• Jun 28th 2008 at 1:01PM
  • 59

BMW 128i Convertible – Click above for high-res image gallery

BMW's 1-Series does not smirk at you and say "don't hate me because I'm beautiful." No, this small Teut is easy to deride on appearance; one look has you hating it because it's not beautiful while so many of its past brethren have been classically handsome. Whether it suits your taste or not, the 128i convertible we borrowed is unmistakably the work of the wizards of Munich. So, it's definitely a BMW, and it's being described as a reincarnation of the legendary 2002; does it measure up?

Photos Copyright ©2008 Dan Roth / Weblogs, Inc.

The short answer is no. The 128 is nothing like the 2002. It is, however, reminiscent of the E30, the yuppie-starter-car during the coked up '80s. Comparisons to past greats break down when taking into account what modern consumers expect, and the 128i is loaded up better than an E32 7-series. At nearly $44,000, our 128 was filled right up to the windowsills with gear, all of it adding to the experience in a good way, while adding to the curb weight in a bad way. Wearing the Cold Weather, Sport, and Premium packages leave the driver wanting little, though the additional extras our car wore weren't unwelcome. At roughly 3500 pounds, it's not as bad as the punditry has made it seem, but the 1 series could stand to lose 500 pounds. Heavier and better equipped than its forebears, the 1 can't match those cars in terms of driving purity, but delivers them a sound drubbing in performance and modernity.

We had the opportunity to street park the 128 behind an E30 325 droptop, and the cars are comparably sized. The comfortably snug dimensions don't feel claustrophobic, though the older cars like the 2002 feel more scooped-out. Buttoned up inside the 128, door panels actually curve away from you, controls fall at hand without fouling any movement, and space is comfortable, if not generous. Rear seat passengers get stuck with a lack of legroom and a narrow bench, but even with the top up, the upward bow of the roofline affords more headroom than you'd think. This is the size the 3 series should have stayed, obviating the need for the 1 series.

Sliding into the excellent sport seats, and snapping the Comfort Access fob into its slot, it's hard not to snicker at the "Year One of the 1" inscription on the bezel as you stab the start button with an insouciant finger. Special touches like that indicate that BMW's trying awfully hard to make this car a prefab legend. We weren't expecting the world - it's very difficult to improve on the slightly larger, possibly cheaper 3 series that this 128 is based on. At best, we thought the 128i would be the New Beetle to the 135's TT. Half a revolution from the 3.0 liter inline six dispelled any notions that this is anything other than a proper BMW. A solid bark emanates from the back as combustion events happen in well-balanced 120-degree intervals. A BMW six is always a thing of aural beauty, and the ripping-linen snarl this engine delivers is on par with the most celebrated coloratura.

BMW is synonymous with deft handling, and the 128i does not disappoint; apexes are easily clipped, the car is an extension of the driver's body, and positioning the car involves little more than thinking and looking - the vehicle just winds up perfectly placed. Grabbing hold of the chunky sports leather steering wheel with half-annoying, yet responsive paddle shifters for the Steptronic automatic plugs your hands in to the well-oiled chassis that feeds back in a most delightful fashion and operates with smooth precision. For all the handling accumen, and even with the Sport Package, the ride/handling tradeoff is liveable. Rolling the big tires over high-frequency pavement aberrations will give your gut high-frequency jiggles, though. Cowl shake is present, as it is in any vehicle given a roofectomy, though quite minimal. The windshield frame only dances over bumps, and never does the feeling of solidity drain away. The weight doesn't amount to a hill of beans out on the road, either.

The 128's nomenclature denotes that a 3.0 liter naturally aspirated engine delivering 230 horsepower is bolted between the front wheels. We don't get it, either - and BMW further obfuscates engine fitment by naming the twin turbo version of the same vehicle the 135, while it still gulps atmosphere with six 500cc lungs. Our inner acceleration junkie finds it easy to understand the 135 and its 300 horsepower, but the 128 is wholly satsifying and exceptionally well balanced. Acceleration is strong, handling superb, enjoyment high. Unless you need to kick up a dust storm like the Tasmanian Devil, go with the 128. It's a rare automatic transmission that deserves praise for its enthusiast-friendly manners, but the Steptronic, especially in sport mode, is brilliant, even downshifting where appropriate. We're not sure we'd have enjoyed this car any more with a manual. No, we're not pensioners with bad knees, it's just that the auto tucks out of the way and doesn't interfere. Either way, 128 or 135, auto or standard, you can't lose with the powertrains.

Annoyances are mostly minor once you get past the looks and price. Some of the controls are initially confusing. For example, after a day of only being able to upshift, we discovered that the thumb switches deliver downshifts, while pulling on the paddles give you a higher ratio. It's not a proper left for down, right for up, but it's close enough. The horribly tedious audio system is also frustrating. Let's say it again: a knob for volume, a knob for tuning. How annoying to grab the right side knob, only to find it will just cycle through your presets. To actually manually tune, it's a two-step, small-button process. The audio system does sound good and offers an optional auxiliary input and a usb connection. iDrive is available, but our car was thankfully not equipped with the soul-sucking interface to Hell. Ergonomics and markings are a bit inscrutable, with strange pictograms, and some hidden controls. The cruise control, for example, hides quite effectively in the nether region behind the steering wheel on the left.

Visibility is another sticky wicket when the roof is closed. The glass rear window is smallish, and the C-Pillars are convertible-big. Top down, it's like piloting a speedboat; 360-degree vistas are available with a twist of the neck, and we dropped the lid every chance we got. While the seats are fantastic, the Gray Poplar wood trim our car wore is awful, leaving the impression the interior had a wildfire recently. The small but useful trunk has a pass-through with integrated ski bag thanks to the Cold Weather package, too. The folded roof encroaches very little on boot space, making the 1-series a car you could take to the grocery store alfresco, and possibly betters the 3-series convertible's trunk useability.

The price is what everybody is choking on, and the car we drove was a hair over $43,000, a veritable fortune, with options and accessories left to go. The extra stuff like Bluetooth, BMW Assist, HID headlamps, sports steering wheel, even the automatic and the premium package, none of it was necessary to enjoy the sublime chassis and plangent engine. In the New England climate, we'd definitely want the Cold Weather package, and the Sport Package adds the 17" rims, starchier suspension tuning, divine seats, and Shadowline trim - all desireable. A 1-series outfitted with a restrained option sheet can be had in the high $30,000s, though still flirting uncomfortably with $40K. Everyone has been saying "for the money, you could get the 3-series." True, and the 3-series coupe is a prettier design. The even-prettier-still Z4 also occupies the same pricing territory, but after driving the 128, the 3 would feel a half-size too large and the Z4 lacks the occasional rear seat. The 128 really is right-sized, and it does something different than the 3, something we found rather charming, if also rather dear.

Photos Copyright ©2008 Dan Roth / Weblogs, Inc.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 7 Years Ago
      Not too long ago, I drove a mini clubman s, a 135 coupe auto, my e36 m3, and a 335 manual sport back to back to back to back.

      The 135 was far and away the best handling car and most fun to drive. Sure, it understeered fairly heavily at 10/10ths, but at everything below that it was positively brilliant. The 335 felt big and, well, less responsive. Equally as fast, though.

      Keep in mind, I went in looking only to drive a mini. And indeed, it was the best FWD car I've ever driven. But it's not bigotry to say that it suffered from typical FWD problems - there's no getting around physics.

      Also, keep in mind what I'm driving now. The 135 is an absolute winner, if a bit pricey.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Frankly, I like the 1-series. I've seen the 135i coupe in person many times, and I really like it. It's not beautiful, but neither is the 3-series. Yeah, I went there.

      And why the hell would I want a 3-series? It's more expensive, waaaaay too common (my dad and I play a game, called "Count the Threes," and we try to one-up each other in our count of how many 3-series BMWs we see each day), bigger, and slower. The back seat is roomier, sure, but that's not important to me. I'm single, and most likely staying that way for a while.

      Also, prices aren't very close at all when you option a 1-series and a 3-series coupe similarly. Or even not. Sure, the payments might not differ very much, but not everyone leases their BMWs...

      I've optioned a 135i coupe at $44,650. I then optioned a 335i coupe as similarly as BMW allows. $49,425. That's nearly 10% more expensive. I don't know about you, but $4,775 is a lot of money to pay extra for size and weight I don't need.
      • 7 Years Ago
      What is the fuel economy between the 1 and 3 - if its about the same then the 1 makes even less sense. Shame, I was really looking forward to a real entry level BMW. Between the price and losing the hatch, there's less to lust for.
        • 7 Years Ago
        I compared 328ci convertible 6-speed to 128i convertible 6-speed.

        328: 17/27/20
        128: 18/28/21
        • 7 Years Ago
        On gas mileage: if you decide to go upscale and compare the 135i against the 335i, then you get a nice surprise:

        135i 6-speed (automatic): 17c/25h (18c/26h)
        335i 6-speed (automatic): 17c/26h (17c/26)

        The 335i gives you more everything, including slightly improved gas mileage.
      • 7 Years Ago
      do you not get any lower models of the 1 series other than the 128i and 135i in usa?. the 120i and 120D are really quite nice and im guessing you dont get the 130i in america either? it has 265ps and is a really good compromise between the 128 and 135.. plus the hatch just fits the whole design better
        • 7 Years Ago
        No, we are not so blessed.
      • 7 Years Ago
      "and snapping the Comfort Access fob into its slot"

      If you have comfort access, you don't have to "snap" the fob into its slot. You keep it in your pocket.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Just imagine if a domestic had come out with this vehicle!!

      BMW sould be tarred and feathered and run out of town on a rail for this expensive - ugly - piece of "German" engineering. Ultimate driving in a pigs eye!
      • 7 Years Ago
      BMW must have hired Buick's designer from the mid-90's. People are still going to buy BMWs because of the performance and the name, but they're getting really ugly.
      • 7 Years Ago
      It's a shame - this could be such a beautiful car with the simple elimination of a few unnecessary (and baffling) lines.

      That inexplicable curved line along the doorsill alone completely ruins the car for me.

      I hate this trend of shaved fender flares too.

      Make it curvy or make it angular (I prefer curvy) - but please don't make it both. I can't wait for this silly contradictory design fad to fade into oblivion.
      • 7 Years Ago
      This is a stupid, overpriced BMW. The only thing worse is that stupid, overpriced and butt ugly XBigCoupe thing. Is the BMW sticker REALLY that important to yuppies? Still?
      • 7 Years Ago
      If it was priced in low 20s, fully equipped, I would probably give it another look.

      As it stands today, it looks like a caricature of 3-series, economy-sized inside, but thirsty and full-size expensive. I don't get it.
        • 7 Years Ago
        If size doesn't affect price, you should tell BMW and Mercedes to stop charging more for the 7 than the 5, more for the 5 than the 3, and more for the 3 than the 1.

        Why do people ascribe universal stuff they don't like to "American stupidity"?
        • 7 Years Ago
        A fully equipped BMW for the low 20s?
        Are you serious? Did you really think that was going to happen?

        • 7 Years Ago
        Economy sized with features straight from BMW 7er and other similar luxury vehicles. So going by your logic, or logic of most Americans, the more you pay the bigger the car must be? I believe it is irrational to say the least to think in such absurd guidelines.

        Look at the interior quality, the technology packed into car, engineering, features, and so forth. It does warrant such a price tag, and guess what, people who can afford BMWs are typically are smart enough to understand these points.

        If you want a big car for small money go buy a Camry.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Price isn't the only thing to choke on.

      Come on. The car weighs within a hair of the current 3-series and costs what the 3-series does too.

      The review started off great by saying the 3-series never should have grown in the first place and mentioning the huge amount of weight it has put on.

      After that, it turns into one big long apology for BMW's excesses.

      In the end, if you want a car that costs the same as a 3-series, weighs the same and handles the same, but your garage is 3 inches too short and you don't mind even more Bangleization, you've found your car. For the rest of us, I can't see how it makes any real sense.
        • 7 Years Ago
        Oh gosh LS, that's a load of crap. They are at the very least $3,500 different in price. That's a big hunk of cash any way you look at it. The 135 is about 200 lbs lighter than the 335i. That's a noticable difference _for damn sure_. The 135 has larger brakes than the 335. And no, not everyone thinks that because a car is bigger, its mystically better. As long as a car is big enough to fit real-sized people, it doesn't need to be any bigger -- the 1 is exactly that size.

        And just so you can check your facts:

        I've driven a 135i and a 335xi, and the 135 was considerably more fun to drive. You can talk out of your ass all you want, but talking out your ass is only that.
        • 7 Years Ago
        Are you guys done yet? You've taken up nearly an entire page.
        • 7 Years Ago
        Patronize you?

        I wasn't patronizing you before. But if you can't figure out how adding two more half shafts, two more drive shafts and two more diffs and raising the car up will affect handling, perhaps you need to be patronized. You condemn a 3-series with a non-performance bent for not matching up to the highest-performance version of the 1-series. That's not a terribly valid comparison of lineup against lineup.

        I have neither any 135 or and 335. I've driven an M3, but it wasn't an E90 (I think that's the latest one, right?) or even a 4-door, it was an older one. To be honest, I don't keep up on chassis numbers for BMWs.

        I'm glad you like the 1-series. I guess you bought one? The you seem to be rather alone in your opinion that the 135i is better than an M3 though.
        • 7 Years Ago
        It doesn't cost the same!

        It's $7,000 cheaper than the 328 Coupe.

        I'm so sick of hearing everyone say they're the same price. This one was optioned out and if the 328 was optioned out it would still be $7,000 more.

        I've heard people say $7,000 isn't that much, but for most people it's a lot. It may not weigh that much less, but it does weigh less and it is faster than the 3 series.

        Not to mention that to many of us it looks like a proper BMW, not the long heavy 3 series.
        • 7 Years Ago
        Do you get payed to bicker endlessly on every post you read?
        • 7 Years Ago
        Yeah, the problem with the 1 series is that when you do compare it to the 3 series, there does seem to be some rationality because it is somewhat cheaper.

        But add in the competition and suddenly you realize, "Wait, if I'm willing to sacrifice the 'legendary BMW handling,' I can get a car with tons more options, still decent performance, and save thousands!"

        The 1 series (aside from the looks) is a great car when you're looking at it by itself, but the competitors' products you could purchase at the same price can make anyone cringe.
        • 7 Years Ago
        Do you pay for your internet access by the page?
        • 7 Years Ago
        It costs what a 3-series does. You're the one applying the restriction of having the same options. You've redefined others' statements in order to make them seem wrong, when instead you're just misunderstanding the statements.

        Given the huge amount of overlap in the prices, the 1-series largely fails to create a new price point for BMW.
        • 7 Years Ago
        Wow, you compared the 135i to a 335xi?

        The AWD BMWs not only sit higher but they aren't available with the sport suspension (which is otherwise standard on 2-door 3s). Plus you're talking about a lot more weight and rotating mass. I'm not at all surprised you saw a difference with the extra 250lbs the 335xi carries over a 335ci.

        That doesn't relate to the non-x 3s. And heck, shouldn't you be at least comparing coupe to coupe?

        Because the 1-series costs so much, it means it barely creates a new price point for BMW. That means they capture almost no new customers or fill any new niches. Few people end up in a 1-series because it was the only affordable BMW for them, if anything it steals sales from the 3-series, hurting BMW's revenues (and possibly profits).

        Even the 318ti and Mercedes C-Coupe did a better job of creating a new price point and expanding their companies' ability to offer cars to customers.

        That's a useful link, the site I used didn't allow me to get a URL to a side-by-side. Is the 3-coupe really 3 inches longer than the 3-sedan? It sure doesn't seem like it, however BMW's site backs it up.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Put aside special discounts, 135i is 6 grand cheaper than its older brethren, 335i coupe. (Apples to apples, coupe to coupe) For the mathematic challenged, that's nearly 15% of 335i coupe's cost. I see everyone bickering with their sales for peanuts of few hundreds to couple thousands off of their BMW, and all of sudden 6k is nothing. If it's nothing then why don't 3 series buyer just pay MSRP. Hell, add 6k for markup, really it's nothing.
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