NewCarTestDrive.com reports filed by Jim McCraw in Munich, Kirk Bell in Chicago, Mitch McCullough in New York, Laura Burstein in Los Angeles.
The 2013 BMW 1 Series is mostly unchanged over last year, but receives some additional standard features and retooled options. The high-performance 1 Series M Coupe is gone, replaced by another sporty variant: the 2013 BMW 135is, available in both coupe and convertible body styles. The 2013 BMW 135is is now the most powerful of the bunch, with unique exterior and interior trim.
In some ways, the 1 Series is the spiritual successor to the sporty BMW 2002, produced 1968-76, and in some ways the 320i yuppy-mobile that followed. The BMW 128i and BMW 135i coupes and convertibles deliver the sporty dynamics of rear-wheel drive, agile handling, powerful engines and seating for four, all those attributes we've come to expect from the Bavarian automaker, in a smaller, more affordable package.
The BMW 128i Coupe and Convertible are powered by a 3.0-liter inline-6 that generates 230 horsepower and 200 foot-pounds of torque. They're available with 6-speed manual or 6-speed Steptronic automatic. BMW says the 128i can accelerate from zero to 60 mph in 7.0 seconds with the automatic, 6.4 seconds with the manual. Fuel economy for the 2013 BMW 128i coupe is 18/28 mpg City/Highway with either transmission; the 2013 BMW 128i convertible achieves 18/27 mpg City/Highway with the automatic and 19/28 mpg with the manual.
The BMW 135i features a twin-scroll turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-6, good for 300 hp and 300 lb.-ft. of torque. The BMW 135i Coupe and Convertible are available with a 6-speed manual or a 7-speed dual clutch transmission, which does not require manual shifting from the driver. A BMW 135i can accelerate from zero to 60 mph in 5.4 seconds with the manual gearbox, 5.3 seconds with the 7-speed DCT. Fuel economy from the BMW 135i Coupe is 20/28 mpg City/Highway with the manual and 18/25 mpg with the DCT. Convertibles earn 19/28 mpg City/Highway with the manual and 18/25 mpg with the DCT.
The 2013 BMW 135is uses a more powerful version of the 135i's turbocharged inline-6, which pumps out 320 hp and 317 lb.-ft. of torque, and a choice of 6-speed manual or 7-speed dual clutch transmission. The 135is also gets a sport-tuned suspension, additional cooling systems, and a sport exhaust that gives the 135is a throatier growl than the other 1 Series models. On the outside, it's differentiated by a high-gloss black kidney grill, black mirror caps, M Sport trim and unique 18-inch wheels.
A BMW 1 Series Convertible can drop its top in just 22 seconds. Top-down motoring is one of life's great joys, so this is a great feature.
The BMW 1 Series cars are comfortable, sporty and agile, true driver's cars, with the feel of rear-wheel drive. We found the BMW 128i Convertible a delight to drive and it has enough power. More fun to drive is a BMW 135i Coupe. The dual-scroll single-turbocharged engine turns the 135i into a little hot rod, and it seems to have a bit more torque lower down, where we use most of it in everyday driving.
While once in a class all its own, competitors to the BMW 1 Series in the entry-level luxury category have recently cropped up, like the award-winning Cadillac ATS and the forthcoming Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class, although for now both of those models only come in four-door sedan variants. Those looking for top-down fun might also consider the Audi TT convertible, or even the front-wheel-drive Mini Cooper convertible.
The BMW 128i Convertible ($36,900) adds a power-folding soft top and a different wheel style, and does not have rear folding seats.
The BMW 135i Coupe ($39,300) includes a firmer sport suspension and high-performance brakes, M Sport aero body kit, adaptive xenon headlights with washers, sunroof and 18-inch wheels. A 6-speed manual is standard the 7-speed DCT dual clutch automated manual transmission is optional ($450).
The BMW 135i Convertible ($44,100) omits the coupe's body kit and folding seats (and hard top) and rides on 17-inch wheels.
The BMW 135is coupe ($43,250) and convertible ($47,950) get a more powerful version of the turbocharged inline-6, sport front seats, and unique exterior and interior trim. Cars equipped with the 7-speed dual-clutch transmission get steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters.
Options for 1 Series include a Premium Package, which upgrades to genuine leather upholstery, additional ambient lighting, universal garage door opener, keyless entry, auto-dimming mirrors and satellite radio with one-year subscription. The Cole Weather Package adds heated front seats and a heated steering wheel. The Technology Package adds navigation with real-time traffic information, voice recognition, smartphone integration with BMW Apps and the BMW Assist crash notification service.
Safety features on all 1 Series include dual front airbags, seat-mounted front side-impact airbags, side curtain airbags (coupe only), ABS, electronic stability control, traction control, cornering brake control, and launch control for getting started on slippery surfaces. The brake lights include a panic-braking mode that lights up the entire lens extra bright whenever the brake pedal is stomped hard.
We like the 135i's aerodynamics package with the huge air intakes below the bumper, necessary for cooling the turbocharger intake air. At the rear, the 135i has a prominent spoiler, while the 128i uses a more gentle lip integrated into the trunk lid. The 128i rear bumper is entirely body-color, lacking the black-out panel seen on the 135i. Drag coefficient on the 128i Coupe is 0.31 Cd vs. the 135i Coupe's 0.33 Cd.
Put the top down on the convertible models, and the flared shoulder line that's shared with the coupes seems to form a single surface that surrounds the interior, like the deck of a small boat. For both convertible models, drag coefficient increases slightly to 0.34.
We found the front bucket seats to be very comfortable and supportive, with big side bolsters. The steering wheel tilts and telescopes, helping drivers of different shapes and sizes to find the ideal driving position.
Order the optional navigation system and you get BMW's iDrive, which integrates navigation, entertainment, telephone, and other controls via a pop-up screen on the top of the dash and a mouse-like knob on the console.
The 1 Series continues with an older version of iDrive that doesn't have the ease of use of the newer system found in other BMWs. It includes a central control knob with a separate Menu button, while other version add CD, Tel, Radio, Nav, Back and Option buttons around the controller. Those extra buttons provide easier access various functions, eliminating a few steps. Both versions require some time to learn, but the system in the 1 Series is a little more daunting. Having tried iDrive numerous times, we're used to it and not entirely annoyed, but many drivers find it overly complicated.
All 1 Series coupes come with a 60/40 split folding rear seat than can almost triple the trunk's 10 cubic feet of space. A storage package for the trunk area includes some tie-downs and straps and a 12-volt power point for external accessories. Without that folding seat, the trunk would be rather small.
The convertibles feature a soft top that can be raised or lowered in 22 seconds, even while driving at speeds up to 25 mph, so you don't need to worry whether that stoplight will be long enough to finish the roof operation. The soft top takes up less trunk space than a convertible hard top would, which is partly why the design uses a soft top. Still, it eats up two cubic feet of cargo space, leaving 8 cubic feet, which is small but not too bad for a convertible.
The convertible's interior room suffers a bit, though hardly enough for a real convertible enthusiast to notice. Front leg room is reduced by a quarter inch, and head room by three-quarters of an inch. The losses in rear-seat room are more consequential, where shoulder room contracts by nearly a foot. Leg room is reduced by three-quarters of an inch, and head room by just 0.1 inch. Coupe or convertible, the two-passenger rear seat is rather inhospitable. You really can't sit back there if anyone up front is tall, and the convertible will have two adults knocking shoulders. The back seat is best left to small children and packages.
The leather upholstery optional for the convertible incorporates what BMW calls Sun Reflective Technology, a special pigment which reflects both heat and ultraviolet rays. BMW claims this technology can keep the surface of the seats 20 degrees cooler than conventional leather under the same sun, while also helping the hides last longer. Additionally, the convertible's automatic climate control system adds a top-down mode that reacts less to interior temperature and more to the exterior climate and sunlight. We like the idea but didn't get enough time in the sun to see if it really works.
Driving a 300-hp, 3400-pound rear-drive coupe built on a short-wheelbase chassis adds up to a great deal of driving enjoyment, especially when the engine's torque curve is absolutely flat from 1200 to 5000 rpm and the engine redlines at 7000 rpm. The 135i benefits from BMW's newest inline-6, which uses a single twin-scroll turbocharger instead of twin turbos. With more than 100 hp per liter, this 24-valve engine is engineering magic. BMW fans worried that the single turbo will sap power can rest easy. The turbocharged engine makes this car a hot rod. It's hard to tell, but power is perhaps more responsive at low speeds, though not quite as willing as speeds and revs increase. The engine is sprightly from a stop without a modicum of turbo lag. It keeps building power up the rev band, pushing a 135i with the manual transmission from rest to 60 mph in a mere 5.1 seconds. The DCT cuts off another tenth. Both numbers are impressive for a vehicle of this price point. Top speed is electronically limited to 130 mph (or 149 mph with the Sport Package).
The BMW 135i manual transmission is a pleasure to operate. It's silky smooth and clutch take-up feels natural.
The 7-speed dual clutch transmission, or DCT, available for the BMW 135i is an excellent transmission. It uses two clutches, one to hold the current gear and one to ready the next, so shifts are almost seamless. It can be used as a normal automatic or shifted manually via steering wheel buttons or the gearshift (push down for downshifts, pull up for upshifts). There are several modes of sportiness, ranging from relaxed to lightning quick. The sportier settings can make the shifts a bit abrupt. And there's a learning curve. Initially, we found shifting this transmission vexing because it requires pressing a button on the side to shift from Park to Drive to Reverse. Once we got used to it, it wasn't as annoying, but it does work in a non-standard way. Also, shifting from Drive to Reverse and back takes longer with this setup because often you have to look at the shifter to select the proper gear. A manual is much faster in this situation and a traditional automatic might be faster, also. Fuel economy for a BMW 135i Convertible is an EPA-estimated 19/28 mpg City/Highway with the 6-speed manual, 18/25 mpg with the 7-speed dual clutch automatic. The BMW 135i Coupe gets an EPA-estimated 20/28 mpg with the manual, 18/25 mpg with the automatic. Premium fuel is recommended for all models.
Because the BMW 135i Coupe is in some ways a scaled-down 335i, its ride, steering, and handling carry the same exemplary qualities as the larger car, though with a greater element of tossability due to the lighter weight and shorter wheelbase. Its smaller front tires are matched to the job of pointing the car while the fatter rear tires lay the power down in wonderfully linear fashion. The car's weight is distributed 52/48 on the front and rear tires.
Ride quality in the 135i Coupe, or other models with the sports suspension, can be an issue. The ride is hard, with sharp bumps pounding through, and the car jiggles over broken pavement. It's a matter of taste, so try the firmer setup before you buy. We're inclined toward the standard suspension. Those moments of driving joy may be offset by too many everyday moments of annoyance as the car tries to beat the road into submission. The standard suspension is easier to live with every day.
The 135i's brakes use massive six-piston calipers at the front and twin-piston calipers at the rear, with 13.3-inch front discs and 12.75-inch rear discs and a built-in brake drying and anti-fade feature.
The 128i isn't quite as quick as the 135i, but it still delivers a fun and sporty driving experience. Its 3.0-liter inline-6 breathes at atmospheric pressure without the benefit of turbocharging. It does feature the same Valvetronic valvetrain management and aluminum/magnesium construction as the 135i unit, but it lacks direct injection, a system that aids both power and fuel economy. It develops 230 horsepower and 200 pound-feet of torque, which, in the slightly lighter, 3250-pound 128i, should still get your attention when you put the pedal to the floor. BMW lists a 0-60 mph time of 6.1 seconds with the manual transmission and 6.7 seconds with the automatic.
Fuel economy for the BMW 128i Coupe is 18/28 mpg with either transmission. The BMW 128i Convertible is rated 18/28 mpg with the manual, 18/27 mpg with the automatic. Premium fuel is recommended for all models.
The standard suspension in the 128i is softer than in the 135i, but weight distribution is a marginally better 51/49. Brakes are 11.8-inch vented discs all around, but again, that is more than adequate for the 128i's more modest, no, make that less extravagant, performance.
We found the 1 Series Convertible impressively solid in both the 128i and 135i. We detected little cowl shack over even bumpy roads. While BMW added extra bracing to firm up the body structure, the convertible still isn't as solid or quick to react to steering inputs as the coupe. Nonetheless, it's still plenty sporty and it has the added advantage of open air fun.
Electronic driving aids abound in the 1 Series, including antilock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and cornering brake control, dynamic traction control, dynamic stability control, and a switch that can disable the DSC system for track days or generally more involving driving through the woods.