I realized that I replaced the 135i without ever writing a review of the thing. Better to do it now before I look back at it with glasses too heavily fogged with nostalgia. I replaced the car with a Subaru WRX STi, which is different from the BMW in almost every way, except for horsepower. Here we go.
The styling is divisive, which only makes me like it more. People compare the look to a bulldog, which is accurate, except this car drools less. I think the proportions from the side are perfect, the rear end is perfect, but the headlight design lets it down. The white “eyelids” that were added in 2012 only make it worse. Even though it’s not that old, the design pre-dates the current trend of cars looking like they are angry and want to kill you. The goofy, slightly dopey, appearance of the 135i combined with it’s giant powerplant under the hood makes for a fun combination.
Simple, functional, no screens, and nice quality materials. Some have called BMW interiors, especially of this era, “boring,” but tasteful and ergonomic would be more accurate. There is a little bit of German weirdness to some of the control placement, but every part that matters feels fantastic and is exactly where it needs to be. The M steering wheel is so so good, marred only by the Takata timebomb buried inside.
Nobody expects a small car to be this fast. The 3.0L turbo N55 has torque everywhere (ok at 1200 RPM and up), sounds great and pulls hard. After a tune, you’ll be well over BMW’s claimed 300 horsepower and there aren’t many cars that can touch it, even today. My only complaint is the relatively low throttle sensitivity, but it fits the character of the car. It’s not a 1M after all...
Once properly fitted with some non-run-flat tires, the handling of the 135i is beautiful. It has immense grip, and plenty of feedback through the hydraulic steering. On the street, the turn-in is quick and the car corners nice and flat. On track, or autocross, you can feel that the suspension is set up more for comfort than hardcore performance. Still, the body roll is progressive and adds to the feel of what the car is doing. The negatives? With the stock suspension, the car understeers more than most people would like, even though it’s not nearly as bad as the internet claims. Due to the short wheelbase, when oversteer does occur, it happens fast and you better be paying attention. I think it makes the car fun and a little unpredictable, but I’d understand those who would prefer something like a Mustang or Camaro that sloooowly step the back out with plenty of time to correct things (or not, Cars and Coffee joke, ha ha, dead horse, ha ha ha lambo dude, grounded to the ground,hhhhhaaaaa).
Turn Signals: 1/10
This is no excuse for BMW owners not to use their turn signals, but the turn signal stalk in this car is weird and overly complicated. It springs back to the center and has detents for a 3 second blink vs constant blinking and you have to push it away from the currently blinking direction to turn it off without pushing it too far and turning on the opposite direction. It’s annoying, and pointless, since turn signals are a thing I thought we had collectively figured out.
This car was a delight to own. It was reliable and BMW Seattle was great to work with, in contrast to literally every other dealer I’ve ever been to. I took the 135i on many adventures, tracked it, autocrossed it, caressed it, licked it... um, you get the picture. The N55, though it’s lacking the twin-turbos of the N54, is an amazing engine. It has power and character and tons of refinement. The M-sport goodies like the brakes and suspension make the car just good enough that I didn’t constantly pine for a real M-car. This car was the end of several eras: hydraulic steering, no screens,
The 135i was my first (and only so far) BMW and I completely get it now. I will own another German car and probably another BMW. There are so many things that other car manufacturers flail around trying to get right that BMW just does correctly as if it’s the simplest thing in the world.
The car is by far my favorite car I’ve ever owned. I’m doing the Subaru thing right now for some variety, but it’s only a matter of time before I return to the sweet embrace of ze Germans.