For luxury automakers, the “entry-level” vehicle can be a slippery slope. If it is cheap but offers a high degree of similar luxury to other models, the car maker risks losing sales of their more expensive cars as people flock to the better value. If it is too expensive, it may be priced out of the reach of buyers who may go to a different brand altogether. If it is cheap, both in price and quality, the automaker’s image may be diluted. BMW is waging that they have all of these factors evenly balanced with the 2008 BMW 128i.
From a purely aesthetic perspective the 128i contains many of the features of the upscale models, including the twin-bladder grille and the automaker’s characteristic corona daytime running lights and L-shaped tailights. But more important to the success of the 128i will be its ability to reasonably deliver BMW-type performance. The 128i seems to do so with a sufficiently powerful 3.0 liter engine that produces 230 horsepower. Those that feel this is not enough can upgrade to the 135i that gets a twin-turbo version worth 300 horses and a 0-60 mph time of around 5.2 seconds. The 135i adopts a few other gets M-inspired components, including an aero kit, sports suspension, 18-inch rims outfitted with performance tires. Various M touches also grace the cabin, including sport buckets and pedals. The135i employs a high-performance brake system with six-piston fixed calipers out front and two-piston fixed calipers in the rear, with enhanced brake cooling ducts. Perhaps most disappointing in the 1 series is the fuel economy which for the 128i is 21 mpg in combined driving. Inside, the interior looks clean and put together well, but does not encroach on the higher-end BMW’s territory of luxury. Think Honda Accord nice, not Mercedes. Leather or leather-like materials are used with a good helping of glossy plastic trim surfaces serving as accents. A list of other standard and optional interior features are available (including Sirius satellite radio, a standard iPod/MP3 jack, USB port) with the much-criticized iDrive an option along with a navigation system. A 60/40 split rear comes standard, as do six airbags for the four-seater.
Pricing for the tamer 128i starts at $29,375 and the 135i (and its stronger engine) adds about 5 grand to the price tag. Realistically, the price will grow quickly with even a minor amount of options, but this is preferable to a potential wannabe that is miles away from the companies’ other models.