By KBB.com Editors
Rising fuel prices and increasingly crowded roads have turned many car-buyers' eyes toward small cars. BMW would love to cash in on this growing interest, but can it do so without diluting or cheapening the brand's premium image? BMW hopes the 1 Series will prove it can, and is entering the lower levels of the United States' luxury market cautiously, so only the 1 Series Coupe and Convertible will be sold here, even though three and five-door versions are also available in Europe. Those who think the 3 Series has grown too big or expensive can look to the 1 Series as the new heir to BMW's compact performance crown.You'll Like This Car If...
If you think smaller and lighter cars tend to be the most fun, we think you'll like the 2008 BMW 1 Series. MINI Cooper fans looking to move up to a slightly larger, more serious car will also feel at home in the 1 Series.You May Not Like This Car If...
Those looking to maximize their buying dollars may not be attracted to the 1 Series. For just a little more money, buyers can step up to the roomier and arguably more desirable 3 Series. Plus, the 1 Series has seating for only four passengers, so if you need room for five look elsewhere.What's Significant About This Car?
BMW's last model in the entry-level market, the 318ti, never really caught on with U.S. buyers. With nearly a decade to mull over what went wrong, BMW is once again ready to dip its toes into entry-level luxury waters with the new 1 Series.Driving It Driving Impressions
Those who are familiar with BMW's approach to suspension tuning will immediately feel at home in the 1 Series. Goldilocks herself would approve of the steering feel, which is neither too firm nor too light and offers precise control of the front wheels, and we think the 1 Series will deliver all the driving enjoyment and performance balance BMW drivers have come to expect. The 230-horsepower engine in the 128i is no slouch, but with 300 horsepower the twin-turbocharged engine in the 135i is the real star. It's the same engine used in the larger, heavier 3 Series and, in the smaller 135i, it delivers great power to pass and a swift zero-to-60-mph time of 5.3 seconds.Favorite Features
135i Twin-turbo Engine
Big horsepower numbers are impressive but, from the driver's perspective, a wide useable power band is just as important. The twin-turbocharged engine in the 135i delivers exhilarating performance and easy acceleration in all gears.
The capability for performance must be matched by a capability to get the car slowed down, and the 135i has huge front brakes that not only slow the small coupe with ease but also look great peeking out from behind its 18-inch wheels.
It may be the least-expensive BMW sold in America, but the interior treatment of the 1 Series is anything but cheap. The materials have a high-quality feel and the interior design features all the modern style found throughout the rest of the BMW lineup. The 1 Series seats only four, but front-seat passengers enjoy plenty of head and legroom while the rear seats offer comfortable but cozy quarters. The trunk offers a reasonable 10 cubic feet of storage space and the rear seats can be folded to accommodate larger items.Exterior
The 1 Series represents one of the most refined applications to date of BMW's "flame surfacing" design motif. Its basic silhouette has the proportions of a classic performance car, with a long hood, abbreviated trunk and wheels located at the far corners of the body. Adding to the 1 Series' visual flair are a sharply creased shoulder line, signature BMW twin-kidney grille and a rear spoiler integrated into the trunk lid. The more-powerful 135i sports an aggressive exterior treatment that includes 18-inch wheels and an aero kit inspired by BMW's M performance division.Notable Standard Equipment
Among the standard features offered on the 2008 BMW 1 Series are automatic climate control, power windows with one-touch up-and-down function, rain-sensing windshield wipers, cruise control and a 10-speaker audio system with auxiliary input for MP3 players. In terms of safety, the 1 Series includes standard front, front-side and side-curtain airbags, anti-lock brakes, stability and traction controls and a system that automatically dries the brakes in wet conditions.Notable Optional Equipment
Many of the options offered for the BMW 1 Series are divided into packages. The Cold Weather Package includes a ski bag, heated front seats and headlight washers that are standard on the 135i. The Premium Package features power front seats, auto-dimming mirrors, leather seating and an interior lighting package. The Sport Package increases the speed setting of the top-speed limiter and adds sport seats plus other racy details. Stand-alone options include a navigation system, xenon headlights, HD radio, satellite radio and BMW's Active Steering system.Under the Hood
Most buyers will find the 230-horsepower in-line six-cylinder engine powering the 128i to be perfectly acceptable. Those who want even more performance can choose the 135i and its twin-turbocharged engine, which produces 300 horsepower, enabling acceleration from zero to 60 miles per hour in a little more than five seconds. Both models feature a standard six-speed manual transmission or an optional six-speed automatic.
3.0-liter in-line 6
230 horsepower at 6500 rpm
200 lb.-ft. of torque at 2750 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 19/28 (automatic), 18/28 (manual)
3.0-liter in-line 6 Turbocharged
300 horsepower at 5800 rpm
300 lb.-ft. of torque at 1400-5000 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 18/26 (automatic), 17/25 (manual)
The BMW 128i has a Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) of just over $29,000, while the more powerful 135i model is closer to $35,500. The price for a 135i equipped with the Sport, Premium and Cold Weather packages, navigation and Active Steering can approach $43,000. The BMW 1 Series is in the relatively new premium sub-compact category, so direct competitors are somewhat difficult to identify; however, some buyers may also consider the more-expensive Audi TT and Porsche Cayman, the less-expensive Volvo C30 or the similarly-priced Nissan 350Z. To compare the actual transaction prices that consumers are paying for the BMW 1 Series, be sure to check the Fair Purchase Price. The BMW 1 Series is expected to hold its value well, retaining a healthy above-average value over time. Potential competitors, including the Audi TT and the Porsche Cayman, should retain similarly strong resale values.