BMW is banking on its new 1 Series to open doors for new customers seeking a lower-cost sporty machine with a badge of exclusivity.
The doors swung open very recently, and loudly, with the car’s spring 2008 launch in the U.S. market, after closing slowly over the years as the company’s 3 Series grew out of its shoes.
In most dimensions the rear-wheel-drive 1 Series coupe and convertible are smaller than the corresponding 3 Series types, including length—4372 mm (172.2 in) for the 1 Series coupe vs. 4587 mm (180.6 in) for the 3 Series. At 1748 mm (68.8 in), the 1 Series is 35 mm (1.4 in) narrower than the 3. In terms of height, however, the 1 Series coupe casts a larger shadow at 1423 mm (56.0 in), unloaded, compared with the 3’s 1384 (54.5 in). The 1 Series convertible is slightly shorter than the coupe.
The 1 Series is also about 200 lb (90 kg) lighter than the 3 Series on average; the difference varies by specific model. The two models share a platform and most chassis parts, although the suspension tuning is different. The 1 Series features a new rear differential with double-helical ball bearings (a first at BMW) and "crash-optimized" seats that this fall will find their way into the 3 Series.
What’s different about the two model lines speaks to their distinctiveness, of course; but what’s the same about them also translates into distinctiveness. Both vehicle lines are fitted with the same two power units offering impressive performance. With less mass to move, the engines logically are more effective and efficient in the 1 Series regarding vehicle acceleration and speed. Also, they're more entertaining, this AEI editor says after a full day experiencing the road-holding capabilities of the powerful 1 Series up, over, and around the hills near Monterey, CA.
With the help of twin turbochargers, the 135i Coupe’s 3.0-L inline six-cylinder produces 300 hp (224 kW) at 5800 rpm and 300 lb-ft (407 N·m) from as low as 1400 rpm. Piezo injectors for the direct gasoline injection, turbos of low mass, and air-to-air intercooling equate to high performance and good fuel economy with what BMW says is no loss in engine response. Acceleration from 0-60 mph (0-97 km/h) takes 5.1 s in the 135i coupe with manual transmission (vs. 5.3 in the 3 Series coupe), and top speed is electronically limited to 130 mph (209 km/h)—to 149 mph (240 km/h) with sport package.
The 128i employs a slightly larger naturally-aspirated inline six that generates 230 hp (172 kW) at 6500 rpm and 200 lb·ft ( 271 N·m) at 2750.
The same engines are used in the 135i and 128i convertibles.
The 135i coupe is considered the “standard-bearer for performance” within the 1 Series line. Thus it features standard content that the other versions do not, such as:
• M aerodynamics kit that consists of front air dam, rear diffuser, and side skirts
• M sports suspension
• high-performance braking with six-piston calipers in the front that are painted dark gray and, in a first for the company, branded with “BMW”
• 18-in mixed-performance tires
• specially tuned dynamic stability control (DSC) for performance (for example, the accelerator pedal has a quicker response rate and electronic rear brake management is used to simulate a differential lock for stronger acceleration in turns).
The coupe has a sophisticated suspension system with an aluminum double-pivot spring and strut front suspension and a five-link fully independent rear suspension in lightweight steel—the same as in the 3 Series, with which the 1 Series share many parts. The front suspension with its anti-roll bar is made largely of aluminum for what BMW considers and optimum combination of stiffness and low weight. Track-control arms and thrust rods make an important contribution to the car’s stability and driving dynamics, according to the company.
During a media event for the 1 Series, BMW North America public relations chief Rob Mitchell (now retired) made much of the fact that the 1 Series is the “spiritual successor” to the iconic 2002 launched in 1968. He noted that the 2002 was replaced by the 3 Series, so the latter technically is the “genetic” successor. But the targets and the mission of the 2002 and the 1 Series are more similar, he asserted.
It was the 2002 “that really got BMW noticed and on the map and under way in the U.S.,” he said. The idea was to introduce a lower-cost sporty small car with lots of power and special appeal to enthusiasts. “We apply [the same idea] now to the 1 Series,” Mitchell said.
“Because the 3 Series has grown up so much, we have room in our model range and in the hearts and minds of our consumers for a car that is a little bit smaller, little more compact, maybe a little more agile.”