by Michael Schratter and Raj Taneja
Jack be nimble, Jack be quick.
The 2008 BMW 128i is pictured above
MS: To call the One Series the Baby Beemers of the BMW family is a little misleading. It erroneously evokes the idea that these cars are harmless little things, when in fact they are anything but child’s play.
RT: Well that’s what I thought when I first looked at the 1-Series, it was like geez, a car that I’d probably buy for my teenage kid, but not something credible for day to day use. Since I’ve driven one, my whole perspective has changed.
MS: Launched in 2008, the BMW One Series was born with the idea that driving enthusiasts, if educated, prefer high performance sports compacts over larger sports sedans. The learned Europeans have been exalting the virtues of small being better for decades, the trick was to win over the North American customer. Were we ready to give up our silly insecurities of size? I mean up until very recently, we were a ridiculous automotive culture of SUVs!
MS: The BMW 128i and 135i are exactly the type of cars that can cause a cultural shift towards downsizing.
RT: For the record, I took out a 2010 BMW 135i from Brian Jessel BMW, Michael’s perspective is all about the 2008 128i, supplied by auto/ONE. Up until recently, I’ve been driving Michael’s ’08 128i and I’m not giving it up anytime soon.
The 2010 BMW 135i is pictured above
MS: There will be no question as to the One Series identity. Even without a peek at its trademark twin-kidney grille and round headlights the athletic, sculpted look characterized by the strong shoulder line and prominent wheel arches defines it as a BMW.
RT: One unique thing about the car you’re driving, Michael, the 2008 1-series has “Year One of the One” embossed above the ignition button. A really nice touch which is ultimately going to make this model more sought after by collectors.
MS: The 128i engine is a 3.0-liter inline six makes 230 hp and 200 lb-ft of torque, and is wonderfully smooth and flexible. My test car from Auto One had a 6-speed Steptronic automatic with paddle shifters. It was fun to use the paddle shifters for a short bit, but just popping it in drive and listening to the exhaust tone quickly changing its tune with the crisp shifts was almost as satisfying. My preference would have been the 6-speed manual, but then I am not sure if that would be the case if I had to sit in commuter traffic every day?
RT: I also got a 6-speed Steptronic automatic with paddle shifters. Manual is great if you’re on the track all the time but I think the automatic is more my speed – besides, have you seen it handle when you put the car into sport mode? It flies through the gears better than I could ever shift, that’s for sure.
MS: You can guide the 1 Series with gentle, measured movements or bully it and it always responds faithfully, doing exactly what you ask of it.
MS: Exiting a corner on the power is dazzling. Charge hard into a corner and excellent braking pulls you back to rational speed. Look where you want to go and the car follows your eyes. It is light, nimble, agile and a thrill to drive. The car flatters your every move, making decent drivers look like experts and expert drivers look like heroes. But get in over your head and BMW’s standard dynamic stability control will intervene to bring you back on course.
RT: I’ve seen plenty of videos on the Internet with the drivers bringing these cars into a drift around a corner. Not something I’d ever recommend but I’ll say they make it look really easy.
MS: So, the 128i has plenty of power. It looks great, hardly like the baby, entry-level BMW that it is. It handles better than the average modern-day vehicle, with true near 50/50 front-engine, rear-wheel drive balance. And unlike the 3 Series, you don’t see as many 1s on the road.
MS: That the 128i is missing a couple of turbos doesn’t mean that it is in any way a slouch. Acceleration is a decent 6.4 seconds to 100 km/h for the coupe and 6.7 for convertibles, and the handling is close to the 135i. It doesn’t have the punch of the 135i, but it still has most of the driving fun.
RT: In having driven both for an extended period, I can say both the 128i and the 135i have a number of characteristics that are unique to only their engine size – the 128i may not have the punch of the 135i, but it’s definitely lighter and gets off the line faster. It’s no lesser of a vehicle.
MS: Coupled with the cabriolet, as was my tester, the 128i is a wonderful way to enjoy a sunny summer day. The top folds in 22 seconds according to BMW and can be dropped at speeds up to 40 km/h – so no need to hold up traffic when the urge to go topless occurs at a traffic light.
RT: I tested that in my 135i too – I was truly amazed that the car could be in motion while the top was coming off. One thing to note, in the trunk there’s a latch that you push or pull – it makes space for the roof. If it’s pushed in, you gain more trunk room, if it’s pulled out, you have storage for the roof. It won’t retract without it and you may be left scratching your head.
MS: The 135i variant with its 300 hp is a serious performance car that will tempt enthusiasts looking for M3 performance on a budget. This is the same inline six found in the 3 and 5 Series sedans, only powering a much smaller and lighter package. While not as quick as the new V8-powered M3, the 135i is certainly every bit as quick as the old M3. And they say quite possibly more fun to drive. BMW says acceleration to 100 km/h is 5.4 seconds.
RT: It literally felt like 4 seconds! If anything, the car certainly feels right no matter what speed you’re going. It really responds to the pedal.
MS: At the reasonably basic trim level of my test car, the 128i has all you need for serious driving, with no distractions. The Sport Package seats are firmly padded for excellent support and comfort, and the leatherette covering is as good as some leather. The pedals are arranged well for performance driving. Instruments and controls are placed for quick visibility and use. In all cases, the trunk has plenty of room for normal use, and far more than in any two-seat sports car.
So what’s not to like?
MS: A couple things:
The back seat.
MS: If you had three folks to go riding, you wouldn’t be able to convince anyone to take a day trip in the back seat. Why BMW would build a car with such all-but-useless rear seats is a head-scratcher. It makes more sense to direct one passenger drivers to the Z4 and have the One Series offering a thrill for those that travel in larger groups than two.
RT: I have sat in the back seat before, it isn’t as useless as some sports cars – I’ve also driven a couple home in a similar situation. It wasn’t too much of an adjustment to accommodate my guests, so don’t be too hard on it. Of course, if you’re as tall as Shaquille O’Neil, you’re probably not looking for a sport compact nor are you going to fit any vertically endowed person in the back seat. The back seat works well for short trips, kids and pets. It especially works well once you put the top down.
MS: The One series isn’t much cheaper than the Three Series, especially if you get some of the options that BMW is so fond of making you pay for.
RT: Definitely a strategic item from BMW, from the get-go they’ve been touting the 1-series as a credible grown-up series for the enthusiast – I think they’ve hit the nail on the head.
MS: For people who don’t really need a back seat except in a pinch, the 1 Series might be as much BMW as they need. If you think a car should be fun to drive, the BMW One Series re-defines fun. I’m sure it will have you looking for a new home with a more challenging commute.
RT: Sounds right, plays right, feels right.