What's New for 2011
The 2011 BMW 135i coupe and convertible get a new turbocharged inline-6. Its rated power output is the same as before, but BMW claims improved fuel efficiency and a more immediate torque response. The other notable change this year is the 135i's optional automatic transmission, which is now BMW's seven-speed, dual-clutch automated manual known as DCT.
It would be easy to dismiss the 2011 BMW 1 Series as the baby BMW that people buy because they can't pony up for a 3 Series. You could also claim it's just a dumpy-looking coupe that costs too much money. But spend some time with the 1 Series and you'll find it has an irrepressible, playful character that brings sheer joy to the driving experience. Indeed, while the 1 Series coupe and convertible aren't the most inspirational BMW models, they are wickedly fun and surprisingly refined little cars worthy of the BMW badge.
Despite being the entry-level BMW, the 1 Series is available with the same inline-6 gasoline engines as the BMW 3 Series. That means the 2011 135i gets the 3's new direct-injection inline-6 with its single twin-scroll turbocharger. While this engine produces the same 300 horsepower and 300 pound-feet of torque as the outgoing twin-turbo inline-6, its torque now comes on even earlier and, most important, fuel economy has improved. In fact, the 135i is now more fuel-efficient than the 128i with its 230-hp naturally aspirated port-injection inline-6.
Also new for the 2011 version of the 135i is an optional dual-clutch automated manual transmission BMW calls DCT. As in the 335i, M3 and Z4, this transmission provides interaction with the driver that's as crisp and rewarding as a manual transmission, yet proves as intuitive and smooth-shifting as an automatic.
Truth be told, the 2011 BMW 1 Series is rather expensive, but given its powerful engines, sports car-style handling and the dearth of other small, rear-wheel-drive models with which to compare, it's hard to say the 1 is too expensive. Indeed, no car truly lines up with the 128i or 135i as an apples-to-apples competitor, though the Audi TT, Hyundai Genesis 3.6, Infiniti G37, Nissan 370Z and the American muscle cars are in the same ballpark as the coupe, and you could cross-shop the convertible against the Mini Cooper convertible and VW Eos.
In general, it's going to come down to what kind of small coupe or convertible you want. BMW's own 3 Series is an obvious alternative as well, and at the same time, the 1 Series is an alternative for the 3, as there are certainly more reasons than simply cost to pick the baby BMW over its bigger brother. So if somebody starts bashing the 1, make sure to gently remind him that it provides the sporting personality, solid construction and uniquely nimble nature that make a BMW a BMW.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2011 BMW 1 Series comes in coupe and convertible body styles, both of which are available in 128i and 135i configurations. The 128i comes standard with 17-inch cast-aluminum wheels, automatic headlights, foglights, automatic wipers, heated mirrors and windshield washer jets, cruise control, eight-way manual front seats, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, premium vinyl upholstery, dual-zone automatic climate control and a 10-speaker stereo with a CD player, HD radio and an auxiliary audio jack. The 128i convertible adds a fully lined power-folding automatic soft top and a special convertible mode for the climate control. Aside from its more powerful engine, the 135i adds a sport-tuned suspension, 18-inch wheels, adaptive xenon headlights with auto-leveling and washers, different front and rear lower fascias and (on the coupe) a sunroof.
The Convenience package adds keyless ignition/entry, rear parking sensors, an alarm system and on the 128i, xenon headlights. The Premium package adds auto-dimming mirrors, eight-way power front seats with driver memory settings, leather upholstery, Bluetooth, BMW Assist emergency telematics and, on the 128i, a sunroof. The Value package adds an iPod/USB adapter and leather upholstery. The convertible's available leather upholstery features a sun-reflective treatment.
The 128i Sport package adds a sport-tuned suspension, different 17-inch wheels, sport seats, dark "Shadowline" exterior trim and an increased top speed. The 135i Sport package adds sport seats, an M Sport steering wheel, Shadowline trim and increased top speed. The M Sport package, available with both models, basically takes each respective Sport package and adds different wheels and a dark-colored headliner, plus the 128i version gets the M steering wheel and the 135i's aerodynamic body kit.
Much of the equipment found in the non-Sport packages is available as à la carte options, while additional stand-alone options include active steering, heated front seats, a heated steering wheel, a navigation system (includes BMW iDrive electronics interface) and a Harman Kardon upgraded stereo. The convertible's options list also includes a Moonlight Black soft top with shiny metallic fibers that produce a metallic silver appearance in sun- and moonlight.
Powertrains and Performance
The rear-wheel-drive BMW 1 Series offers a choice of two different 3.0-liter inline-6 engines. The 128i produces 230 hp and 200 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed manual transmission is standard and a six-speed automatic transmission is optional. In performance testing, a manual-equipped 128i coupe sprinted from zero to 60 mph in 5.9 seconds. The convertible posted a 6.7-second time. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 18 mpg city/28 mpg highway and 22 mpg combined regardless of transmission. The automatic convertible gets 18/27/21, however.
The 135i's inline-6 engine is turbocharged and direct-injected to produce 300 hp and 300 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed manual transmission is standard and a seven-speed automated manual transmission (known as DCT) is optional. We haven't tested a 135i with this new engine, but the old 135i engine featured the same output and achieved a 0-60 time of 5.1 seconds for the coupe and 5.5 seconds for the convertible. EPA-estimated fuel economy has improved with the new engine, now achieving 20/28/23 with the manual and 18/25/21 with DCT. The manual-equipped convertible gets 19/28/22.
Antilock disc brakes (with brake drying and standby feature), traction and stability control and hill start-off assist for manual-equipped cars are all standard on the 2011 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
The interior of the 1 Series is generally competitive with its rivals in terms of materials quality, but hard plastics are more prevalent here than in the 3 Series. Nevertheless, most of the controls are straight out of the standard BMW playbook and are easy to use. The base seats are remarkably lacking in support given this car's performance potential; we strongly recommend anteing up for the Sport package and its superb, manually adjustable sport seats. The convertible's optional sun-reflective leather seating does an impressive job of keeping your butt from roasting.
If you check the box for the optional hard-drive-based navigation system, the infamous iDrive interface comes with it. Don't fret, though, because this latest version has more buttons and a much-improved menu structure. In fact, the reinvented iDrive has shot up to the top of our rankings for such interfaces.
Although the BMW 1 Series is technically a four-seater, the rear seats are significantly more cramped than in the 3 Series coupe, so they're best left to cargo or those of smaller stature. The coupe's decent-sized trunk holds 13 cubic feet of luggage; in the convertible, there are 8.5 cubes left over when the top is stowed.
It'll take a real purpose-built sporting machine to outrun the 2011 BMW 1 Series on a winding road. Though some hard-core drivers might find that the car's handling isn't as rewarding as other BMWs when driven enthusiastically, the vast majority of owners will find joy in the responsive steering, excellent body control and great outward visibility. The ride of the 1 Series isn't as refined as that of a 3 Series, either, but it's quite good relative to rivals.
Even the base 128i's naturally aspirated inline-6 is a gem of an engine, gliding from idle to redline on a smooth wave of turbine-like power. The 135's turbocharged inline-6 engine cranks up the power while retaining every bit of that characteristic smoothness. Although the 135i with the top-of-the-line powertrain gets most of the attention, the 128i is still plenty of fun to drive, particularly with the manual transmission coupled to its free-revving six.