BMW doesn't usually do retro, but the BMW 1 Series, a spiritual successor to the iconic 2002 coupe, comes pretty close. Produced for the 2008-'13 model years, the 1 Series coupe and convertible were meant to evoke the same passion that the 2002 did. As the company's entry-level model for those years, the 1 Series offers true BMW performance at a surprisingly affordable price. Its styling may be an acquired taste, but the 1 Series retains much of its original appeal today as one of the best values on the used-car market.
Used BMW 1 Series Models
The BMW 1 Series debuted for the 2008 model year and ran through 2013. It was available as either a two-door coupe or a convertible with a power-operated fabric roof that folds underneath a hard tonneau cover.
Although it was the company's least expensive model at the time, the rear-wheel-drive 1 Series had no shortage of motivation under the hood. The 128i came with a naturally aspirated 3.0-liter inline-6 producing 230 horsepower, while the 135i stepped up to a turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-6 with 300 hp. The 135is packed an even higher-output version of the turbo-6 (320 hp).
Standard features on the base-model 128i included 17-inch alloy wheels, premium vinyl upholstery and a 10-speaker sound system. The 135i was differentiated by its turbo engine, 18-inch wheels, xenon headlights, slightly different front and rear fascias and a sport-tuned suspension. Some of these items were also available on the 128i. The 135is was sold for 2013 only with a bit more power than the regular 135i, plus standard sport seats and some aesthetic tweaks.
All 1 Series models offered a bevy of luxurious options familiar from BMW's pricier offerings, including leather upholstery (with sun-reflective surfaces on the convertible), the iDrive infotainment system with navigation, keyless ignition and entry and premium audio.
The 1 Series saw a few powertrain changes during its run. Initially, the 135i's engine employed twin turbochargers and was a bit less fuel-efficient, but the 2011-'13 models (including the 135is) switched to a newer design with a single turbocharger. Those models also received an optional seven-speed dual-clutch automated manual transmission known as DCT, whereas the previous 135i -- and all years of the 128i -- offered a conventional six-speed automatic. A six-speed manual transmission was standard on every 1 Series.
In reviews, we found the 1 Series' handling to be simply superb. Precise steering combined with a well-balanced chassis make both coupe and convertible feel right at home on a coastal freeway or a serpentine mountain road. Body roll is minimal, and the overall dynamics on models fitted with the Sport package will win approval from all but the most hard-core enthusiast drivers.
The 1 Series' turbocharged engines are incredibly versatile and offer an intense slug of power and acceleration with hardly any turbo lag, though the response of the gas pedal can be less than immediate. An overlooked gem is the 128i's non-turbocharged inline-6, which delivers smooth yet potent thrust in classic BMW fashion. This engine may be of particular interest because the 128i's replacement, the 228i, employs a turbocharged four-cylinder, so the naturally aspirated inline-6 marks the end of an era. But no matter which 1 Series you choose, you're in for a good time.
Interior materials are a step down from other BMWs, but the overall effect is still pleasingly upscale. The rear seat is strictly for two, and how often it gets used will depend on how large and how forgiving potential rear passengers are. There's not a lot of space back there, so it's almost better to consider the 1 as having a sports car-like 2+2 seating arrangement -- especially the convertible.
Powertrains aside, the 1 Series saw mostly minor changes during its production run. A new iDrive system debuted for 2009 with significant upgrades; we do not recommend the inferior iDrive interface offered in first-year (2008) models. A sunroof was standard on 128i coupes until 2010, while the 2012 lineup was treated to minor exterior styling revisions and refinished interior controls. The 135is headlined the 1 Series' farewell tour for 2013.
Although it was new to the North American market for 2008, the 1 Series actually debuted for the European market in 2004 as a hatchback.