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      06-03-2008, 10:23 PM   #130
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Drives: SGM 135i
Join Date: Oct 2007
Location: Ohio Valley

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AutoWeek buys a 135; raves about it

DRIVERS LOG: 2008 BMW 135i

2008 BMW 135i
IN FLEET: May 12-26
DRIVETRAIN: 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged I6; rwd, six-speed manual
OUPTPUT: 300 hp @ 5800 rpm, 300 lb-ft @ 1400 rpm
CURB WEIGHT: 3373 lb
FUEL ECONOMY (EPA/AW): 20/20.4 mpg

SENIOR EDITOR BOB GRITZINGER: This latest version of BMW's "entry" model eschews some of the $9,000 worth of options that punched the price of our previously tested 135i to $45,000. This car proves that you could certainly live without the six-speed automatic transmission (a $1,275 option) and the M Sport steering wheel with paddle shifter ($1,100). The six-speed stick is the ticket for this car, allowing the driver to take full advantage of the engine's powerband, regardless of whether you're blasting off from a dead stop, carving a tight corner or motoring along in sixth and need a quick downshift to pass. Any scenario invokes a lightning-quick response from the 135i, with zero lag from either turbo or tranny action.

I never once felt deprived because it didn't have the $3,300 premium package with universal garage-door opener, digital compass mirror, power front seats with driver's-seat memory, auto-dimming interior and exterior mirrors, BMW assist and lumbar support. If there's any negative, it's that you'd better buy a kidney belt if you live on a chuckholed back road. Oh, and the car could do with a sun-visor extender. In other words, regardless of the level of comfort and convenience features, the underlying car offers the kind of performance that makes you forget about accouterments. That used to be what buying a BMW was all about. Maybe the 1 Series will be the car that gets BMW and its fans back to that happy place.

MOTORSPORTS EDITOR MAC MORRISON: I don't look at this as an entry-level car in any way, shape or form. It isn't priced like one or built like one, and it certainly does not perform like one.

I'm willing to bet that if the 1 Series' body was more "exotic" (think Z4 coupe) in appearance, and if the thing had only two seats, we would look at it as a true performance sports car, and no one would be groaning about the cost, because we've come to expect such cars to carry a premium price. But because it resembles a smaller 3 Series, everyone seems to think it should be priced accordingly, which it actually is to some degree. The 135i's base price is almost $5,000 less than the 335i's base price. Did anyone truly expect BMW to lop $10,000 or more off the 3 Series starting point just because the car is smaller? Keep dreaming-after all, this is a world where Porsche can build a hardtop Boxster, call it a Cayman and sell it for more than the convertible.

I'll take this BMW for what it is, and that's one hell of a runner. Up against the just-replaced M3, I bet the 135i would come out on top in every category. And if it didn't, it'd be darn close. Consider that the previous M3 started at about $50,000; then come back and tell me this 135i isn't priced reasonably for the level of performance it offers. Since when are we taken aback by small cars with hefty prices, anyway?

The 135i driving experience is phenomenal. The chassis and suspension are typically sharp, with great response, great grip and a throttle-steerable character. Steering and braking are world-class. The interior is up to snuff with BMW's other offerings, something that would almost certainly have suffered had the company aimed to build a poor man's car. Consider the disaster that was the C-Class coupe, Mercedes' attempt at offering an entry-level model. If I recall correctly, that car cost significantly less than this 1 Series. I also recall everyone condemning it for the steaming pile of garbage that it was.

Even in stock form, this is a serious performance car and not the cute little Bimmer the country-club set buys for the prom queen on her 16th birthday while Daddy drives the "real" BMW--even if the compact dimensions trick your brain into thinking that is the case.

Take the 135i lightly at your peril.

This article was last updated on: 05/28/08, 15:03 et