James Riswick, New and Used Car Editor
Chances are you're not shopping for a 2008 BMW 135i because of its stunning ability to make zipping over a mountain road so easy that a caveman could do it (no offense). Chances are you'd never think about powersliding through corners or extracting every bit of grip its chassis and tires can provide. Chances are you don't even live near a mountain.
Rather, chances are that the prestige afforded by that spinning propeller badge is attraction enough, as long as it's attached to a car that embodies the style, luxury and quality construction expected from a Bimmer. And this is where the new 1 Series comes in, as it's the cheapest ticket to a new BMW available. It's currently offered only as a coupe and in two trim levels, the base 128i or the higher-spec 135i.
The 135i provides something extra, something special. This is the car that will get a thumbs-up from car nuts who recognize that the number "1" in no way equals a lesser BMW — after all, this car is as quick to 60 mph as a Porsche Cayman S. In fact, it could be argued that the 135i is the purest BMW — a smaller, lighter coupe, which harkens back to the 1970s cars that made the "Ultimate Driving Machine" a reality rather than just marketing schlock. It may come at a hefty price, but the 135i is a car that can keep up with sports cars on one of those mountain roads, yet also makes a very livable commuting choice for folks from Seattle to Sarasota.
Chances are, you'll love it.
The rear-wheel-drive 2008 BMW 135i is powered by the same twin-turbocharged six-cylinder found in the larger 335i, yet because of its lighter curb weight, the 135i slightly out-accelerates its larger sibling from zero to 60 mph in a tidy 5.0 seconds. The 335i essentially equals that. Producing 300 horsepower and 300 pound-feet of torque, this 3.0-liter inline-6 spreads its ample thrust across a broad range, with highway passing easily accomplished without dropping down a gear. EPA fuel economy is 17 mpg city, 25 mpg highway and 20 mpg combined. We averaged 20.8 mpg and even managed 28 and 29 mpg on a pair of two-hour road trips.
Although most consumers will opt for the automatic transmission, the six-speed manual found in our test car is a great match for the turbocharged engine. The shifter is direct in feel, and although the throws are a tad long, the rubbery feel of past BMWs has been greatly reduced. Likewise, the clutch has a rather mechanical feel to it, striking a good balance of travel and effort for both around-town and performance driving. The brakes have a similarly confident feel and produce a 60-0-mph stop in a very impressive 109 feet.
Like most BMWs, the 135i begs to be driven on roads whose path resembles dropped linguini. The steering is weighty and on the quick side (more so than a 335i ), with our test car's chunky M sport wheel transmitting every nuance of the road surface below. Grip generated by the taut chassis and 18-inch wheels and tires is tenacious, and it begs you to go faster on long sweeping turns. Partial credit for this capability goes to the 135i's standard sport-tuned suspension. However, some drivers might find the 135i's ride quality a bit harsh at times.
For a car that offers such impressive performance and handling, the 2008 BMW 135i is surprisingly comfy and serene to live with on a daily basis. Wind noise in particular is muted, with nary a roar nor a whistle when traveling on the highway at 80 mph. Road noise is also rather subdued considering the car's low-profile tires.
In terms of front seat comfort, the 135i is beyond reproach. Its eight-way manually operated seats, complete with adjustable thigh support and the Sport Package's adjustable side bolsters, have a greater range of motion than most power-operated ones. An ideal driving position was possible for even our longest-legged editor, who raved about the 1's support and long-distance comfort. The only pause for concern would be the optional M sport steering wheel, which some of us found to have an overly chunky rim.
The backseat is surprisingly comfortable as long as one understands that the 1 Series isn't meant to be a family car. With the previously mentioned editor comfortably positioned up front, there was still room in back for a 5-foot-5 editor. The backseat also proved roomy enough when those two editors of disparate height switched places. Considering the 135i's compact dimensions, we walked away pleasantly surprised by its ability to ferry passengers, though one should be aware that the 1 Series' backseat only has two positions and therefore no center seat.
With its tall greenhouse and relatively low beltline, the 135i's visibility is excellent, with none of the subsequent overwhelming feel provided by the Infiniti G37's hunkered-down, high-beltline cabin. The simple, red-glowing instruments are indicative of just about every BMW produced in the past 30 years, proving once again that if it ain't broke, there's no need to fix it. On the other hand, the 135i's stereo controls should have followed that mantra, as several functions are needlessly complicated. Also, the dual-zone automatic climate control lacks an "off" button and a driver/passenger temperature sync button. These are minor quibbles, but when a car is this good, one usually must resort to quibbling.
In our real-world usability tests, the 2008 BMW 135i coupe succeeded once again. A set of golf clubs fit easily through the wide trunk opening and then settled into a just-right horizontal space with room for another set of clubs. Two standard-size overhead suitcases could also fit in the fair-sized 13.1-cubic-foot trunk. Like most two-door vehicles, getting a convertible child seat into the back was tricky, and since the 1 Series has no center position, placing the seat outboard was the only option. Rear-facing, the seat fit fine, but the front passenger seat had to be positioned uncomfortably forward. There was no problem when the seat was front-facing. Installing the seat proved tricky since there's not much space to maneuver. All together, the 135i can accommodate a younger child in a pinch, but it's hardly the best choice for a one-car family.
Design/Fit and Finish
The 135i's proportions are classic BMW, but few will claim it's a pretty car. The front is a little upright, and the swept-back taillights look forced. The rear end is tidy, though, and the side features one of the better examples of BMW's "flame surfacing" design language. Similarly, the interior is also classically BMW, with a simple overall look and driver-focused center stack. Our test car's Glacier Silver Aluminum trim was high quality and looked great, contrasting well with the Black Boston Leather.
Interior materials and the tactile control feel are outstanding, setting a benchmark for the segment — not that there are really any apples-to-apples 1 Series competitors. The movements and clicks of the turn indicator stalk, window switches and stereo/HVAC buttons imbue a sense of impeccably engineered quality. The 135i is certainly on the pricey side, but it's important to consider that it gives up nothing in terms of interior quality to the vastly more expensive 6 Series.
Who should consider this vehicle
The 2008 BMW 135i coupe will be most attractive both to driving enthusiasts who want a car with respectable practicality and those just wanting an affordable status symbol. However, if the car's price or suspension tuning prove to be off-putting, the 128i might be a nice alternative.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
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