The 2008-2012 BMW 1 Series is a bit of a throwback to a time when most European cars imported to the United States were small, nimble and affordable. With the 1 Series, BMW has converted the European hatchback into a rather stylish coupe and convertible, and in doing so, it has revived the spirit of the original 2002 Series and early 3 Series.
Sure, the 1 Series isn't big on interior room. In fact, its back seat is less inviting than that of the Hyundai Elantra. But the 1 Series isn't about practicality or fuel economy; it's about fun. With two 6-cylinder engine choices under its hood, the 1 Series offers reasonably affordable performance in the non-turbocharged 128i and a slightly overpriced but undeniably thrilling driving experience in the 135i.
Why You Want It
To many of our staffers, driving the 1 Series brought back memories of their first encounter with such fun-to-drive imports as the Volkswagen GTI 16V, the Honda Civic Si and the original Subaru WRX. There is something just so pure about the 1 Series. Its cockpit is clean and simple, yet it's still full of the modern audio and communication technology demanded by today's Internet-dependent driver. The seats are a bit snug, but they are supremely comfortable-which is good, because once you take a spin in the 1 Series, you won't want the ride to end. Twisting mountain roads are where the 1 Series plays best, but even on long stretches of highway, it's a comfortable and sophisticated cruiser. The 1 Series' rear-wheel-drive platform, six-speed manual transmission and taut suspension make it a favorite among enthusiasts, while the convertible model holds great appeal to enthusiast and non-enthusiast alike (a team that describes 90 percent of car-buying couples).
Notable Features & Options
The 2008-2012 BMW 1 Series may be the company's entry-level car, but it's still a BMW. As such, the 1 Series offers an impressive amount of standard and available equipment. The 128i features rain-sensing wipers, automatic climate control, 17-inch wheels and tires, a 10-speaker AM/FM/CD stereo with auxiliary input, leatherette seating surfaces, power windows with one-touch down-although the coupe's rear windows are fixed in place-power locks, power heated side mirrors and cruise control. A power moonroof is standard on 2008-10 models but is optional after 2011. Convertible models feature a power-operated soft top with a glass rear window and a rear defroster. Standard safety equipment includes electronic traction and stability control, front seat side-impact airbags and, on the coupe only, side curtain airbags. Convertible models include pop-up rollover bars concealed behind the rear-seat headrest. The 135i adds a turbocharged engine, adaptive HID front lighting, heated front seats, 18-inch wheels and tires and a sport suspension.
Available equipment includes iDrive-controlled navigation, Bluetooth hands-free calling, iPod/USB and HID headlamps. The 128i's Cold Weather package adds heated front seats, headlamp washers and, after 2009, a heated steering wheel (which is a stand-alone option on the 135i). Leather seating, a power driver's seat with memory and auto-dimming mirrors are the essential parts of the Premium package, while the M Sport package adds sport seats, 18-inch light alloy double-spoke wheels, an M steering wheel and an increased top-speed limiter. Stand-alone options include navigation with iDrive controller, automatic high beams, active steering, adaptive, HID headlamps (128i), leather seating, Steptronic automatic transmission, a premium audio upgrade and rear park distance control.
2009 - A heated steering wheel is added to the options list, as is BMW's somewhat notorious iDrive controller for the optional navigation system.
2010 - HD radio becomes standard on all audio systems. Automatic high beams become a stand-alone option.
2011 - A new single turbocharged 3.0-liter engine replaces the previous twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter on the 135i; also new for the 135 is an available seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. A no-charge package adds leather seats and iPod integration, while a Harman/Kardon audio system option replaces the former Premium audio.
2012 - Bluetooth and a USB/iPod adapter are added as standard equipment, while the short-lived M Coupe option is dropped.
Engines and Performance
The 2008-10 BMW 1 Series coupe and convertible are powered by two variations of the same 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder engine. In the 128i, the normally aspirated engine pumps out 230 horsepower and 200 lb-ft of torque. Transmission choices are a six-speed manual rated at 18-mpg city/28-mpg highway and a six-speed Steptronic automatic rated at 18/27 mpg. We found this engine to be well suited to the 1 Series, delivering its torque a bit higher up the rpm band than the larger turbocharged engine in the 135i but very enjoyable nonetheless.
The 135i adds twin turbochargers that increase power to 300 hp and torque to 300 lb-ft; fuel economy for both the manual and automatic transmission is estimated at 17/26 mpg. After 2011, a new 3.0-liter engine with a single turbocharger replaces the old twin scroll 3.0-liter in the 135i. Although horsepower and torque remain identical, the new engine's torque comes on stronger at lower rpm, and fuel economy increases to 18/25 mpg with the new seven-speed dual clutch automatic and to 20/28 mpg with the six-speed manual. Both engines deliver a frightening dose of power to this little car, rocketing it forward like a paper clip shot from a rubber band. It's easy to get into trouble in a car like the 135i, especially when pushing it too quickly into sharp turns. Thankfully, BMW's masterful suspension design is able to handle quite a bit of hard maneuvering, and the electronic stability control is there to save your bacon.
Recalls, Safety Ratings and Warranties
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has issued the following recalls for the 2008-2012 BMW 1 Series.
2008 - A recall was issued for a possible electrical defect in the side airbag wiring that could cause the airbag and seatbelt tensioner to malfunction.
2008-11 - A recall was issued for a possible problem in which, in a severe crash, the insulation around the seatbelt pretensioner could ignite.
BMW also initiated a voluntary recall for the 2008-10 135i's high-pressure fuel pump after numerous customers complained of the pump's failure.
Recall repairs are required by law even if the vehicle is out of warranty. Your dealer can check to see if the repairs were performed and if not, will fix the car at no charge to you.
As for safety, neither NHTSA nor the independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) have crash tested the 1 Series. However, given BMW's long safety history and advanced engineering, we imagine there are no significant flaws in the 1 Series' crashworthiness.
BMW offers a four-year/50,000-mile comprehensive warranty on the 1 Series, fully transferable from the original owner. BMW also offers a Certified Pre-Owned program for late model vehicles with less than 60,000 miles. To qualify, the car in question must first pass a rigorous inspection program by a trained BMW mechanic. Once cleared, the vehicle receives a CARFAX vehicle report and is given a two-year/50,000-mile limited warranty once the factory four-year/50,000-mile warranty expires. With the two warranties combined, you'll be covered for up to six years or 100,000 miles, whichever comes first. As with any warranty, standard wear and tear items such as brakes, wiper blades, suspension parts and regular engine maintenance items (belts, hoses, spark plugs) are not covered by the warranty. Check BMW's website for a complete list of what is and is not covered.
Word on the Web
Owners seem to have a love/hate relationship with the 1 Series. Owners on various sites write things like, "This car sticks to the road better than Super Glue" and "The low-end torque is insane." On the flip side, there is a well-documented and known problem with early high-pressure fuel injection pump failure on the turbocharged 2008-2010 135i. Even though BMW stepped up with an improved replacement part, some owners found that it, too, suffered from the same problem. BMW extended the warranty on cars with these pumps to 10 years/120,000 miles.
Numerous enthusiast sites have owners complaining of hard starts on hot days, carbon buildup on direct injection 135i intake ports (which requires the use of finely ground walnut shells to blast away the carbon) and an unusually high number of cracked third brake light covers. J.D. Powers and Associates give the 1 Series only an average grade in predicted reliability, but Consumer Reports gives the non-turbocharged 128i relatively good marks, although not so much for the turbocharged 135i.
Mini Cooper S - The Mini delivers all the fun of the 1 Series in a much less expensive package. We think the Mini Cooper's look is more youthful, and it offers a wider assortment of options and accessories than the 1 Series.
Audi A3 - Audi's five-door hatchback may not be as aggressive in the turns as the 1 Series, but it's still fun to drive, offers the added peace of mind of Quattro all-wheel drive, can be had with a diesel engine and can actually comfortably fit two adults in the back seat.
Volvo C30 - The C30 is real looker. It can't match the 1 Series for performance or handling, but it's no slouch, either. The C30 also has a pretty good reliability rating, yet it doesn't hold its value as well, meaning you can pick one up for less money.
Although we love the rush of power from the turbocharged 135i, the number of problems associated with this engine have us advising the 128i instead. The lesser sibling still has plenty of power, and most have been well optioned, so you shouldn't have a problem finding things like upgraded sport seats, better audio systems and fancy options.