Yeah, but what’s it like to live with? The BMW 135i

135i Logo

This is another installment of my series where I compare used car choices that cost somewhere around the price of a new fully equipped Miata.  The idea is to see what else that amount of money buys.  Are there options for faster or better cars?  How do they stack up?  I have nothing against Miatas. I’ve owned one. They are great cars. They just can’t be the answer for everything.

I usually stick to later model cars that could be reasonably expected to provide reliable daily service.  I will also not review anything that gets above the 30’s in fair market price.  All fun type cars. No boring cars. The full review collection can be found at

I will share what they are like to live with in daily use.  The good stuff and the annoyances.  Hopefully, this will help those who are considering purchasing one make an informed choice.  Don’t look for performance data, specs, and such.  You can find all that elsewhere.  These are all strictly my opinions and experiences.  Your mileage may vary.  Owners are welcome to chime in with their experiences.


BMW 135i

This month I am driving a 2012 BMW 135i with just over 10k miles since new.  The “baby” beamer  debuted back in ’07.  Reviews at the time were generally positive but questioned the pug puppy styling and pricing which was barely less than the 3-series.

Fast forward to today.  The market has spoken and resale values of 1-series cars are almost identical to 3-series prices.  In fact, the rare 1-series M Sport commands above new prices.  So I guess the little BMWs were a good value for new buyers.  That’s not such good news if you want to buy a used one.  Prices are holding strong.  However, I expect that they will continue to hold strong which will be good for used buyers as well.  Expect to pay mid to upper twenties for a nice 135i.  A bit less for the 128i which is…well…a bit less.

It’s hard not to like this car.  It’s the same size as the legendary e30 with the turbo six from the current larger 3’s.  The result is a quick and agile car with M3 acceleration thanks to the light weight.  I wasn’t overly kind to the 550ix that I drove last month. I felt that it was big and bloated and filled with gimicky accessories.  This car is the complete opposite of that.

This car has all the stuff that you want and need without excess. Auto climate control, rain sensing wipers, all that kind of stuff is present.  What is missing is the center screen and annoying iDrive that I complain about all the time.  Even navigation is an extra cost option – which I don’t recommend for any car.  Why?  Remember the factory built in cell phones of the ’90s?  They are still there. They seriously date those cars and they don’t work because technology passed them by.  There is a new version of GPS on the horizon.  My cell phone does turn by turn navigation just fine.

So this is a nice simple car with stuff that matters and everything that you need.  For it’s compact size, it is surprisingly roomy.  The rear seat is usable and the odd roofline keeps rear headroom decent.  The trunk is good sized, except with the convertible.  With the top down, you will struggle to fit in much more than a 12 pack.  Outward visibility is great and it’s size makes it convenient for parking and around town.  Gas mileage is mid twenties in mixed driving.

There are a few odd bits: There isn’t an easily reachable pull to close the doors.  The cup holders — Seems like I’m always complaining about German car cup holders, but seriously — the second one is blocked unnecessarily by the armrest and both are shallow enough that your Vente Mocha Frappuccino will still tip over (don’t ask). Overall it is an interior of high quality materials that looks like it will last forever.

Driving is a blast.  That’s what this car is about. This is Mini Cooper spunk and nimbleness with the plus of rear wheel drive.  Add in blistering acceleration, without the reliability worries that seem to always follow the Minis, and you have a formula for fun.  I could see myself living with this car as my daily driver easily.  I struggle to find anything that I don’t like about driving it.  Maybe the ride is a bit pitchy because of the short wheelbase, but so what?  The fun factor trumps it.

The six speed is terrific but even the auto box is fun.  Flick it into sport mode and manual shift and everything comes to attention.  You can snap off changes quickly even if you do need long fingers to reach around the wheel for the paddles.  The bark of the automatic downshift blips and overrun pop and burble just add to the fun. There is no real reason to select the three pedal over the two.  Both are great.

The only real annoyance isn’t unique to this car:  Throttle cables have gone away, replaced with computers and throttle position sensors.  When you tromp the gas you aren’t opening any throttle butterflies.  You are asking the computer, “Please may I have some power.”  It will decide just how responsible you are and if it will choose to grant your request.  Some cars are better than others.

The worst example of this was in a Boxster S creeping up the steep hill into the infield at Road Atlanta.  With the throttle matted, it would barely go forward.  It had simply decided that we did not need power at that time.  In the 135i it provides noticeably uneven throttle response.  Sometimes a touch of the pedal causes the engine to jump.  Other times pushing it down an inch gives you nothing.  It’s the most noticeable in an off-on throttle situation such as rolling up to a light that turns green.  The sport mode minimizes this.

I hate to see this car go.  It has been the most fun of any recent car that I have driven.  It gets my full endorsement. Highly recommended.