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?
WHAT IT IS
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.
WHAT’S NEW FOR 2012
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.
Back seats are there.
WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD
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.
UNDER THE HOOD
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 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).
ON THE ROAD
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.
AT THE CURB
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.
THE BOTTOM LINE
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?