A photocopy is not an original. Since the dawn of time, an easy recipe for fun was big power, small vehicle. As we roamed the earth with dinosaurs, cave men would try to hitch their stone wheel to the biggest beast around. Why be towed around by a Diplodocus when a T.Rex is way faster?
Same recipe here. First BMW built the 335i, and then put its 3.0L turbo-charged inline-6 into the pint-sized 1-series, and for that we thank them. BMW’s biggest initial success was with the little 2002; a sedan-shaped coupe that could chase down a lot of established sports cars. These two cars can too.
They’re both powered by a turbo-charged 3.0-liter, though the 1M has the upper hand in power (335hp to 320, respectively). Full torque hits at only 1,500RPM and the rush never lets up. Both cars let you choose one of the 6 speeds with a lever and 3 pedals. Neither car had NAV or a fancy stereo; the interior of either could be mistaken for a car 10 years old. They are the same length, weight (nearly), and both start under $50,000: MSRP for the 1M is $47,010, $44,145 for the 135is.
It’s important you see the word “start”. Only 739 BMW 1Ms were sold in the U.S., and their price hasn’t moved, even in used form. On the other hand, the 135is is not a special edition or instant collectible, so you can actually buy a new one.
Similar power, weight, size, and trim; on paper it seems like BMW has tarnished the exclusivity of the 1M. But as I found on my test drive, as is true with counterfeit money, every detail is essential.
The original: The 1M
The power and speed is way beyond what you expect from a car this size. With a raspy gust, 30MPH in 1.8 seconds, 60 in 4.5, 100 in 10.9. 140MPH happened quickly, the short wheelbase adding to the sensation.
In the corners it turns so quickly with so much grip it feels like an Evo, a comparison backed up by the .97g skid pad number it throws down. The sticky tires (245s in front, 265s in back) deserve some of the credit, but the wide track and suspension does too. Seats are excellent and the steering feels perfect. This is what BMW was built on. It is exactly what enthusiasts want.
So can the 2013 BMW 135is fill those shoes? Almost. It has the same seats and steering wheel, and the performance exhaust actually outdoes the 1M, ripping and popping around town or track like an old Ferrari.
The speed is definitely there too. During a track day at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, this car’s speed down the main straight was almost as high as the Camaro 1LE and ZL1, which have 100 to 160 more horsepower. At 3,370lbs it’s like a flat-bottom boat, the only time it lets up is during shifts. The brakes are also very good; 6-pistons in the front assured me I wouldn’t hit any walls. So far I feel like I found a loophole into 1M ownership.
It’s in the turns that the separation is made. On backroads the 135is is an exciting, engaging car. A true hoot to drive that had me laughing, seeking mischief. On the track, though, its smaller, harder tires, and narrower track (front and rear) resulted in too much under-steer. It also lacks a limited-slip differential, so power isn’t put down efficiently upon exit.
Though the 135is is closer to the original essence of BMW than almost anything else they sell, it is not a 1M. It is still a fantastically fun daily driver, and with some better tires, a fast track toy. And since the 1Ms are all gone, BMW is kind of offering you tickets to see 80% of a sold out concert, and in this case, that’s better than 100% of a lot of other cars. But if you find someone scalping a 1M, buy it.
(Note: All vehicles provided by manufacturers for comparison test purposes. Photos provided by BMW.)