It goes without saying that most auto writers drive a lot of different cars on a week to week basis. As a result, many tend to get a bit jaded when it comes to driving something new. It also means that a car has to be pretty special in some way to elevate it to a position on the personal wish list. My own list to date has consisted of 2 very different sports coupes, one from Japan and one from North America.
When I say different, I’m not kidding around. The Nissan 370Z has killer looks and the driving experience is everything one might want of the street or the track while the Mustang GT offers killer V8 grunt and growl yet adds in a touch of practicality. For a Dad with a flock of kids, the Mustang’s usable rear seats and decent sized trunk are most welcome. Both are 2 door coupes with in excess of 300 horsepower reaching the road through the rear wheels. The 135i follows the same pattern. Like the Mustang, it offers the functionality of a real back seat.
While I’m sure BMW didn’t have Mustang owners in mind when they penned the 1 series, certainly the 370Z was one of the prime targets. The truth is that the 135i falls squarely in between these two great cars on the road.
Our tester was stacked up with all of the package groupings that are available, which adds pretty much any creature comfort and gizmo known, with the possible exception of a navigation system. Perhaps most significant of the bunch are the M Sport package and the dual clutch transmission. The casual observer might be somewhat confused by the M Sport package, which does not turn the 1 into an actual M car, rather it gives a bit more of a sporty look with electronically adjustable sports seats, M badged trim and unique 18″ alloy wheels.
All the techno and comfort goodies are great, but the real star of the show here is the driving experience. At the heart is a 3.0 liter, twin cam, twin turbo straight 6 that generates 300 horsepower and and equal 300 lb/ft of torque and emanates that wonderful straight 6 growl that BMW’s are known for. As the rpm’s climb, that growl turns to a wail that stirs the soul. Rather than the stock 6 speed manual, our tester was equipped with a dual clutch transmission similar to the unit in use in the M3. In the past, I complained that BMW used shifter paddles in the 135 that worked in the opposite manner of the M3. BMW has now standardized their paddle locations and functions to the more intuitive style used in the M3.
As more manufacturers begin using DCT technology, I’ve become aware that the only time I actually use it in any of our testers is when we actually get the cars on a track. Around town, it is actually more enjoyable to leave them in auto mode. Not so in the 135i, as the shifts are so quick and crisp that I couldn’t wait to finger shift the beast. A nice side effect is the healthy blat that erupts from the pipes on hard acceleration shifts. One complaint some consumers have about DCT technology is the fact that they don’t usually shift as smoothly as a traditional automatic. In auto mode, the programmers have done a great job ensuring that up and downshifts are as smoothly or smoother than what some consumers are expecting.
Like the other two competitors, the 135i is an absolute blast to drive. The monstrous torque easily breaks the rear wheels loose at the whim of an exuberant driver and the computer nannies are calibrated to allow a bit of slip before reining things in. With a stab of the right pedal in pretty much any of the 7 gears, the 135i takes off like a scared cat. On a twisty back road, the taut chassis gobbles up the countryside while the driver pretends he is actually Hans Stuck lapping the Green Hell in a DTM M3.
The BMW starts at $43,000 which is in the same ballpark as the almost $42,000 370Z but is a healthy $12,000 more than the Mustang. The difference among all 3 cars is most easily noticed in the interior, where the fit and finish and quality of materials in the BMW truly is that far ahead of the pony car. The interior of the Zed is much closer, but still only seats 2 and doesn’t have much of a trunk.
There is that old cliche that variety is the spice of life. If that is true, then perhaps my short wish list is better with 3 cars rather than just 2. I wouldn’t want to take the other 2 off my list, but the 2011 135i has definitely taken over the top spot.