Between the new turbocharged 3.0-liter version of BMW’s revered inline 6-cylinder and the first-ever fitment of the impetuous 7-speed automated manual gearbox for the 1 Series, along with the comparative light weight of the luxury marquee’s smallest model, you’ve got an explosive recipe for enthusiasts who will quickly forget a few shortcomings.
The 2011 edition of the 135i Coupe doesn’t offer anything different to look at, but going for the big-engine 135i instead of the lower-level 128i does bring as standard the added aerodynamic and styling enhancements from the “M” package (optional for the 128i coupe and convertible). That’s a good thing, because the M trim helps to disguise the disproportions inherent in the basic 1 Series shape.
The 2011 upgrade for the 135i is all about the mechanicals. Although BMW watchers focus on the phase-out of the beloved twin-turbocharged inline 6-cylinder engine in favor of this new, single-turbo unit that BMW says is cleaner and more efficient, the fact is the power and torque figures for the new engine are all but identical. We’d challenge just about anybody to say they can tell the difference between the two engines.
The more intriguing addition is BMW’s high-tech, dual-clutch automated manual transmission. That’s a mouthful, but the DCT, in BMW lingo, essentially is a manual transmission that does the clutch work for you — quicker and cleaner than you could ever do yourself.
The wonder of this new generation of transmissions is that you can drive it just like the automatic you’ve always used. Pull back BMW’s graceful but robotic-looking transmission selector into the “D” position and forget about it when traffic’s heavy or you just don’t want to be bothered.
If your dander’s up, though, you can do it all yourself — except clutching — ranging sequentially up and down through the seven delightfully close-spaced gears. Oh, and don’t bother lifting your right foot (the system controls the throttle) just keep working the gear lever or the perfectly placed paddles on either side of the steering wheel, right paddle for upshifts, left paddle to shift down. Yank three or four times if your hair’s really on fire and the DCT will whip out a 7-to-3 downshift in milliseconds.
The DCT is more than a fairly expensive optional choice at $1,575. But the sound of that inline-six shrieking to its 7,000-rpm redline and the DCT ripping off another of its no-delay upshifts, your right foot plastered to the floor all the while, is pretty special.
BWM claims the new powertrain combo is good for a 0-to-60 mph blast in 5 seconds, but the truth: BMW is being conservative here. The 135i with the DCT transmission probably cuts a 4.5-second run to 60 mph. It certainly has to be one of the market’s quickest cars for under $40,000.
Therein lies the dilemma. Most people — even BMW sympathizers — have a hard time seeing this car as anything but overpriced and tiny. We’d fall back on the usual cliché of saying the rear seats are a joke, but we didn’t even try to jackknife ourselves into a space sized to coddle a couple of housecats.
All that before the $6,900 extra for the move up from the base 128i to the 135i. With a few option packages, most of which we’d consider essential, this very small, albeit very hot, four-seat coupe rings in at $43,000.
And although our tester’s red Boston leather seats and aluminum trim were gorgeous, the 135i interior still managed to look fairly stark. The heavy optioning still didn’t deliver a navigation system, for example.
But geez, even with this out-of-whack size-to-price ratio, we’re tempted to tell you the 135i is worth it. The giddy pleasure from this car’s seemingly never-ending shove is so corruptive.
BMW doesn’t try to sell a lot of the 1 Series — and is sure to sell even fewer of the performance-oriented 135i — but with the DCT it’s one of the quickest, nastiest cars you’ll find anywhere short of a full-blown sports coupe, and it’s got the added bonus of the BMW roundel on the hood. Taken in that context, the 2011 135i is, we’ll dare to say it, a bargain. — Bill Visnic, Motor Matters
Copyright, AutoWriters Associates Inc., 2011