BMW Recaptures its Past

2009, BMW, 1-Series

BMW is one of the most successful luxury brands in the world. It ranks second in North American sales to Lexus and it is arguably the premier German automaker when it comes to performance. So how do you make it better? Expand the brand.

Forty years ago it was the legendary 2002 Series that brought the automaker to the attention of American automotive enthusiasts. The car was small, light, quick and handled with rifle shot accuracy. BMW is trying to recapture that magic with its new 1 Series.

But rather than go with a retro styled sedan, BMW has come up with a new iteration. First, much like the 3 Series, the 1 Series will have plenty of variants. There will be a three-door and five door hatchback. These models are not destined for American shores.

And then there's the 1 series coupe and 1 series convertible. There are two versions: the 128i (starting at $29,375) and the 135i (starting at $35,675). That might sound like a lot but the starting price of a 3 Series coupe can range as high as $41,000.

Where BMW really delivers with the 1 series is its engines and transmissions. Rather than develop new power plants for the 1 Series, BMW gave the car the same engines and gearboxes as its 3 series. The core of performance has always been horsepower to weight. And BMW has given the 1 series the same engine family as the 3 series, a car that weighs roughly 300 lbs more.

The 128i is powered by a 230 horsepower inline six cylinder engine. The 135i is powered by a twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder engine that produces 300 horsepower and 300 pounds-feet of torque from as low as 1,400 rpm.

What that means is that the turbocharged 1 series can haul tail from just about any speed. In fact, BMW says the car can get from zero to 60 mph in 5.1 seconds. That's a lot quicker than the law allows. The top speed is electronically limited to 130 mph (149 mph) with the sport package.

By combining sporty rear-wheel-drive dynamics, agile handling, powerful engines and seating for four, the BMW hopes to reinvent in the 1 Series coupe the niche that the legendary BMW 2002 created. We don't think it will.

Most of the folks who will find the BMW 1 Series attractive are too young to remember the fabled 2002. Still, we think the car will be a hit. After all, it is a baby Bimmer for a few dollars less.

The new 1 Series has unique elements combined with a muscular body. The greenhouse with its characteristic "Hofmeister kink" is moved rearward and offers a particularly nimble look with its long hood and short tail. The short overhangs, long wheelbase and large frameless doors sit on a body with a modern interpretation of BMW's characteristic look.

The 1 Series has aggressive rear end styling. The trunk lid has an integrated spoiler chiselled into the rear end of the car to accentuate the short rear section. On the 135i, an additional lip spoiler provides greater down force on the rear end at high speeds.

BMW has again tried to simplify its iDrive system. We'll leave it to drivers to determine if the automaker has been successful. iDrive is, with the optional Navigation system, integrated in the center console. Galvanized pearl gloss surfaces adorn the interior door handles, the glove compartment handle, the radio's rotary knobs, the knobs of the automatic air conditioning system, the iDrive controller, and the ornamental trim strips featured on the sports steering wheel.

A wide choice of audio and communication equipment is also available. BMW says the 1 series can be equipped with satellite radio, HD radio, a premium sound system and Bluetooth interface. For simple and straightforward connection of an MP3 player, an auxiliary input jack is standard, and a USB port for direct control of an Apple iPod or iPhone media player is available as an option.

The 1 Series is scheduled to go on sale this spring. When it does, it probably will be a hit. Simply put, we're talking about a Bimmer with bullet-like performance for less money. That sounds like a winner.

By Frank S.  Washington

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