Car reviews - BMW - 1 Series - Coupe range
Handling, brakes, styling, touring abilities, comfort, value, 135i Sport’s amazing performance
Room for improvement
135i Sport’s ride quality may be too firm for some, surprisingly very little else
18 Apr 2008
THE 1 Series Coupe is the most convincing BMW in years.
We were only offered the $71,400 135i Sport manual to drive, and it came fitted with three options (sunroof, metallic paint and GPS) for $78,450 all up (plus on-road costs).
Now we need to reserve final judgement for when we sample this on familiar urban roads rather than the wonderfully varied country setting of northern Victoria and southern NSW, because we suspect that the firm but compliant ride may edge closer towards hardness – but we cannot say for certain.
But on the subject of everything else, the 135i Sport Coupe is astoundingly complete. And here’s why.
By sheer dent of it being a modern BMW, it embodies the sportiness and driving pleasure that the company strives for and (mostly) succeeds in providing – shrouded in a Teutonic efficiency that is both cold and compelling in equal parts.
Yet, unlike other BMWs today, this is coupled with the two-pronged emotional punch of nostalgia for bygone classics (namely, the 2002, but many younger people will also see an E30 323i lurking there too, for instance) combined with the essential downsizing that future sustainability demands.
The E82 coupe is relatively light, undoubtedly highly efficient and not wastefully long or large – and yet able to accommodate four people comfortably (including an ecstatic driver – but more on that later).
That it is also more affordable for many more people than the equivalent E92 335i Coupe ($72K versus $112K) – yet looks, feels, sounds and drives like a luxury grand tourer – introduces that rarely heard word when describing a BMW... real value for money.
Plus the 1 Series Coupe looks right – taut, muscular, modern, individual and undeniably striking – without the pretty but slightly too-sedan-like appearance of the E92 or the gorgeous grotesqueness of its 6 Series older sibling.
And anything that is (dare we say it!) Alfa 105-esque in size and aspiration is a wonderful thing. Alfisti longing for a proper spiritual replacement for their ageing 1750 GTVs might have to swallow their pride and look to Germany... just as the Catholic Church did for the current Pope.
Sure, when climbing inside, the 1 Series hatch-snatched dashboard might a crushing disappointment if you are familiar with a 116i. But it isn’t a bad effort at all in that the fascia is well laid out, effective in use and logic, and still very-BMW in style and execution.
Happily, the 1 Series hatch’s slightly fishbowl-like windscreen effect has been exorcised, for a more suitably rakish look that adds to the sense of occasion.
And we love the airy feel conveyed by the deep windows, fairly narrow pillars, optional sunroof and frameless doors that don’t impede entry like the hatch ones do – although how much better would this be if there was no B-pillar at all and the rear windows retracted for a full hardtop effect? That’s one for the E88 Convertible, we guess.
Your 178cm tester sat behind the driver’s seat that was not moved forward at all, to find that there is a surprising amount of headroom and adequate knee room. And the boot is usefully large too.
Now having all this, and one of the world’s greatest-ever engines, in a car that is about 120kg lighter than the supernaturally gifted 335i Coupe, is an invitation to one of the most fun parties you are ever likely to attend.
Like a decathlete strung out on speed, this powerplant is phenomenally capable in virtually every gear, out of any corner, over pretty much any road surface or situation.
Armed with 400Nm of torque from less than 2000rpm, you don’t have to be ready with the right gear ratio for rapid responses, but stoke the engine’s fires in second, third or fourth gear, and the slingshot speeds that are subsequently accrued almost instantaneously slots the 135i Sport firmly into the Porsche Cayman S performance category.
This thing covers ground rapidly with ridiculous ease. Some rougher surfaces and larger bumps did jolt the car slightly, but not off course and certainly with no drama. This is a BMW after all, and the levels of body control are brilliant to say the least.
Further to this, the 135i Sport benefits from the M Sport suspension setting that helps give it a vice-like grip of the tarmac, coupled with an astounding agility through curves and winding uphill sprints. Power is applied to the rear wheels without delay or hitch in these conditions, and the BMW skims over the road surface like a determined dragonfly.
We came away thinking that this car actually feels underpriced for the abilities it offers.
Yes, driving a 135i Sport on secluded and at times demanding alpine country in perfect weather is a scene from the died-and-went-to-driver-heaven fantasy film, but the fact remains that any car that steers, stops and goes like a proper performance BMW but is priced within sight of a Nissan 350Z is something to get excited about.
And we can’t wait to have more time in one on everyday roads – to confirm what we believe is the most convincing BMW package in decades.
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