Cooley On Cars
On the road: 2013 BMW 135isThe 2013 BMW 135is has a lineage that goes back over 40 years to the original BMW 320i of the 1970s. CNET's Brian Cooley shows you how the Bavarian automaker keeps the spirit of the original alive with some new ideas added in.
It might surprise you that BMW didn't always specialize in cars you can't really afford, and this guy they get back to their roots of pretty affordable and highly delectable. Let's drive the 2013 BMW 135is and check the tech. Now before we talk about a 2013 anything, we've gotta take you back to 1977 when in the U.S. at least BMW is still a very niched, very European car maker. Then along comes the original 320i and it captures a wide swath of the American public's attention, great engine, great suspension, and grown up elegant lines, plus it was big enough to look like something Americans could imagine driving. It also didn't hurt that BMW's 3 series arrived about the same time that yuppies did in the American cultural psyche, and for better or for worse BMW has been the official car of the American bourgeois ever since, but the real key to the 3 series back in the day was its simplicity, its capability, and its style, and that's what we're seeking in the 1 series today. Now you may think the 1 series looks almost comically small on the road, but if I can paraphrase Gloria Swanson, it's the other cars that got bigger. This is actually just about the same footprint as the original 3 series and it was not considered a tiny car. Now length is the most interesting comparison. The 2 cars are less than an inch apart. From there the height and width grow a bit on the 1 series, yet it appears smaller on the road compared to its contemporaries. The 1 series has 2 more cylinders, a liter more displacement and almost 3 times the power moving 25 percent more weight from 0 to 60 in less than half the time it took its ancestor. All of this is a lesson in modern car trims, not just BMW's. You can spot a 135is by its wheels, aerodynamic kit, more monochrome body colored parts outside and the best looking exhaust tip inside of a Porsche in the back. Now that 320 horsepower is made up with 317 foot-pounds of torque, nice numbers for a pretty compact car courtesy of a lot of technologies I mentioned. Twin-powered turbo means 1 turbo but with 2 scrolls inside it for different portions of the RPM range. On top of that you've got direct injection, you got their completely variable valve train technology and you've got traditional front-engine longitudinal rear-wheel drive only, not even an all-wheel drive available on this guy. This is a 6-cylinder in-line that's a pretty big piece of metal. So they've done a good job of shoving it way back towards the cowl, meaning you get some very nice weight distribution on this car. It's about 4951 which is pretty good considering how big a lump you got up here in the nose. Now while this may be a rather compact car it's got sort of mid-range to good fuel economy. You've got 20/28 with the manual but a significant haircut if you get the dual clutch automated manual; then you go down to 18/25; that's quite a delta and it's also unusual to see a manual do better these days. Get the stick. Now the 1 series is not a tech tour de force in the cabin. Most of BMW's cool cabin tech not spoken here. In fact on this particular car, we didn't even have an LCD head unit. Nav is not an option and I like the fact that we've got the old school orange and black display what they used to call the BMW Business Radio and now what do they call it, oh professional. It makes no sense at all but I like the look, very stripped down and spartan for a car that I think does best in that vein. You got all the sources you really need, AM, FM, HD radio, CD slot, USB, iPod, and an aux jack. What you're missing is satellite radio. If you want that you've gotta get a big old fat option package. That irks me, it's not a la carte nor is it standard. Also not available here, rearview camera. Forget it. You can get park sensors. It's about as good as it gets. No driver assistance technologies. None of those stuff that takes this car off mission or off price. Now there's only 1 word that really applies to this car. It's not spacious. It's not luxurious. It doesn't have any real presence but it's tossable and that's what a 1 series is all about especially with the big motor. Now I wished I didn't have the turbo lag. There is some in there and when it kicks in there's definitely a sort of a need that you can get to, but you can push this guy around the corner with that nice weight balance. There we go. That nice deep bottomless torque once you tap into it and it's a party on 4 wheels. Here we go. Dive in, lean on it, keep the speed up and let that rear end just hang out. Nice. Built to toss and built to stay that way. Now I've got the traction control off. It's actually not too intrusive when it's on. I'm putting it back on now. Throw in the number 3 right here and it kind of catches you right as you're about to have too much fun. Very nice. This is an autocrosser's dream with the exception of the fact that nice really turbo boost is not linear when it kicks in. I would love to drive this car with the non-turbo in-line 6 and then you may have the perfect tossable predictable 1 series. The nice thing about a car that's a smaller form factor like this one is it you wear it more than drive it. I mean it's no BRZ or Miata, but it's definitely a car that feels like it's more tailored to you than one of the bigger BMW's that has equal prowess. It's just more personal. Round, correct, it's just hard to get this car angry at you. Now we're not gonna have any tires left at the end of this particular video but that's BMW's problem. In the end this is one of the most fun cars to push around a track, front engine, rear drive, lots of power, and a nice weight balance. A forgivable little guy as well. If you get in trouble with this car, you are asking for it. Okay. Let's price our 2013 135is, top of the stack for the 1 series in the U.S., unless you want a convertible, $44,100 out the door with destination. Now to get it CNET style, I'm gonna pass over the premium package. That's 2400 bucks; I don't wanna spend on a bunch of convenience features that just lard the car up. Instead I'll take $2350 and put that in the tech package. Now we're talking. Navigation, BMW apps and more although it does add an LCD head unit to the car and kind of take it off its purest mission. That's the CNET style choice. $875 for Harman Kardon audio, good choice there, and while I love the price, I'm gonna skip that dual clutch automated manual. It's only 450 bucks, a blind steal but this car needs a manual gearbox. So done up our way it's $44,100, closer to 50 than I wanna be for the baby Bimmer but this is a nice car that's as close as you'll get for the way it used to be.