2008 BMW 135i
*For some, the new 135i Coupe is being regarded as the 2002's second coming. This will be the first 1 Series to run with the twin-turbo N54 engine, giving it 300 hp in a lighter platform than the 335i. It's also smaller and ostensibly more nimble, perhaps not unlike the 2002, which redefined what a driver's car could be in the 1960s and '70s.

Whatever the case, the 1 Series Coupe will redefine the entry-level BMW for the new century. And over here, the 135i already has the blood pumping. Its turbocharged six-cylinder engine, delivering goodly torque at the bottom of the tachometer (peak by 1300 rpm), allows more than adequate acceleration at any speed.

From the beginning, cabin space was suspect. I had serious doubts that there would be enough room for four full-grown adults. After strapping myself into the back with a colleague placed up front and his seat adjusted so his knees weren't jousting the glove compartment, I found the back seat does in fact accommodate a six-foot frame. My front-seat colleague was similarly proportioned, but a taller individual placed in either position could upset this delicate balance.

One thing the 1 Series offers against other cars in its segment-the GTI/Golf, Audi A3, and Mazda3 all come to mind-is a signature rear-drive BMW experience. Unlike its front-drive competition, the separation of drive power and steering contributes to the 1 Series' agility. But don't get any wild ideas about driving around everywhere tail-out. My drive included laps around Gotland Ring on the windswept island of Gotland, Sweden, and here the 135i demonstrated its marked resistance to oversteer at the limit, even with Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) and related functions switched off. The 135i reportedly comes with a standard M sport-tuned suspension, but it's nothing like, say, the suspension on an E46 M3 or our Z4 M Coupe. There's clearly more of a concession to ride comfort in lieu of an all-out performance assault.

The car also features big binders, with 13-inch rotors in the front and discs nearly that large in back. Calipers are finished in gray with a white BMW logo, a radical departure from the spartan, undecorated brake assemblies normally found on BMW automobiles. And, love or hate the idea, all 135i models will leave the factory wearing run-flat tires, which on the one hand, afford the average driver peace of mind, but on the other, compromise handing and ride comfort.

Despite its entry-level status, the 135's interior is telling of its typical Bavarian build quality. The layout is similar to that in the 3 Series, with no corners cut according to material quality, fit or finish. The 1 Series is definitely not a stripped-out BMW, just in case you were worried. The 1 Series Coupe also touts new technical enhancements to help fuel economy, what BMW calls EfficientDynamics. The majority of these appear on other models in the range, but the 135i features Brake Energy Regeneration, which recharges the vehicle's battery through braking force to help power the on-board electronics.

Overall, the 135i is great and lots of fun to drive. But in a utilitarian sense, it seems that a hatchback version of a car this size makes more sense than the one we're getting. Three- and five-door versions have been sold in Europe since 2004, but historically, buyers in the U.S. have demonstrated a marked distaste for hatchbacks. That BMW has gone so far as to re-engineer the back half of this platform for the North American market is telling of the importance assigned internally to this project.

The big question is how the 1 Series will endure after the first flurry when it goes on sale later this spring. Its MSRP registers around $5,000 less than a 335i coupe, but at $35,000 and change, it's definitely not what you'd call cheap. Enthusiast sales will likely light up the dealerships early on. It'll be interesting to see how many trade in a 3 Series to get a 135i.

2008 BMW 135i

Longitudinal front engine, rear-wheel drive

3.0-liter inline six, dohc, 24-valve, turbocharged and intercooled

Six-speed manual

F: Double-joint tiebar spring strut axle
R: Five-arm axle

F: Six-piston fixed calipers, 13.3-inch rotors
R: Two-piston fixed calipers, 12.8-inch rotors

Length/Width/Height (in.): 171.7/68.8/55.4
Wheelbase: 104.7 in.
Curb Weight: 3,274 lb

Peak Power: 302 hp @ 5800 rpm
Peak Torque: 295 lb-ft @ 1300 rpm
0-62 mph: 5.3 sec.
Top Speed: 155 mph

-What we like:
Smooth, copious power delivery, solid build

-What we don't:
Coupe seems less utilitarian than a hatch


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