The BMW 1 Series is 1 of the Best Forgotten Sports Cars
Though it was only around for four years, the BMW 1 Series quickly became a great sports car option for those who wanted refinement and fun. Replaced by larger models since its death in 2014, the 1 Series is an easy car to forget about – but that’s a mistake. Given its proportions and performance, the baby BMW is one of the best forgotten sports cars of the past 15 years.
Base performance was still a riot
Upon its debut in 2008, the BMW 1 Series came in just one form – the 135i. But in 2009, the 128i slotted in just below the original and delivered a unique experience of its own. We’ll get to the riotous big brother in a moment, but the 128i shouldn’t be left out of the discussion.
As an ultra-compact, rear-drive sports car, the BMW 128i features one of the best formats for an engaging drive. And with the base 3.0-liter inline-six, it is one of the last naturally-aspirated six-cylinder cars to come from the Bavarian brand. With 231 horsepower and 200 pound-feet of torque, the smallest BMW sports car presented its driver with enough power and a sonorous engine note to always draw a smile.
Balanced handling and the short wheelbase make for a communicative feel, and the sense of fine control is sure to delight. Available with either a six-speed automatic or six-speed manual, it has a classic BMW feel. Compliant ride and 50:50 weight distribution only add to the driving engagement.
Base models are short on tech compared to modern models, but that simple setup makes the 128i feel focused. And thanks to its small size and large windows, visibility is infinitely better than most sports cars you’ll find today.
The BMW 135i is the 1 Series’ forgotten sports car
Unless you’re up on BMW lore, the 1 Series is an easily forgotten sports car, but the 135i might be one of the best models from the brand. It was the lone model at release for a reason: The 135i isn’t about daily driving. It’s a sports car at its core, and the N55 turbocharged inline-six is a reflection of that.
Churning out 300 horsepower and 300 pound-feet of torque, it is the Genesis of modern BMW sports cars. It has the same 50:50 weight distribution as the non-turbo model, but with sharpened suspension. The M Performance touches include a lower ride height, stiffer damping, and bigger brakes to compliment the extra power.
Combined with its short wheelbase, though, the 135i isn’t nearly as usable as its little brother. When new, reviews from Car and Driver indicated that the punchy 1 Series had a harsh ride. My test drive of a 135i model gave no reason to dispute that claim.
In all, though, there is something about the turbocharged N55 that the non-turbo 1 Series can’t deliver. For me, engine engagement is as much about torque as it is outright power. The 135i has that in spades thanks to the 100 lb-ft torque bump over its naturally-aspirated brother.
BMW’s best forgotten sports car or overhyped nostalgia?
You could argue that modern takes on the BMW 1 Series are simply nostalgia in overdrive. As modern cars get heavier, uglier, and more complex, enthusiasts pine for the days of raw simplicity. But having driven one, I can say that the 1 Series is for sure one of BMW’s best forgotten sports cars. If nothing else, it ushered in the modern 2 Series lineup that still has everyone’s attention, and that’s worth celebrating.