2009 BMW 128i – The Object of My Compression

Consider the following; narcotics sold by the gram, LSD sitting on a small stamp of paper, and carbon masses compacted to tiny shimmering diamonds. It seems incongruous that North America has lauded massive displacements and huge footprints for so long. Clearly the good comes in small packages. That brings us to the BMW 128i, which unexpectedly (given its stature) it’s not a simpler, lighter, smaller BMW, but a grownup beemer condensed to gold-like density.

The BMW 1-series could well be the culmination of the “flame sided” design aesthetic, so named because as you change your angle of view the folds and surfaces are intended to reveal themselves differently. Take that as you will, for some the car is a design high, for others a crashing low. Personally I’ve come to like it.

The whining stops there, because the 128i offers everything a 3-series does shoehorned into a smaller package and that is brilliant.

True despite the packaging being 215mm (8.9 inches) shorter and 34mm (1.4 inches) narrower the 128i is only 45kg (99lbs) lighter than its 328i coupe sibling, but literally this is a 3-series pressed under glass; front struts, rear multi-link, engine and all. In the equation of goodness to volume the 1-series has the density to rock the charts.

Set on a narrower track the 128i flicks through traffic, a quarterback block of automotive muscle that slips where a 328i would squeeze. Parking in tight spaces is a snap, as soon as you realize the rear end really is that close. In meeting the demands of city driving, the 128i is pocket-gay-on-the-dance-floor nimble with a club anthems playing.

Our tester “suffered” from not having the sport suspension, and was better for it as the suppler ride smoothed the city’s crumbling infrastructure. Then there’s the engine, in real world usability more is not always better, and the 128i’s 3.0-liter in-line six cylinder puts out 230 hp and 200 pound-feet of torque. The 135i receives a 300hp, 300lb-ft of torque twin turbo version of this plant with instant on power that slingshots you towards the horizon. Intensely exciting, but in the day-to-day world, the 128i’s linear development of power is smooth, strong and linear.

Pull a foot of the clutch and the 128i crawls forwards though rush hour traffic without input from the accelerator. Plant a foot and there’s a swift-sleek leopard snarl through the rev-range. Less powerful than it’s sibling the 128i engages you in the driving experience of working the engine as your shifts literally spring from gear to gear though the six-speed transmission.

Insert your grin here.

Out on the highways though, this car is rigged for silent running. Settle into 6th, cruise along at low RPMs and the 128i is eerily quiet. Grand touring for two hit with a shrink-ray, provided you pack accordingly. For four adults it’s a cozy affair, but not the Mazola and a pry-bar you’d expect for those who’ve hopped in the backseat for a quick jot across town.

The 1-series’ notchback design is a slight against its usability. The trunk opening is narrow enough to have problems accommodating large-ish pieces of luggage or a Dell desktop tower. Giving a friend a ride to the airport he was forced into the back seat while his computer took shotgun. It’s no wonder the 128i scowls front under its headlights furrowed brows up front, it’s holding a grudge against those who are holding it back from actualizing its hatchback potential here in North America.

At a base $33,900 the 128i, some $9,700 less than a 328i, comes without cluttering garnish. If your tastes are more demanding, you can further enhance the driving experience at a price that will climb accordingly with your desires. Our tester struck a happy medium with the $2,900.00 Premium Package (Sunroof, Bluetooth, Xenon Headlights), Ski Bag ($230.00) and USB Audio Integration ($350.00) for a total $37,380.00. Yes, the seats were manual, but after driving the 128i for a week I’m pressed to want for more from a car.

That price point is important, because unlike many other items on the BMW top shelf the 128i isn’t forged from un-obtain-ium. There are any number of cars that slew around our roads in this price range that offer the driving experience equivalent of boredom induced narcolepsy wrapped in cheesy packaging. Nissan Altima 3.5 SE Coupe I’m looking at you. And could someone console the Cadillac CTS weeping in the corner?

If the 128i is “budget Beemer” then the satisfyingly premium feel doesn’t betray it. The leather seats offer heaps of comfort. The doors close with a stately thunk, befitting Wane Manor. Switches click with the oiled precision of a Mont Blanc pen. The interior is exactingly fit. It is a search to find any corner cutting, only the slight ripple of cheaper windscreen glass, a few LEDs burnt out in the trunk’s central brake light, and an afterthought American sized cup holder perched to the right of the gear lever betray create minor ripples on quality’s pond.

Entertaining engine, ample power, excellent braking, brilliant steering, heaps of grip, outstanding drive dynamics now available in smaller tablet form, the BMW 128i is a massive step in the right direction. That direction just happens to be smaller. Consider the 128i an object of my affections and BMW’s compressions.

For more information: http://bmw.ca/

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