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One of the first entry-level luxury cars to hit the U.S. market, the BMW 1 Series is anything but bargain-basement. With a choice of three powerful six-cylinder engines and dimensions that rival earlier 3 Series models, the 1 Series are bona fide BMWs, complete with precision driving dynamics, premium features and a pricey sticker.
The 2013 BMW 1 Series is mostly unchanged over last year, but receives some additional standard features and retooled options. The high-performance 1 Series M Coupe is gone, replaced by another sporty variant: the 2013 BMW 135is, available in both coupe and convertible body styles. The 2013 BMW 135is is now the most powerful of the bunch, with unique exterior and interior trim.
In some ways, the 1 Series is the spiritual successor to the sporty BMW 2002, produced 1968-76, and in some ways the 320i yuppy-mobile that followed. The BMW 128i and BMW 135i coupes and convertibles deliver the sporty dynamics of rear-wheel drive, agile handling, powerful engines and seating for four, all those attributes we’ve come to expect from the Bavarian automaker, in a smaller, more affordable package.
The BMW 128i Coupe and Convertible are powered by a 3.0-liter inline-6 that generates 230 horsepower and 200 foot-pounds of torque. They’re available with 6-speed manual or 6-speed Steptronic automatic. BMW says the 128i can accelerate from zero to 60 mph in 7.0 seconds with the automatic, 6.4 seconds with the manual. Fuel economy for the 2013 BMW 128i coupe is 18/28 mpg City/Highway with either transmission; the 2013 BMW 128i convertible achieves 18/27 mpg City/Highway with the automatic and 19/28 mpg with the manual.
The BMW 135i features a twin-scroll turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-6, good for 300 hp and 300 lb.-ft. of torque. The BMW 135i Coupe and Convertible are available with a 6-speed manual or a 7-speed dual clutch transmission, which does not require manual shifting from the driver. A BMW 135i can accelerate from zero to 60 mph in 5.4 seconds with the manual gearbox, 5.3 seconds with the 7-speed DCT. Fuel economy from the BMW 135i Coupe is 20/28 mpg City/Highway with the manual and 18/25 mpg with the DCT. Convertibles earn 19/28 mpg City/Highway with the manual and 18/25 mpg with the DCT.
The 2013 BMW 135is uses a more powerful version of the 135i’s turbocharged inline-6, which pumps out 320 hp and 317 lb.-ft. of torque, and a choice of 6-speed manual or 7-speed dual clutch transmission. The 135is also gets a sport-tuned suspension, additional cooling systems, and a sport exhaust that gives the 135is a throatier growl than the other 1 Series models. On the outside, it’s differentiated by a high-gloss black kidney grill, black mirror caps, M Sport trim and unique 18-inch wheels.
A BMW 1 Series Convertible can drop its top in just 22 seconds. Top-down motoring is one of life’s great joys, so this is a great feature.
The BMW 1 Series cars are comfortable, sporty and agile, true driver’s cars, with the feel of rear-wheel drive. We found the BMW 128i Convertible a delight to drive and it has enough power. More fun to drive is a BMW 135i Coupe. The dual-scroll single-turbocharged engine turns the 135i into a little hot rod, and it seems to have a bit more torque lower down, where we use most of it in everyday driving.
While once in a class all its own, competitors to the BMW 1 Series in the entry-level luxury category have recently cropped up, like the award-winning Cadillac ATS and the forthcoming Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class, although for now both of those models only come in four-door sedan variants. Those looking for top-down fun might also consider the Audi TT convertible, or even the front-wheel-drive Mini Cooper convertible.