- Potent power (135i)
- Sharp handling
- Quality interior
- Heavier than some competing cars
- Very little rear seat room
- Front-seat comfort an issue for some
If you can get past the often-confusing iDrive system, the 2012 BMW 1-Series offers a great blend of style, power, handling, and luxury at a sometimes reasonable, sometimes objectionable price.
BMW's smallest offering in the U.S., the 1-Series, carries forward into 2012 with a few tech upgrades but otherwise unchanged fundamentals, including its pair of engines and trims. That's not a bad thing, however, as the 1-Series continues to be one of the most impressive entry-level luxury sports cars on the road.
Technically, there are three 1-Series offerings right now, including the 2012 128i, the 2012 135i, and the 1-Series M Coupe. The M Coupe, however is nominally a 2011 model, despite just going on sale in the last few months.
Both of the non-M models share similar styling, and are available in coupe and convertible form. The styling is crisp and clean, with the 135i showing a little more sport and aggression in its basic configuration, but the overall impact of the 1-Series' look has a tendency to fall into love-it or hate-it classification for many. Inside, the 1-Series can be a bit drab, with a functional but simple dash and center stack, a predominantly black finish in base trim, and perhaps more plastic than you'd expect in a luxury car, but upgrades and custom elements can change this--for a price.
Comfort inside the 1-Series is generally good, though the back seat is very tight for adults. The front seats are well-bolstered and offer fair head and leg room, though some may find the seats too well-bolstered. Controls can be over-abundant and confusing, but once learned, BMW's system makes logical--if not intuitive--sense. Storage space in the cabin is somewhat limited, but the trunk is decently sized.
Power is never short in the 1-Series, with the 128i generating 230 horsepower from its naturally-aspirated 3.0-liter in-line six-cylinder engine. The 135i adds a twin-scroll turbocharger to boost power to 300 horsepower. The 1-Series M Coupe outranks both, with sizzling performance from its two turbos and 335 horsepower. Both of the standard 1-Series models are fun, quick cars, with sharp reflexes balanced against good ride quality. An optional M Sport package can sharpen both the appearance and the handling. The 128i is available with either a six-speed manual transmission or a six-speed automatic, while the 135i can be had with a seven-speed dual-clutch in place of the automatic.
Features abound in the 1-Series, a BMW strong suit that's in full effect here despite the entry-level positioning. From BMW's iDrive infotainment system to high-end leather and wood interior upgrades, parking sensors to heated seats and steering wheel, there's something for almost everyone, particularly lovers of luxury. Many options are available a la carte, but some are grouped into packages; one thing to be aware of is that the 128i's $30,000 base price can quickly rocket into the mid-$40,000 range or higher with extensive upgrades.
Safety is no sweat for the 1-Series, though the NHTSA and IIHS haven't rated the 2012 model. Standard safety equipment includes: advanced front and side airbags for driver and passenger; front and rear head protection systems; pre-tensioning safety belts; anti-lock brakes; a crash sensor that shuts off fuel flow, kills the engine, and unlocks the doors; and a computer system that integrates deployment of both active and passive safety systems when it senses a crash. Optional safety extras include an anti-theft alarm system, rear parking sensors, xenon headlights, automatic high-beams, and BMW Assist roadside assistance services.