UPDATE: The BMW 135i Coupe is now on sale in Malaysia for RM423,800 OTR without insurance.
The BMW 1-series, along with the compact crossover X3, are BMW’s most recent additions to their product line. Although, of course, if you consider the 3-series based BMW Compact to be its predecessor, then this isn’t a very new product series at all.
But this was obviously launched in 2004 as a very different product from the BMW Compact, signified by the prevalent 5-door hatchback variant, thereby, setting its crosshairs firmly towards the Volkswagen Golf and Audi A3 instead. But being a BMW, this one was special – it was and is the only vehicle in its class featuring rear-wheel drive and a longitudinally-mounted engine.
Yet while BMW continues to extol the car’s superior handling, critics have pointed out that the harsh ride and the miniscule rear cabin room means that this is essentially a sports-hatch, unlike the more livable Golf and A3. BMW’s response in introducing the 1-series coupe can be interpreted as both taking up the livability challenge and also steadfastly prioritising driving dynamics.
The 1-series has enjoyed very surprising sales figures for the company and has hit close to 440,000 since being launched in 2004. In its first full sales year of 2005, it sold nearly 150,000, behind only the 3 and 5-series.
Tellingly, the 3-door version has not even breached the 20,000 mark since its unveiling in January, well short of the figures enjoyed by the 5-door hatch. People still want practicality out of their car, especially when it’s going to cost you the way a BMW will cost you. In Malaysia, this still means in excess of RM168,000 for the entry-level 116i and in fact, the 120i saves you only 10 grand over the 320i. So, if they want to sell to the petrolhead, they’ve got to make it worth the while/cash.
Enter the 1-series coupe. Ostensibly, from the marketing schpeel, this is the driver-oriented daily car to have. It still seats (barely) four and when you go zooming crosscountry with just two, it affords you some 815 litres of luggage space thanks to the 60:40 split-folding backbench.
Hence, what we’re talking about here, is a car that takes BMW’s pride in handling a step further into the driver-focused world of coupes, but yet with increased livability, especially for two – think of it as a Z4 but with space for luggage.
Because while even the Z4 had better ride than the 1-series hatch, the coupe has improved on that especially up front. Although admittedly, this was experienced on the very smooth roads of Gotland, an island which is both Sweden’s biggest tourist destination – 50,000 population but greets 800,000 visitors in summer – and the site of one of the newest racetracks in Europe, the Gotlandring.
But still, this is far better ride than 35-profile run-flat tyres at the back deserve to offer. With a more rigid coupe body, one suspects that the suspension could be relaxed somewhat and that’s even with the M variety that comes standard â€“ along with its own unique M aerodynamic package to differentiate it from any other variant with an M Sports package – with the 135i.
The comparisons with the Z4 though, end right after peering at the side profile, where the door sill is reminiscent of the Z4. In fact, you’ll notice that the curve has been made somewhat assymetrical as compared to the 1-series hatch, making it look less like a bulldog with its belly dragging on the floor.
Instead, when you step back a bit, it bears some resemblance to the 3 coupe, and this is due to how BMW have set up their design philosophy. The BMW Coupe design is basically a mould which they wrap existing cars in. And from the result, they craft out a cabriolet.
So of course, a 1 convertible is already ready for booking and will be launched in spring 2008. BMW definitely intends to keep its traditional design paradigm for their 4-seating cabs and if you close your eyes and imagine the 1 coupe with its roof sliced off, you can see how the coupe-cab relationship is very similar to the one in the 3 series.
But the stronger relationship is with the legendary BMW 2002. Although it is technically the forerunner to the sports sedan idea that birthed the 3-series, the 02 Series introduced back in 1966 was what cemented the company’s status as a maker of compact sporting cars.
Rear-wheel drive, powerful engines and space for four â€“ for 12 years these were the elementary fortes of this successful model series. Of course, cars have gotten bigger since then and it is the 1 coupe which is a closer match in size and dimensions.
The similarities can be seen in the short body overhang at the front, a stern shoulder-line, a long engine compartment lid, pushing the greenhouse to the back and a proportionally long wheelbase in relation to overall length. Coincidentally, it was also the 2002 turbo – a rare thing in BMWs for many decades – that was considered the most exciting model and today the 135i coupe sports the twin turbo 302hp 3-litre straight-6 power unit that first appeared in its 3-series counterpart.
Obviously, BMW provided this top-of-the-line model for test, but it was disappointing not to be able to try out the new Variable Twin Turbo diesel that had its world debut in the 123d. The new 2-litre four-pot diesel with its weight all-aluminium crankcase featuring third-generation common-rail fuel injection, is a rather elegant thing for a diesel engine and comes with some exciting numbers.
With 201hp at 4,400rpm, it is the first all-aluminium diesel engine in the world with more than 100hp per litre. And it boasts 400Nm, as much as the 135i, albeit only from 2,000-2,250rpm, strange for a turbodiesel, but heck, it still gives you 300Nm minimum from idling to redline.
The reason this is so is because of the VTT – first seen in a BMW engine with the 3-litre twin turbodiesel – which you can think of as a multi-stage, sequential turbo. Its behaviour is somewhat similar to a hybrid engine, except it is controlled by valves rather than ECUs. At low revs, only a small charger is activated, and then at midrange, a larger charger joins in, giving us a puny but clearly defined torque ‘sweet spot’.
As the engine revs towards the 5,000rpm redline, the smaller charger takes a break and leaves big brother to huff and puff. The reason for this seems simple enough. At low speeds, the inertial mass of the large charger actually inhibits performance and efficiency (at the same time, the low mass of the smaller charger basically eliminates turbo lag) and while both chargers are not running at optimum in mid-revs, it’s a necessary compromise and once the engine starts pushing, the smaller charger is the one that will limit performance. This is due to the smaller bandwidth, if you may, through which, large amounts of air will not be able to be forced through.
In a single turbo engine, you nowadays get variable geometry turbines to simulate the same effect, changing the load characteristics according to engine speed. This is available in the single-charged 120d, where 174hp at 4,000rpm and 350Nm maintained from 1,750-3,000rpm brings the car up to 100km/h in just 7.6s and gets up to 226km/h. Comparatively, the 123d does the sprint in 7 seconds flat though and touches 238km/h.
On an aside, fuel in the 123d is being injected by common-rail direct fuel injection incorporating piezo-injectors operating at a pressure of 2,000 bar. At this sort of pressure, one of the engine experts at the launch was hopeful that it might be able to deal with impurities in our lower fuel-grade although our own local BMW guys aren’t so sure about this so you may not see this here until we hit Euro IV standards at least.
All well and good but unfortunately, you’ll have to read about how it feels firsthand elsewhere on the net. The rest of us had to settle for our 135is but moods soon changed once we had turned the roads of Gotland into a sea of Sedona Red (a new metallic colours specific to this model) coupes.
There were several problems that cropped up here, namely, how the hell do you stay under 70km/h in a car like this? Even in sixth gear, the amount of torque (that’s 400Nm from 1300-5,000rpm) meant that the speed just kept creeping up.
After awhile, we decided to defy the one police radar on the island (we were briefed on this beforehand) and push towards the racetrack at extralegal speeds. Meaning, we could still drive in sixth. Anything from 70 onwards can be handled by that one gear alone.
Of course, it didn’t provide wheelspinning drama but it got you there with zero fuss and effort. If we had dropped a gear, it’d only have taken 6 seconds to go from 80 to 120 and dropping another shaved another second of waiting. However, the gearshift change indicator would’ve suggested we go back to sixth anyway.
This is just one of several fuel fuel-saving innovations that make up BMW’s Efficient Dynamics programme. But this is a story for another post. Just a quick runthrough of the features available include (but not limited to) Brake Energy Regeneration (the battery is charged only after reaching its minimum charge level during application of the brakes or in overrun, and is disconnected electrically when accelerating) and Auto Start Stop for manual gearbox models with four-cylinder power units (only the 120d comes with an auto actually).
This results in just 4.9 litres of diesel required to power the 120d across 100km of road in a combined cycle and an astounding 5.2 for the 123d, which, let’s not forget, is the first 200hp car that manages to tuck under 140g/km in terms of carbon emissions. The 135i, still drinks 9.2l/100km as technology like the Auto Start Stop has not been developed for bigger capacity engines yet.
Aside from just grin-inducing straight-line acceleration, getting through B-roads was delightful. The car is so planted that skimming over surface changes was dismissed by the Dynamic Stability Control as a waste of time. However, so mighty is this engine that even in third gear, on admittedly damp and windy roads, we could get the car to kick out and the DSC to slap us on the wrist.
That was more due to the amount of torque being channeled through the rear wheels than the car’s handling. This car handles great on the road and the mixed tyres gave it incredible balance although its ability was soon to be tested on track.
Gotlandring was sporting a sheen of liquid on its back when we arrived and beneath an overcast sky, it never really dried up. Tyres were spinning, cars were fishtailing, and we hadn’t even hit Turn 1 yet.
So we could never really come close to the quoted 5.3s needed to do the 0-100km/h sprint but we didn’t really doubt that figure. After all, it’s only 0.2s faster than the 335i coupe. And that’s only curious until you realise that the 135i is only 40kg lighter. That’s basically the weight of a full tank of fuel or one of those Ah Lian girls you used to date in college… or….
But nevermind that it’s not much faster on the straights – do you really need to go faster? – it sure as hell took up the challenge in the corners. Find the proper line and this thing will zoom through them as prim and proper as your favourite Porsche.
The only problem with that is the steering doesn’t exactly let you find this line very easily. The biggest disappointment about this car is that it’s not very point-and-shoot. Perhaps if I had spent more than two hours with the car, I’d have figured it out, but whether on the road or on track, in fact, especially on track, the car never seemed to go where you wanted it to.
On the very wet surface, the DSC kicked in at every corner, inducing us to switch to the more lenient DTC instead. In this mode, while the amount of power churning through the rear wheels often made it easy to tail-out in this weather, understeering was in fact, the 135i’s most often seen method of at-the-limit cornering that day.
The car overcooks its 215-section front tyres much sooner than its 245 rears and so starts to point outwards but with some added punch at the throttle, you can definitely move the car completely sideways in the wet. I’d like to just give the BMW engineers the benefit of the doubt here because of what happened next.
When the car got into a skid, it only required a robust countersteer to regain footing. Nothing precise necessary, just apply some reverse lock and resume your previous heading.
It was unfortunate that the track never dried up. It meant that turning off DSC altogether was a risk beyond my manliness.
This also prevented me from sampling the electronically controlled differential locking function. No BMW that exists outside the M household has a locking diff and this probably makes the 1 coupe its most committed non-M driving car. Activated by switching DSC off completely in either the 135i or 123d, the e-diff will continue to ensure optimum traction in spite of the driver’s most brutal attempts to shake, rattle and roll.
But you’ll just have to take BMW’s word for it for now. And also the fact that the USB interface really works. Not armed with a memory stick full of MP3s, we resorted to the most common denominator â€“ the iPod.
In fact, two iPods. It refused to recognise the iPod video (5th gen) which was formatted for Mac and although it did play songs of the iPod photo (4th gen), it did so without ever allowing us to navigate through the songs properly. We couldn’t access the songs by artist, album or anything. It just lumped the songs into random folders with random names (eg: assh, ffry).
Perhaps the car was telling us to stop fiddling with all that rubbish and attack the next corner.
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