2012 BMW One Gets it Done

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BMW’s 3-Series coupe/convertible is a car that many car lovers dream about.

Most of these dreamers, unfortunately, awake in the morning to the harsh reality of the Three’s economic inaccessibility: A 335i convertible is a $52k car; the base model hardtop 328i coupe starts at almost $38k.

$44k for the more powerful 335i.

But what if you could get the Goods that make the Three so appealing – including the identical engine lineup and even better performance in a smaller/lighter overall package – for about eight grand less to start?


The 1-Series is BMW’s entry-level coupe/convertible, similar in looks and layout to the popular 3 Series coupe/convertible but priced more accessibly.

Prices start at $30,950 for the 128i coupe. A 135i coupe stickers out at $39,050.

The soft-top 128i starts at $36,600; $43,800 for the 135i.


The ’12s receive minor styling updates, including a new front clip and revised interior controls/trim, including available Galvanized Pearl Gloss finish.


Same engines/drivetrains as the more expensive 3-Series, but the lighter One is quicker and faster than the heavier, larger – and more expensive – Three.

Outstanding handling.

Back seats are there.


Unlike the Three, the One is not available in sedan form.

High-mileage (and high-performance) diesel that’s available in the Three not offered in the One.

Back seats are barely there.


The I-Series offers two engine choices, both in-line DOHC sixes with variable valve timing and identical in every way to the engines used in the larger/heavier 3-Series.

The 128i coupe/convertible is powered by a 3.0 liter version of the BMW in-line six that’s rated at 230 hp. It’s paired with either a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic.

The 135i is also powered by a 3.0 liter DOHC six – but this engine is boosted with twin sequentially staged turbos to 300 hp. This engine not only offers 70 more horsepower, but also a triple-digit uptick in torque output (300 lbs.-ft. vs. the base engine’s 200 lbs.-ft.), with peak torque that’s available at a diesel-like 1,300 RPM – which is maintained throughout the power band.

This engine can be partnered with the six-speed manual or BMW’s seven-speed dual-clutch DCT automated manual.

Both versions of the One are quick.

The 128i coupe can reach 60 in about 5.8 to 5.9 seconds; the twin-turbo 135i cuts that down to 5 seconds flat.

Convertibles, being slightly heavier, are slightly slower. But all versions of the One are quicker than their Three equivalents because they’re carrying around about 200 pounds less deadweight.

Interestingly, the 135i gets slightly better gas mileage than the 128i: 20 city, 28 highway (with the standard six-speed; the DCT’s mileage is 18 city, 25 highway).


Everything you expect from a BMW sports car is here – surgically precise, perfectly weighted steering; that sense of absolute confidence in the car that gives you confidence in yourself.

The shorter wheelbase (104.7 inches vs. 108.7 inches) and lower curb weight also give the 1-Series a lighter – and arguably, more sporty – feel than the larger/heavier 3-Series. And on the other end of the scale, it’s not as twitchy as the very short wheelbase (98.2 inches) Z4 two-seat roadster, which like many high-powered, short-wheelbase roadsters can get skittery when you lay on (or back off) the throttle in a tight turn.

Ride quality is also 100 percent “BMW” – meaning it’s firm and tight with minimal body roll but doesn’t feel like someone removed all the rubber suspension bushings and replaced them with steel or aluminum biscuits like in my ancient Trans-Am.

It’s all about composure – and BMW’s cars deliver that quality better than just about anything else on the road.

The twin-turbo 135i pulls like a ’60s-era V-8 muscle car to its 7,000 RPM-plus redline but without the lumpy idle or the single digit gas mileage. If you happen to ride high-performance sport bikes, the turbo six will feel very familiar as far as how it happily revs to very high RPMs with virtually no sign of stress or vibration. It’s a superb tool for road-bound wet work. Like a Ninja, you don’t see it coming, it makes little noise – but takes care of business and is gone before anyone realizes what just happened.

The performance capability of the base 128i’s engine, meanwhile, is very respectable in its own right. Reality check: Six second 0-60 times are what most of the quickest V-8 powered muscle cars of the ’60s and ’70s could deliver.

Also: These BMWs are among the relative handful of serious performance cars that are equally enjoyable with the optional automatic transmission. For one, the engines have plenty of torque – essential to the performance feel of an automatic-equipped car. But even more important, BMW knows how to calibrate an automatic transmission so that it bangs off perfectly timed shifts whether you’re drag racing someone or just poking along.

It can go from smoother than your grandma’s Buick to as fierce as a hot rod SS Chevelle with a tire-barking “shift kit” installed in its THM400.

The DCT tranny, on the other hand, is not my favorite. If you’re good with a clutch, you can do better – and your gas mileage will be better, while your MSRP will be lower.


This is subjective – your opinion may differ – but I think the One looks tighter and better proportioned than the Three. Being shorter definitely helps; there’s no excess overhang or superfluous panels anywhere.

It’s like a leaner, younger, more in-shape version of the slightly thick-looking Three.

The interior is a high point, too – as it is in all BMWs. Top-drawer materials (including sunlight reflecting material for the seats, to help keep your backside cool and the seat covers themselves from fading and eventually cracking and splitting) and a simple, effective overall layout.

But the best part is there’s no need to pore over an owner’s manual for hours to figure out how the radio works – or spend weeks getting used to gratuitously over-elaborate controls. The notorious iDrive controller is available – but thank the Motor Gods, it’s optional. The bad news is it’s packaged with the DVD navigation system, so if you want that you’re stuck with iDrive. That is really the only unkind thing I can think of to say about this car. My recommendation is to skip the factory installed navigation system – and avoid the iDrive messing up your drive. Then buy an aftermarket GPS, if it’s a must-have feature.

Base 128i coupes come standard with lots of high-end stuff, including rain-sensing wipers, 10-speaker stereo, leather/leatherette trim, manual control AC and 17-inch rims with sport tires; the 135i notches it up with 18-inch rims, firmer suspension settings, adaptive headlights and auto climate control. You can also order an M steering wheel and special sport buckets.

Bluetooth connectivity, iPod hook-up, HD/satellite radio and keyless ignition/entry which automatically unlock for you when you grab the door pulls are a few of the optionally available high-tech highlights.

Both the trunk and the back seats are kind of tight – but at least they are there. Cramped back seats are better than no back seats at all. And while the 1-Series’ 10 cubic foot trunk won’t take a skid from Wal-Mart, it will take several bags of groceries; and if you need more room, you’ve still got those back seats. The fact is the 128i and the 1351i have only slightly less usable rear seat space than the bigger, heavier – and much more expensive 3-Series coupe/convertible.


BMWs are exceptionally tight cars with brilliant engines and a deserved reputation for meticulous attention to detail and overall high quality. BMW dealers are sometimes known to be snooty and not as helpful as, say, Lexus dealers. But the cars themselves are hard to fault and historically have proved to be very durable – provided you do not ignore the BMW-recommended service procedures.

Safety-wise, the One convertible versions get their own unique head/side air bags that are positioned to provide the extra protection that the roof/side structure would otherwise provide – along with pop-up rollover bars in case the car flips.

Manual-equipped cars get a hill-holder clutch that keeps the car from rolling backward when you start off on an incline.

Excellent high capacity brakes with ABS and a “wipe” feature that keeps the rotors dry during wet weather driving by periodically (and very lightly) applying just enough pressure to the calipers to squeegee away any moisture as you drive are also included.


In the One, you can have your back seats, your rear wheel-drive performance – and your twin turbo six – for many thousands less than BMW wants for the otherwise similar, slightly larger Three.

Throw it in the Woods?


  1. I concur with you on riding paranoid. But keep in mind that just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean that they aren’t out to get you. 😉

    I rode hard and fast in and around Ft. Walton Beach, Florida for three years and can assure you that you have to try really hard not to get killed by a little old lady! They do not see you, do not hear you and usually drive things like Lincoln Town Cars or Cadillac De Villes. I’ve been “herded” across three lanes, run up on to the median and “helped” to pioneer the front wheel wheelie out of necessity (yes Virginia 70% of your stopping power really is in the front brake).

    I actually had one elderly lady that pulled out right in front of me, at night on a busy throroughfare, when I chased her down, claim (a) that she didn’t see me (I was running a totally illegal Osram 80/100 headlight) and when I called BS then claimed, you’ll love this (b)”Florida has a right turn on red law!” By riding the way you describe Eric, I was never seriously injured. I only laid my bike down on the street once and can honestly say that was my own stupidity for riding beyond the mechanical limits of the bike.

    I read somewhere that 80% of the accidents in a riders first 6 months are his fault, after 6 months 80% are other motorists’ fault. But I agree that we are the masters of our own destiny and feel confident that I could still ride safely regardless of the bike. But alas, my better half wants to keep me around for some reason and bows up at the mere mention of a sport bike. So I can concede the point and buy a dual sport. After all an FZR600 wouldn’t do you much good out on the pasture or down a fire trail anyway.

  2. I too have enjoyed owning crotch rockets, but now in middle age I think the dual-sport segment looks pretty interesting. I took a driving trip to Alaska in 2000 and was really impressed with the all the BMW motorcycles I saw making the trek. Lots of fun here at a sub-$10k price point.



    • Dual sports are a lot of fun – and very versatile, too. Have you checked out some of the adventure-touring stuff? It’s like a cross between a sport bike and a dual sport!

  3. A compact BMW chassis with a turbocharged inline six and a rag top is the stuff of my dreams. But spending +$40k for a car while awaiting TEOTWAWKI* doesn’t seem like a bright idea to me. If I was going to do anything in this vein I might spring for a lightly used C5 Corvette convertible or an E36 convertible (’90 – ”98)


    * The End Of The World As We Know It

    • Yeah, me too!

      Another option – if you feel the need for speed but don’t want to spend a lot of money – is a high-performance sport bike. About $11k will get you a bike that will make an M5 (or C5 Corvette) look slow; high 9 second quarter mile capability. Zero to 60 in less than 3 seconds. 180-plus on top. And 40 MPG, too!

      • Sadly, a bike falls too low on the WAF* in chez moi, given my history of high speed escapades. She’s tolerant–sometimes a willing accomplice–in rapid country trips, but she knows damn well what I’ll do in a Yamaha R1!

        I had a fantastic Yamaha FZ750R back in the late 80’s. The previous owner had installed Mahle pistons, hot cams, etc. It was beyond vicious; with a powerband that only hit hard above 8K RPM, it was like riding a meth-head cheetah.

        Loved that bike. But I’m quite certain I lack the self-control to keep myself on the sane side of the speedometer. If there’s an AA for bikes, I’d need it. That feeling of every part of your body working in concert to control this barely stable rocket under you…what a thrilling rush!

        *WAF: Wife Acceptance Factor

        • Mine grandfathered in! Wife hates them all – even the completely docile Silverwing touring bike – and can’t appreciate the beauty of my restored Kz900; nor does she see the future glory of the ’74 S1 that’s “in process.”

          I suppose it’s a good thing we’re buying this land because otherwise I’d be very seriously thinking about a new ZX10R!

          • Okay, it looks like we’ve got a Bikes Anonymous group forming here… 😀

            My better half is a retired orthopedic / rehab nurse. She has finally relented on my buying a dual sport bike due to the potential for SHTF and/or $7 a gallon gas. But she has continued to remind me how most of the paraplegics and quadraplegics she took are of over the years were victims of motorcycle accidents. Somehow when she starts talking about how she had to clear impacted bowels with a gloved finger…..anyway you get the picture….it just seems to temper my desire for a crotch rocket. That’s the problem with being married to caring, compassionate and brutally candid woman.

            • I’ve owned all kinds of bikes (and currently have five), know scores of people who ride – and one thing I’ve learned is that you can have a mishap on any type of bike. Big cruisers can be just as “dangerous” as sport bikes in the wrong hands – or under certain conditions. A deer can run out in front of any type of bike. Etc.

              Bad luck can happen, of course. But to a very great extent you are master of your destiny – just as you are in a car. That doesn’t mean you’re invulnerable. It does mean that if you’re a good rider and use good judgment (and ride paranoid, assuming everyone else is oblivious and out to kill you) you can reduce your odds of becoming a statistic considerably.

              That’s my 50 cents, anyhow!

        • Oh yeah methyl, I know what you mean! I traded my Jet Ski (the real, stand up 550) for an XL600R, but it just couldn’t compare to the 75 Yamaha RD350 I had before the ski. So bikes to me are like heroin and a man’s gotta know his limitations! BTW, I instinctively new what WAF was. Scary, huh?

        • My first street bike was a Yamaha FZ600 and it was not turbo fast (pipes and tripped carbs), but fast enough for a 17 year old. I remember one Sunday morning (in Okinawa) coming home from a girlfriend’s house. I pulled up to a light and a two stroke unit came up along side. My bike was clearly faster, but this dude could ride! Me and homeboy flew down the main highway on the island and up along the ocean side so I had the Pacific on my left. The entire time I was riding beyond my limits and I think I was pushing the other guy almost to this! This went on for a good 25 minutes. I could not even look down at my speed (most the time) because I couldn’t divide my attention, or I would have crashed. It was absolutely nuts and I’m glad I survived. Street rocket bikes are SICK. I can’t even imagine getting on the units they make nowadays. I have a problem..

          • Congratulations, Dom!

            The first step is admitting you have a problem.

            @Boothe–shades of Trainspotting!

            You have to worry about bills, about food, about some football team that never fucking wins, about human relationships and all the things that really don’t matter when you’ve got a sincere and truthful junk habit.

  4. Whist still in high school, and driving (85-86), I had unfettered access to my father’s 1979 BMW 320i coupe. It was a remarkable little car, with the best steering of any car I’ve ever driven to date. The 320 seemed to thrive the faster and harder it was driven. So far ahead of the pack. It wasn’t perfect, though. The cooling system was underengineered for the American climate, and the Service Reminder light (and a few other bits) required uber-specialized tools when things needed worked on. Nonetheless, I have very fond memories of that car.

    I can still remember when the entry price for a new 3 series was ~$30K. How long ago that seems, based on the prices quoted in your article. I console myself by remembering, truthfully, that riding a liter bike has really spoiled me for the general automotive driving experience.

    Always a pleasure reading your articles, Eric.


    • Hi James,


      I can go back even farther to the old 2002, which was also a great (fun) car and a still-affordable car, too.

      BMW’s not alone in having become rich man’s car, or at least, a very affluent man’s car.

      So, I, too am grateful for 1,000 cc sport bikes that cost maybe $10k that can out-accelerate and out-handle almost anything on four wheels!

      • Eric,

        I sat in my uncle’s 2002 in Greece. A nice car, but it was a little to small for me. My head would touch the roof in that car. I had the same thing happen to me when I looked at a 3-series BMW about 10 years ago. My head also touched the roof on that model.

        Regardless of price of car or how nice it is, I need to be able to sit comfortably in it if I decide to purchase the car.

        • As a tall guy myself, I know what you mean!

          Having (or not having) a sunroof can make all the difference. With, you may lose an inch of headroom. Without, you’ve got just enough clearance for the car to be comfortable.

          I’m not a hug sunroof fan so it’s easy for me to nix that option and not miss it!

      • Well, maybe an affluent guy’s car if you buy new…but the used market can be fabulous if you know some of the maintenance “gotcha’s” to look out for.

        I bought my M5 at 60K miles for $27K. Thing is, the maintenance–even when you do most of it yourself–can be punishing.

        And as we were discussing on another thread, DIY maintenance may not be an option any more on the latest Kraut cars.


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