Full 2012 BMW 1 Series Review
What's New for 2012
The 2012 BMW 128i and 135i receive a minor face-lift that includes revised light clusters, a more aerodynamic front fascia for the 128i and refinished interior controls.
"Entry-level BMW." Unfortunately, this phrase can sound like you've settled for something less just so you can afford to drive a car with the blue and white roundel on its hood. But once you get behind the wheel of the 2012 BMW 1 Series, you'll realize that the defining characteristics of a BMW -- namely refinement, a supple ride and most importantly, a responsive and engaging drive -- are fully intact. Indeed, the nimble 1 Series is a ton of fun and fully deserving of the BMW badge.
Under the hood there is more proof that this is no poseur, as the 1 Series is available with the same superb inline-6 engines as the BMW 3 Series. This means a naturally aspirated 230-horsepower version in the 128i and a turbocharged, direct-injected, 300-hp version in the 135i. Both are superb, and the 135i delivers acceleration comparable to that of many performance cars as a result. Transmission choices are also first-rate, with a choice of a six-speed manual, six-speed automatic or, in the 135i, a seven-speed dual-clutch automated manual.
True, the 2012 BMW 1 Series is rather expensive for a compact car, especially when one doesn't exercise restraint while perusing the various option packages. But we'll stop short of calling the 1 Series too expensive given its powerful engines, impressive handling and lack of direct competition. Indeed, no car truly lines up with the 128i or 135i as an apples-to-apples competitor, though the Audi TT, Hyundai Genesis Coupe, Nissan 370Z and America's three muscle cars are in the same ballpark as the 1 Series coupe. Compared to the 1 Series convertible, you could cross-shop the less-exciting Mini Cooper convertible and VW Eos.
In general, in this class it's usually going to come down to what pushes your buttons in terms of styling and performance. The variety of choices is great for consumers, whose tastes tend to vary widely within this segment. But in any event, should you be considering this joyful little Bimmer and come across someone bashing it, just remind him that the 1 Series does indeed provide the sporting personality, solid construction and uniquely nimble nature that makes a BMW a BMW.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2012 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 wheels, automatic headlights, foglights, automatic wipers, 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 iPod connectivity. 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 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 heated front seats, a heated steering wheel, a navigation system (includes BMW iDrive electronics interface) and a Harman Kardon upgraded stereo.
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 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed manual transmission is standard and a six-speed automatic transmission is optional. In Edmunds 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 turbocharged inline-6 engine produces 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. In our testing, a 135i coupe with the manual transmission sprinted to 60 mph from a standstill in an impressively quick 5 seconds flat. However, that number rose to 6.2 seconds with DCT. EPA-estimated fuel economy is actually better than the 128i's, achieving 20 mpg city/28 mpg highway/23 mpg combined with the manual and 18/25/21 with the automated manual transmission. The manual-equipped convertible gets 19/28/22.
Antilock disc brakes (with brake drying and standby feature), traction and stability control and hill-start assist for manual-equipped cars are all standard on the 2012 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.
In Edmunds brake testing, a 135i Coupe with the standard 18-inch wheels came to a stop from 60 mph in an excellent 110 feet.
Interior Design and Special Features
The interior of the 1 Series is generally competitive with its rivals in terms of materials quality. Although there are still more hard plastics than we'd like, this year brings a new "Galvanized Pearl Gloss" finish to the cabin's door handles, various control knobs and steering wheel accents.
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.
Although the BMW 1 Series is technically a four-seater, the rear seats are significantly smaller than those 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 2012 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 quite 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, sweeping 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.