Fast, capable and enjoyable, but not as raw as we were expecting

What is it?

You might think that the 135i would be a small, driver-focused coupé. To some extent it is, of course, but in the end it doesn’t really turn out like that.

Yes, the 135i is the halo 1-series. Its 302bhp, twin-turbo straight six makes it the most powerful and fastest One yet; it’ll reach 62mph in 5.3sec and go on to a limited 155mph.

And its coupé body (more like a two-door saloon, if you ask me) is stiffer than that of either the three- or five-door hatch, which should make tuning the suspension for dynamism so much easier. It has M Sport suspension, M Sport body styling, 18-inch alloys and, at the rear, 35-profile tyres. It even gets, of a fashion, a locking differential. On paper, it’s as committed as BMWs get this side of an M-car.

What's it like?

It’s a surprise to find that the 135i’s actually a bit of a softie. Even more so if you’ve ever been in a 130i, which is to ride quality what blindfolds are to road safety.

The 135i isn’t harsh like that. Over broken or gravelly surfaces it rides better than a 130i could ever hope to. And better than a car on 35-profile run-flats has a right to. I suspect it’s down to the increased torsional rigidity, which allows the suspension to do its job properly.

Moreover, its capability as a cruiser is helped by that engine. The turbo 3.0-litre unit is a stonker. There’s a little lag low down, but from 2500rpm response is excellent and it pulls eagerly to 7000rpm.

The six-speed manual gearbox has the usual heavy, positive shift of a BMW shifter, and ergonomically the coupé cabin is pretty sound, up front at least.

BMW claims that you can seat four adults in the 1-series coupé for lengthy periods, but I wouldn’t want to spend more than an hour or so in the back.

The boot’s okay, though. The coupé’s rear seats split and fold, too, so the transition from hatchback to coupé hasn’t cost the One much in the way of practicality.

So what of its dynamism? Think 335i with a bit more agility and you’re on the right lines. Body control is good and the steering is fast and accurate.

If you do the odd track day, get used to understeer, because that’s the 135i’s preferred mode of extreme cornering; it leans on its 215-section front tyres much sooner than its 245 rears and overheats them quickly. From that point on, it’s a challenge to corner neutrally or enjoy any tail-out antics. It can be done, but it takes brutality, even with the locking rear diff.

Should I buy one?

The 135i is not the ultimate driving machine, but it is fast, and it is capable. And while hooligans will no doubt wish it was a bit rawer, I suspect equally that owners will love it.

Matt Prior

Matt Prior
Title: Editor-at-large

Matt is Autocar’s lead features writer and presenter, is the main face of Autocar’s YouTube channel, presents the My Week In Cars podcast and has written his weekly column, Tester’s Notes, since 2013.

Matt is an automotive engineer who has been writing and talking about cars since 1997. He joined Autocar in 2005 as deputy road test editor, prior to which he was road test editor and world rally editor for Channel 4’s automotive website, 4Car. 

Into all things engineering and automotive from any era, Matt is as comfortable regularly contributing to sibling titles Move Electric and Classic & Sports Car as he is writing for Autocar. He has a racing licence, and some malfunctioning classic cars and motorbikes. 

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fast_eddie 3 March 2008

Re: BMW 135i M Sport Coupe

I have waited and waited for BMW to get this car into production. Their first car in ages with a proper set of calipers at the front to stop it, without rumbling like a shift workers stomach.

It is a cracking looking thing and high on my list of next car purchases!

Well done BMW!

mosqueda 2 March 2008

Re: BMW 135i M Sport Coupe

I think it's fantastic looking! I have a Focus ST (US version). It is a so-so car. I will get the 135i next. Of course here in the states there isn't too much of an opportunity for full out speeding (we can't just drive the Chunnel and go to Germany), but out here in Colorado, you can find long stretches of road to go all out. And of course, we've some wicked mountain driving full of twisties and all sorts of fun. These cars will sell out in the states. There are already waiting lists. I plan on getting my in 2009 in time for a summer in the Rockies.