DRIVEN: Modified BMW 135i

Written by Text & Photos By Dave Pankew on .

The 135i Hints at Light and Agile BMWs of old.

When people heard that BMW was dropping the 3.0L twin turbo motor in their tiny 1-series chassis, everyone thought they had lost their minds. Well, they have. The 135i is a rocket. It’s fast, nimble, stylish and everything a driving enthusiast could ever want in a sport coupe. BMW knew full well BMW 135i review_optafter the release of the car that the aftermarket would embrace it and offer a huge line of performance and styling products for the 1-series. Armed with that knowledge, they devised a plan to capitalize on the customization trend and offer a line of upgrades from the dealer directly.
“The BMW Performance line is designed by same engineers responsible for some outstanding race-bred products.” Says Director of Aftermarket Program for BMW Canada, Robert Dexter “These are some of the top guys in the world developing upgrades for the one and three-series.” Dexter went on to point out the other obvious advantages aside from getting BMW certified upgrades that will outperform the rest of the field, adding upgrades at the dealer allows for taking advantage of the low purchase financing, which according to is 5.9%. Then there is the added benefit of having all of these parts completely covered under factory the factory warranty of 4 years or 80,000km. Many potential owners will embrace this practice because adding certain aftermarket upgrades may be exciting but may cause problems with warranty claims. If installed after purchase, the BMW Performance parts are covered by a 2-year unlimited kilometre warranty. Dexter IMG_0666_opt also mentioned that it increases the residual value of the car for those that are leasing and that these parts are essentially leased and don’t have to be outright purchased.

Equipped with the “every available” upgrade, our tester came equipped with the Boston leather clad power seats. With high bolsters and thick leather, BMWs attention to seating for performance driving has never been in question. Upon ignition, the navigation screen rises out of the dash and the myriad of features that come with the car are accessible with the familiar iDrive controller. Another outstanding option is the M-Sport steering wheel that has, are you ready for this … a built-in g-meter! A 20mm LCD screen displays all kinds of data including g-forces, lap times, acceleration times and engine data controlled by buttons hidden beneath the luxurious suede wrapped around the wheel. The appearance and quality of the interior is one that gives the impression of a more expensive car and certainly a line or two above the 1-series. The quiet and compact cabin was accented with optional carbon fiber dash and door handle inserts as well.
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The exterior of the car has also been ramped up with optional upgrades as well. The wheels are 18-inch BMW Performance double-spoke
alloys, which are wrapped in Bridgestone Potenza RE050A run-flats. Sized in 215/40R18 up front and 245/35R18 on the drive wheels, these V-rated tires were very capable but when provoked, the twin turbo mill was also able to light them up with ease. Around the rear of the car is an ultra sexy and fully functional carbon fiber diffuser to manage airflow. Above that is a subtle carbon fiber rear deck lid spoiler providing enough downforce to keep the car planted and carbon fibre mirror covers for aesthetics. The styling of the 1-series is very controversial with critics referring to it as a “3-series cartoon.” Personally, I find the 5-door (which I saw at the Essen show in Germany back in 2004) to be more sleek. But for now, I’ll remain neutral because it seems every new era BMW has grown on me after the initial shock of their radical designs.
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Enough with the aesthetics, let’s asses how an engine swap like this fares in a lighter chassis. Lighter, but not by much considering the 3285lb 135i is not even 300lbs lighter than its larger 3561lb 335i cousin. The Steptronic transmission has come a long way since the 90’s and is far faster than its predecessors. The steering mounted M-shifters can’t exactly be called paddles and are not laid out like the majority of systems on the market. Each shifter features both up and downshifts on each side of the steering wheel. And the stick itself is the reverse configuration of the Steptronic in my BMW, so naturally there was confusion.

The straight line performance of this car is impressive. Our tester also came with a tuned M-Sport exhaust and intake, so there was a noticable bump 135i_0-60mph_optin power. According to the GTech ProRR, we clicked off several mid-5 second 0-60mph passes with a best of 5.3-seconds. A shade slower than the 4.9-seconds we squeezed out of the 335xi sedan but respectable without question. Stab the throttle at what seems like any RPM and the 135i goes full jam with no turbo lag, just a fierce growl to get around any lesser vehicle. BMW says the peak torque of this motor comes on at only 1500RPMs and pulls to redline at 7-grand. The power delivery is so instantaneous that going over the speed limit is chronic and setting the speed chime is highly recommended to keep yourself out of trouble.

Now for the aspect of engineering BMW is renowned for –handling and braking. Considering BMW is able to make sport sedans do the impossible, we had high expectations for the compact coupe. Bottom line, this is one serious track-ready car. The turn-in is incredibly sharp with some extreme steering angle and near 50/50 weight distribution. It mangles 90-degree turns and off ramps and you’ll find yourself looking for a clear corner of any kind where you can flex the abilities of the suspension. The ride is firm and taut and even though we tested the car in the crumbling roadways around the Greater Toronto Area didn’t bottom 135i_braking2_optout or feel harsh. As for the braking, the 135i yielded the best fade-free performance we have seen in a car review this year. The BMW Motorsport brakes will get this car out of a bad situation fast and during our tests carved the 60mph-0 stopping distances down to 109ft. That places it in the area of supercar performance just ahead of the Lamborghini Murcielago that requires 2 more feet to come to a halt.

The agility and compact dimensions of the 135i make it ideal for urban living. It zips in and out of traffic with ease, can be parallel parked blindfolded,
well you get the idea. This 2+2 has a modest back seat and trunk but more than enough for your average urban professional. It really evoked the same connection I had to my old E30, which I still miss today. In terms of a critique on the 135i, it is hard to fault the car beyond the subjective styling but the price as tested was a sensitive subject topping $52,600 with even more tacked on with the BMW Motorsport parts. The base price of $41,700 is a great performance value though. And the 135i was certainly a hit with the general public with its bold appearance and sound. ‘Year One of the One’ is certainly creating an impression as their numbers on the road increase dramatically and an instant classic is born.


Base Price: $41,700
Price As Tested: $52,600
Engine: 3.0L twin turbo inline-6
Output: 300hp @ 5,800RPM with 300lb-ft @ 1,500RPM
Transmission: Steptronic 6-speed w/paddles
Curb Weight: 3,280lbs
Tested with: V-Box Performanec Meter (

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