless ignition/entry, a premium stereo, a navigation system and the convertible's heat-reflective leather seating are welcome technologies in a car that supposedly pays homage to what was a pretty bare-bones performance machine.
For the most part, BMW has created its own niche with the 128i and 135i. Potential rivals are either bigger and compete more with the 3 Series (like the Infiniti G37), have front-wheel drive (VW Eos), are too mechanically different (Mazda RX-8 or Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution) or are less refined muscle cars (Ford Mustang GT). If you're thinking of a 1 Series, the closest alternative would be the Audi TT, but the BMW is superior in almost every regard other than exterior styling. Overall, paying $29,000 to $38,000 might seem like a lot for a small "entry-level" luxury coupe or convertible, but if you love to drive, fancy the idea of owning a BMW and don't need a big backseat, the 2009 BMW 1 Series is the way to go.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2009 BMW 1 Series is available as a compact coupe and a soft-top convertible. Both come in 128i and 135i trim levels. Standard equipment on the 128i includes 17-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlights, cruise control, rain-sensing wipers, leatherette premium vinyl upholstery, a tilt-and-telescoping leather-wrapped steering wheel and a 10-speaker stereo with a CD player and an auxiliary audio jack. All coupes come standard with a sunroof; convertibles come with a power-operated soft top and an upgraded climate control system. The 135i trim level comes with a more powerful engine, a sport-tuned suspension, 18-inch wheels and all the standard equipment of the 128i plus xenon headlights and automatic climate control.
Options on the 128i include a sport package that features different 17-inch wheels, performance tires, the 135i's sport suspension and sport seats. The 135i sport package includes the sport seats and an M Sport steering wheel. The premium package adds auto-dimming interior and exterior mirrors, upgraded interior trim, mood lighting, BMW Assist, Bluetooth, leather upholstery and power front seats with driver memory. Popular stand-alone options include active steering, keyless ignition/entry, a navigation system with the iDrive controller, rear parking assist, HD radio, an iPod interface, satellite radio and a premium audio system. Heated front seats are also available by themselves or in the cold-weather package.
The 1 Series convertible's options list includes the Moonlight Black soft top with shiny metallic fibers that produce a metallic silver appearance in sun- and moonlight. The convertible's optional leather upholstery also features BMW's exclusive sun-reflective pigments, which the company claims can lower the seat surface temperature by up to 20 degrees.
Powertrains and Performance
The BMW 128i is powered by a 3.0-liter inline-6 that produces 230 horsepower and 200 pound-feet of torque. In our testing, the 128i coupe sprinted from zero to 60 mph in 5.9 seconds. The 135i features a turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-6 that makes 300 hp and 300 lb-ft of torque. We pulled a 0-60-mph time of 5 seconds flat for the coupe and 5.5 seconds for the convertible. A six-speed manual is the standard transmission on all trim levels, and a six-speed automatic with manual shift control is optional. All BMW 1 Series models are rear-wheel drive.
Fuel economy for a 128i coupe with the manual transmission is rated at 18 mpg city/28 mpg highway and 21 mpg combined; altering the transmission or body style has a negligible impact on mpg. The 135i coupe with the manual has a 17/25/20 mpg rating.
Antilock disc brakes (with brake drying and standby feature), traction and stability control and start-off assist for manual-equipped cars are all standard on the 2009 BMW 1 Series. Front-seat side airbags and full-length side curtain airbags are standard on the coupe; convertibles come equipped with front-seat side airbags that extend higher to protect occupants' heads. The convertible also features pop-up rollover hoops.
Interior Design and Special Features
Although the 1 Series is technically a four-seater, the rear seats are best left to children, very petite adults or, more realistically, groceries or luggage. The convertible offers even less room, but compared with other compact coupes and convertibles, the BMW 1 Series' lack of space isn't particularly out of the ordinary. The coupe's decent-sized trunk holds 13 cubic feet of luggage.
Most of the vehicle's interior materials are consistent with those of its larger and more lavishly appointed siblings. The convertible's optional sun-reflective leather seating, for instance, is a luxurious touch not often found in the compact luxury segment. But the seat construction on base models lacks the superior feel and support of more expensive BMWs (the upgraded seats that come with the sport package are much more comfortable and supportive, however). Also, the overall design is a little bland, but the center stack and the other controls are simple and easy to use. Adding the optional navigation system also begets the infamous iDrive interface, thankfully made user-friendly for 2009. A series of buttons devoted to frequently used functions now surround the iDrive control knob and redesigned menus are more logically laid out.
The 2009 BMW 1 Series' handling is simply superb. Precise steering combined with a well-balanced chassis makes the coupe and convertible feel right at home on a freeway or a serpentine road. Body roll is minimal, and overall grip on models fitted with the sport package will win approval of all but the most hard-core enthusiast drivers.
The 135's twin-turbo inline-6 engine is incredibly versatile and offers an intense slug of power and acceleration without any perceptible turbo lag. And although this top-of-the-line powertrain seems to get most of the attention, most people will find the 128i more than adequate for their daily commutes. In fact, some might find the lighter, lower-powered 1 Series a bit more tossable on back roads. But no matter which 1 Series you choose, you're in for a good time.
Read our BMW 135i Long-Term 20,000-Mile Test