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.
September 25, 2009
The sun sets on the long term test of our 2008 BMW 135i. Photo by Andrew Reed.
I drove our 2008 BMW 135i for three weeks during the time it took to sell. As time passed I bonded more strongly with this amazing car. When a buyer finally stepped forward and the time to pass the keys arrived, I found it difficult to let go.
Surprisingly, it took a while to sell this car and although we got a fair price the buyer got a bargain. Here are a few details.
I had the 1 listed on Autotrader for $27,300. The buyer emailed and offered $25,000. Although I don't like to negotiate via email I hadn't had much action. So I emailed back that the lowest I'd go was $26,500. He came, drove it and offered $26,000. Sadly, I accepted.
I met the buyer at the bank and we signed papers there. He then drove me home and I could see the bonding process taking hold of him, too. While he initially said he had to hurry back to get some work done, he began to change his tune. Suddenly, his schedule allowed for a drive down PCH with the sunroof open.
Okay, so we could have done better than $26,000 if we had waited for just the right buyer. But there are new cars to buy and we had to work with the best offer at hand.
August 25, 2009
(2008 BMW 135i, 27,000 miles later -- Photo by Andrew Reed)
We've had our fun and it's time to move on.
With a heavy heart I posted a for sale ad on Craigslist for our 2008 BMW 135i. I hoped the phone wouldn't ring. Then the call came.
I'm being a little over dramatic. But it's true: two days after listing the BMW for full TMV price of $28,600 I got a call from a real buyer. It took four weeks for this to happen when I sold our 2008 Cadillac CTS at a fraction of the cost.
The BMW caller said he would call back to schedule a test drive. We'll see.
Now for a few quick stats: We bought the BMW 15 months ago for $37,145. If we sell it for our asking price (unlikely) it will have dropped in value only $8,545 over 27,000 miles. Impressive.
August 20, 2009
It had been a while since I had stepped foot in our long-term 2008 BMW 135i. We've had the darn thing since May of last year (we're about the sell it) and we've put over 26,000 miles on it. I've driven it quite a bit over those 15 months, but haven't given it a whirl or posted a blog about it since way back in June.
Pure circumstance. I've always liked the 135i, so when the opportunity arose I took the little coupe home last night.
What a great car.
As the headline says, the 135i is fun, fast, refined and dead reliable. What an engine. It's easily one of the best powerplants in the world. This car is "lose your license" fast yet it never feels crude or adolescent.
As small, quick and athletic as the 135i is you never feel like you're driving a kids car, and that isn't always the case when you're banging around in an equally expensive STI or Evo. Even the GT-R feels so high school compared the little 1 Series.
And the 135i has been one of our most reliable long-term cars ever. I looked it up this morning. Nothing has really gone wrong with this car. It was serviced once for free at 14,980 miles and it got new brake pads for free at 12,133 miles. That's it.
Okay, we did replace the tires at 16,643 miles, but that was because we beat the car at a couple of track days. It was our fault, not the cars.
Fact is, nothing, absolutely nothing, has broken, fallen off, or failed to work as it was intended. Sure, it should always be that way, but it isn't. We've had plenty of cars through here with legendary reputations for reliability that haven't lived up to expectations. This time BMW and our 135i have exceeded them.
Scott Oldham, Inside Line Editor in Chief
August 17, 2009
I like to complain about our 2008 BMW 135i, because it proves that it's possible to for a very quick car to be boring. The torque curve is just too flat and accessible, I've argued, and the suspension too soft and/or too compromised by this particular run-flat tire compound.
Then, I went and put on a bunch of miles over the weekend and realized what an easy life I could have with the apparently boring 135i. Even with the twin-turbo inline-6 its de-reflashed state, the car accelerates from 70 to 130 mph on a closed course with ridiculous ease. Mountain passes might as well be tabletop plains.
Plus, I love driving this car at night. As often as I lament the cheapy leatherette upholstery and nonexistent Bluetooth (got the buttons but didn't the buy the option), it delights me that adaptive bi-xenon headlights are standard, because they address the one big problem about driving at night: not being able to see far enough ahead. Add in some precise steering and you've got a car that feels incredibly adroit and secure on dark roads.
Erin Riches, Senior Editor @ 26,672 miles
August 14, 2009
Remember the Focus' faulty door grab design, which places the handle too far forward, preventing you from getting enough leverage to easily open the door? And at the same time causing the grab itself to pop out?
Well, the 135i isn't that bad, but it could use another door grab located somewhere in the middle of that armrest. Not only would it be easier to reach, but it would require less effort to close the door.
James Riswick, Automotive Editor @ 26,293 miles
August 12, 2009
I don't mean to imply with this entry's title that there's something wrong with our 2008 BMW 135i's suspension. Everything's working fine. But after all these months, this car's ride quality still doesn't feel quite right to me. Well, at least it doesn't feel right to me on the freeways and a lot of the city streets in the LA area.
Every time I get in our 135i, I'm struck by how compliant it wants to be. Its ride isn't just smooth, it's downright soft. But as soon as I hit an expansion joint or an uneven patch of pavement, I realize I'm mistaken. Initially, the suspension compresses in its soft, forgiving manner, but then, a big dose of damping brings it back hard and you feel the brunt of that road imperfection. The sequence gets old after you realize what's happening, and it made my passenger queasy.
To me, the car feels conflicted, like the chassis engineers couldn't decide whether the U.S.-spec BMW 1 Series needed to be a cushy cruiser for people who ordinarily wouldn't buy a BMW, or a full-on sport coupe for people who think the 3 Series has gotten too big and luxurious. So it's both -- and neither.
Given how much engine is in this car, I'd vote for giving it an unapologetically firm, highly controlled ride. Save the cushy stuff for the 128i.
Erin Riches, Senior Editor @ 26,217 miles
August 11, 2009
No sense waiting around for the Rolex Monterey Historic Automobile Races, I figured. You'd just spend the weekend looking at the back of people's legs instead of old historic racing cars. Most of the same machinery always runs the vintage racing event at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca the weekend before, an event fondly known as, "The Pre-Historics."
So I pointed the 2009 BMW 135i toward Monterey and looked forward to seeing some interesting cars, notably one of the John Wyer-run Porsche 917s in Gulf Oil colors that raced at the 1970 24 Hours of Le Mans and gave Steve McQueen's Le Mans its timeless appeal.
And after I put a couple tanks of gas into the 1 Series over the course of 800 miles or so, I noticed that a lot of us have been choosing the smallest BMW for long-distance travel. Just check the odometer.
No mystery, as this car combines a great driving position, excellent visibility, supple suspension and an engine with a powerband so wide and seamlessly elastic that you never really have to use the gearbox unless you want to.
August 11, 2009
Last night during a 25-mile drive home from the San Gabriel Valley, our long-term 2008 BMW 135i coupe began showing its standard "!" within a triangle alert within the trip computer display. I'd seen this alert before when the car was low on fuel, but that wasn't the case this time. So when I arrived home, I ran an electronic check of the oil using the car's fussy control stalk for the trip computer.
Within 30 seconds, the car told me it was thirsty for a quart of oil. (Note: I didn't get a picture of the display at the time; this photo was taken this morning after the 3-mile drive to the auto parts store. And that is why the engine isn't fully warmed up here. Please do not worry. Everything is fine.)
Page 117 (or is it 118?) of the manual says full synthetic 5W40 or 5W30 is approved for the 1 Series. I put in 5W30 Castrol Syntec, because that's what Kragen had. Spillage was zero thanks to my yellow funnel.
Erin Riches, Senior Editor @ 26,199 miles
August 03, 2009
It was a cool California morning when our 2008 BMW 135i broke the 25,000-mile mark. We took a minute to reflect on just how little we've spent on the BMW over the past 16 months.
Less than 100-bucks a month. And all of this went towards replacing tires that we smoked up having fun. No scheduled maintenance costs. All repairs under warranty. Not bad. Reflection over.
Mike Schmidt, Vehicle Testing Manager @ 25,003 miles