BMW launched its 1 series a few years ago in Europe, as its 3 series has outgrown its entry-level roots. For the U.S. version, BMW turns it into a performance monster. The 135i gets an M body kit to differentiate it from its more conventionally engined siblings. Note the big air scoop in the spoiler.
The heart of the beast, this twin-turbo, 3-liter, straight-six-cylinder engine more than impressed us in the 535i and 335i convertible. We can't imagine what it will do in the much-smaller 1 series. BMW has a few clues, such as 5.3 seconds to 62 mph. The engine puts out 306 horsepower and 295 ft-lbs. of torque.
With its coupe styling, the 135i looks to be a real sleeper, a car you can blast off the line, surprising any number of gaudier sports cars. The 135i has a practical element, as the trunk is fairly spacious, although rear seat room is a little cramped. The rear seats have a 60/40 fold-down split, for extra cargo space.
With this engine, the 135i needs a little extra on the wheels and suspension. BMW opted for low-profile tires and beefy disc brakes to help traction and stopping power. It also gets a sport-tuned suspension as standard equipment. With traction control turned off, the car still applies computer-controlled differential slip to improve cornering without being intrusive.
We found it easy to slip into the driver's seat, although getting into the rear seats is another matter. The 135i has a thick steering wheel, providing a good grip surface. It can also be had with a full array of cabin electronics, including navigation, Bluetooth cell phone integration, and voice command. iPods and USB thumb drives can also be used as audio sources.
The standard transmission in the 135i is a six-speed manual. The navigation option is controlled through iDrive. BMW refined iDrive to include eight user-programmable buttons, making it easy to access your most commonly used functions.