2008 BMW 135i Review

2008 bmw 135i review

History is bunk. Although cars like the Jaguar XK120, Shelby Mustang and Porsche 911 have become legends, their modern equivalents offer far superior driving dynamics. And greater reliability. And safety. But it is their "soul" that resonates: the combination of icnoclastic style and man – machine zeitgeist. So when enthusiasts (and BMW PR) started comparing the new 135i to Bimmer's venerable 2002, expectations were sky high. The reality is more like a fat guy limbo dancing under a pole raised six feet off the ground.

My paranoid-delusional theory: BMW intentionally botched the 135i. If executed properly and sold with a mid- to upper-20s price tag, the 1-Series would have eaten the 3-Series' breakfast, lunch and dinner. Not to mention the toll it would have taken on sales of the BMW-owned MINI. So The Boys from Bavaria grabbed a 3-Series, screwed it up a bit, kept the hatch for the Eurozone and said "here is your entry level car."

Even a quick glance tells you BMW doesn't believe in reincarnation. The 2002's huge greenhouse dominated its exterior. The 135i is the exact opposite. The new Bimmer's beltline rides absurdly high; an accurate indication of submariner visibility. Even by modern BMW standards, the 1-Series is a bit of an odd duck. The front end is contempo BMW, but the headlights are more cubist X3 than sleek 7-Series. The trunk looks like it's taller than it is deep. There is nothing iconic or beautiful about the 135i. It's a rolling caricature of a virtually identical car.

In fact, the 1-Series' looks like a trash-compacted 3-Series coupe. Yes, the 135i continues Chris Bangle's axles of power flame-surfaced design theme (and how). And yes, some elements are distinctly appealing. The base of the rear pillar, for example, has a lovely retro curve to it. But when compared to the form-follows-function minimalism of its alleged ancestor, the 1-Series coupe is nothing more than an automotive affectation.

The 135i's interior offers a welcome return to basics. Bargain hunters will be well pleased that the materials deployed throughout the 135i's cabin are virtually identical (in quality) to those found in the 3-Series. The 135i's dash design is considerably better. The center stack is oriented toward the driver– a BMW interior hallmark I've missed in the years since BMW realized the orthodontists leasing their cars didn't give a damn.

Dentists' chairs are more comfortable than 135i's standard-issue front seats; even if you include the drilling. The seats' inverse side bolstering places you on top of a leatherette covered hill. Continuing a less noble BMW tradition, righting this ergonomic wrong costs big bucks. That'll be $1500 for leather and another grand for sport seats– which come packaged with Shadowline Exterior Trim, an M-Leather-Wrapped Steering Wheel, Increased Top Speed Limit and all-caps spelling.

The 135i's back chairs will not accommodate anyone: you, me, children, smaller children, junior members of The Lollipop Guild or Jay Shoemaker's chihuahua. The rear accommodations are barely sufficient for a decent-sized backpack, never mind a pair of homo sapiens. Not that it matters. The 135i's front seats are mounted so close together you can't reach into the back. And now, the good news…

Thanks to its 300 horsepower turbocharged inline six, driving the 135i is like strapping yourself to a Flüssigkeitsrakete. Until you get used to the thrust, ramming the tach needle into the red line transforms the neophyte into nothing more than spam in a can, flung at the horizon by God's own right hand. BMW says the zero to sixty sprint takes just 5.1 seconds. I doubt it. It seems much faster. And yet, after a while, the 135i leaves red-blooded drivers wanting more gears, more space and a higher speed limit (see: above). It's too bad the rest of the car is just luggage.

The 135i's dynamics are distinctly "piano like." By this I mean it drives as if there's a piano strapped to the roof. And no wonder, the 135i tips the scales at 3373lbs. (When BMW and Edmunds described the 135i as the 2002's successor, they must have been talking about the 2002 model year 330i.) Even with the mighty mill motivating the mass, despite the fact that it's lighter than the equally powerful 335i, the 135i feels heavy on its feet. Don't get me wrong: there's plenty of grip. But someone forgot to add nimbleness.

The 135i's steering is a big part of the problem; its ponderousness makes turn-in an unnecessarily onerous chore. The 135i's manual transmission doesn't help matters. Like most latter day Bimmers, the clutch is a two-footer that engages with rubbery imprecision. And while the 335i has a most excellent ZF automatic transmission, the 135i does not. The smaller car's French-made six-speed auto is jerkier and more dim-witted than its big brother's cog swapper.

With the 135i, BMW decided to have its cake and ate it too. Maybe that's why the 135i is so fat. I guess BMW couldn't offer a beautiful, affordable, spirited entry level car below the 3-Series, but not have a car below the 3-Series. Rather than "make it fun" or "make it practical," BMW sent us a slightly smaller, marginally less expensive, much less attractive 3-Series. Damn it's quick. But a 2002 for 2008 it most definitely is not.

Join the conversation
2 of 174 comments
  • Mbh15 Mbh15 on Dec 29, 2010

    This is by far the worst review I have read on the 135i. I would guess that most of the comments here are from people who have not driven, or owned a 135i. I had a 2004 E46 M3, that was riddled with problems. i do think it was a much crisper ride (with the ///M suspension) when doing extremely spirited driving, however, I also had it in the shop about 12 times for many different issues. i have owned 4 BMW's and this is the first one that i drove that reminded me of my 2000 M roadster (one of the most fun and agile cars on the road). I will also note that during all of the issues with my M3, I had 6 different types of service cars, 2010 and 2011 128i's, 2010 and 2011 328is, and 2010 and 2011 335i's etc. the 335 (while quite an awesome vehicle) was way to big for what I would consider a "small sports coupe". They have grown almost a foot longer than my old 96' 328is. So, if you want a bigger, heaver, less nimble, car without the soul that the 135i captures, go for the 3 series. Too often i talk to "options shoppers" who want all these "things" strapped onto their car, and monstrous leg room, and the standard 3 series badge.... well that's fine and go buy a 3-serious and be happy. But the 135i is not a 3-series, and is not a cheaper version of it either. Go drive one and then post if you think it doesn't put a smile on your face from ear to ear. And that's coming from a guy who drove an M3 for 2 yrs.

  • Gonflyn Gonflyn on Jun 16, 2011

    Just bought an 09 with 30000 miles on it and couldnt be happier. Id rather buy a used beemer than just about any other car new. One word - quality. This is my third bmw and there is no going back now. My previous one, an 07 335 sedan had 70000 miles on it, and drove like the day it was new. Many cars at that age are a rattling mess, a testament to beemers quality. I originally was looking for a 335 coupe wirh the sport package to replace my sedan and gradually started taking more notice of the 135. I then began looking at both thinking the right deal would be the decider. After a while i started looking exclusively for 135's. Not just because of price, but because they were starting to grow on me and represented a smaller, sportier, more minimalist option that was really what i was looking for. At first, i didnt know quite what to make of the 1. It was kind of funny looking and curvier than the 3 but the more i saw it the more i appreciated the more muscular, squat appearance that it conveyed to me. If the 3 is a sleek and refined golden retriever, then the 1 is a bulldog, purposeful and no nonsense. To me its a love or hate it thing to be sure. I also thought that the more i looked the 3, especially the sedan, the more i thought that it was becoming boring. So many other cars out there that have copied, or at least look like it. Hondas, acuras, to mention a couple. The 1 reminds me a more of a vehicle in the roadster or pony car tradition, possibly more mustang than euro sleek coupe. At any rate beauty is in the eye of the beholder and its such a subjective thing. As far as performance, the n54 twin turbo needs no more accolades, its proved its mettle since 08 and will lives on in the m sport while the n55 replaces it in the base model. Say no more, this thing is blisteringly fast. Handlingwise on my 09, three words, m sport package. Tighter suspension, 18 inch wheels and adjustable bolstered sport seats bring it well into sports car territory rivaling much more expensive cars and satisfying all but the most dedicated rally or tracks rats. Definately not as refined and effortless as the 3, that car is downright telepathic. I feel the 1 is more involved experience (isnt that what sports cars are about), and it does feel twitchier over rough roads than the longer wheelbase 3. Again tho, the m sport package provides what i consider a pretty agile ride and, unlike some other cars with this kind of performance, i think the 135 is sublimely rewarding daily driver. Manual gearbox to me feels crisp with no sponginess. Clutch is rather light, i've owned a few muscle cars over the years and it feels weird to have this kind of power with such an easy feel, i initially thought i'd rather have something a little beefier but again, as a daily driver its just so much more pleasant. I'd buy this car again in a heartbeat, do your self a favor and drive one if you are considering a car in this class

  • FreedMike I don’t know if I buy into the “they’re coming for our cars” stuff - they’ve been saying that for a long time now - but I wouldn’t argue with one word of this review otherwise.
  • Oberkanone It's not a Jimny! Would be nice if we still had a selection of Suzuki auto in the US. Sidekick was simple and affordable.
  • Dave M. I will say this generation styling has grown on me; previously I thought the Fiat version was far better looking. Miatas have always been pure joy to drive.
  • Kendahl A Tesla feature has been free, periodic, over-the-air, software updates that add new features or improve existing ones. Owners brag that their x-year-old car is better today, because of the updates, than it was brand new. Will Tesla start charging for these updates after a few years? Teslas hold their value very well. I suspect losing free updates will do serious damage to that.
  • BklynPete When I was a kid, the joke about Nissan choosing the name Datsun goes like this:Nissan execs were uncomfortable with the World War 2 connotations of their name in the North American market. Seeing how successful VW was over here, they went to VW's most-recent German ad agency. The Japanese told the Germans they needed a new name. The Germans agreed. They asked the Nissan execs when they wanted a review of potential names. The execs said two weeks. The German ad people said, "dat soon?"I will be crucified.