The BMW 1-series made its initial debut in 2004 in the form of the E87 5-door hatch. It wasn’t until 2008 that BMW brought the 1-series to North America as the E82 coupe and E88 convertible. Models include the 128i, 135i, and legendary 1M. We’ll make reference to some foreign models, but this article is primarily targeting the US models. In this guide, we discuss the BMW E82 chassis and compare performance, reliability, and driving of the E82/E88 128i, 135i, and 1M.
E8x Chassis Background Info
Again, we’re primarily focusing on the US models. However, we’ll provide a quick breakdown of some useful information for the BMW E8x chassis. It’s available in the following body styles:
- E82 – 2 door coupe
- E88 – 2 door convertible
- E81 – 3 door hatchback
- E87 – 5 door hatchback
US models only include the BMW E82 and E88 chassis. BMW 1-series models include:
- 116i / 116d
- 118i / 118d
- 120i / 120d
- 125i / 123d
- 1M Coupe
E82 and E88 models in the US are only available in the 128i, 135i, 135is, and 1M. They were sold from 2008 through 2013.
A wide variety of engines are available for the BMW 1-series. A lot of this E82 buyers guide and comparison comes down to these engines. Foreign models include many options, such as the N43, N45, N46, and N47 diesel. There were also options for the N52, N54, and N55. The latter 3 will be our focal point as they’re the options available in US model 1-series cars.
- N52 – 3.0L inline-6 naturally aspirated
- N54 – 3.0L inline-6 twin turbo
- N55 – 3.0L inline-6 single twin-scroll turbo
As we move through the 1-series buyers guide we’ll break down the engines further. For now, let’s quickly discuss each of the 3.0 liter BMW inline-6 engines found in the E82 coupe and E88 convertible.
BMW N52 Engine
As with all of these engines the N52 is a 3.0L inline-6. It offers 228 horsepower in the BMW 128i model. Foreign use of the N52 engine includes the de-tuned 125i variant with 215 horsepower and a 130i with 255-261 horsepower. All very respectable numbers for a small, light weight car.
However, the N52 powered 128i does lack turbos and remains the least powerful variant of the US 1-series. Some may appreciate the NA design and easier maintenance and repairs, though.
BMW N54 Engine
The N54 is always an interesting discussion. We fell in love with this engine, and it’s largely responsible for us starting this blog. However, those familiar with BMW have likely heard plenty of N54 horror stories. It was BMW’s first attempt at a mass production, direct injection, turbo engine.
Many aspects of the N54 are great, and it’s the modern formula for powerful performance engines. With 300 horsepower, 300 torque, and minimal turbo lag from the factory it has solid performance. However, the N54 really shines in the aftermarket world where simple mods can easily take the N54 to 450-600+ horsepower. Then again, the lack of reliability may scare many away.
*The N54 is found in the 2008-2010 E82/E88 135i and 2012-2013 BMW E82 1M Coupe. 1M models receive a 335hp N54 making it the most powerful E82/E88 1-series available.
BMW N55 Engine
1-series models with the N55 engine include the 2011-2013 135i and 2013 135is. The N55 offers the same 300 horsepower and 300 lb-ft of torque as the previous N54 engine. However, BMW took a step down in aftermarket potential in favor of working on reliability. The N55 135i is still capable of 400+ horsepower with a few basic mods.
Some consider it a major reliability improvement over the N54. That was true in the early days since the N54 suffered from HPFP, turbo, and fuel injector problems. The N55 didn’t really run into those issues when it was new. However, those 3 problems have mostly been ironed out on the N54 by now. Otherwise, the N55 suffers from many of the same reliability concerns.
BMW 1-Series Price
Since this is a buyer’s guide we’re focusing on current prices as of 2021 and ignoring any MSRP. There’s also not much to discuss when it comes to current prices. However, unless your budgeting $40,000+ for an 8-10 year old car you can cross the BMW 1M off the list. They’re extremely rare and hard to find for sale. The few that pop up for sale are usually in the $40,000 to $60,000 ballpark.
2013 BMW 135is models are another pricey variant. They are also hard to come by, and typically show up in the $20,000 to $30,000 price range.
Regular 128i and 135i models are the easiest to find, and come in at reasonable prices. They can actually be found for very similar prices. Most 128i models range from about $8,000 to $15,000. 135i models can also be had for less than $10,000. However, newer 2011 to 2013 N55 models will likely run closer to $15,000+. Some clean examples with lower mileage still run up to $20,000 or higher.
BMW E82/E88 Performance
We have a handling section coming up next, so this portion is mostly regarding engines and straight-line performance. We’ll be fairly quick moving through this topic since we gave a brief overview earlier. Long story short, if you’re in the market for the ultimate performance E82/E88 then you’ll want to consider the N54 and N55. 135i and 1M models offer quite a bit more performance straight from the factory.
Top that off with the fact the N54 and N55 are easy to modify for more power. Simple bolt-ons can easily push these engines to 400+ horsepower. The N54 does have the slight edge when it comes to internal strength and tuning potential. Stock N54 twin turbos are good for 450-500whp, and turbo upgrades can easily boost them to 500-600+whp. Of course, costs add up quickly when shooting for big numbers like that.
Anyways, we could sit here and list off 0-60 and 1/4 mile times. However, all of those numbers vary based on drivers, conditions, transmission, etc. Point is – if you want performance then the N54 or N55 powered 135i, 135is, and 1M are the way to go.
E82 128i, 135i, 1M Handling
Handling is one area the E82 and E88 chassis really excel. Convertible models with similar options add about 200-275 pounds to the car. As such, some state you should avoid the convertible if you’re after handling. However, most of the extra weight on the E88 sits down low. It’s not great to have more weight, but it’s less harmful for handling when it sits down low. You still do lose some capability as well as braking and acceleration.
Anyways, the BMW E82 1M is going to offer the best handling and all around performance. It makes sense given it’s the high performance version developed by BMW’s legendary M division. What about the 128i and 135i, though?
BMW 128i vs 135i Handling
This is where the BMW E82 128i gains a slight edge over the heavier 135i. Turbochargers add a lot of extra weight. The N52 also uses light weight magnesium, but for strength the N54 and N55 receive aluminum. N54 and N55 engines clock in about 75 pounds heavier than the N52 in the 128i. That extra weight is all sitting right over the front axle.
Overall, the 135i clocks in about 100-200 pounds heavier than the 128i. It can, however, vary a lot depending on specific features, transmission, and more. Regardless, the 128i does carry a small edge thanks to its lower weight – especially over the front axle. They’re both capable performers, though. Despite the extra weight the 128i vs 135i will feel similar to most drivers. The extra power in the 135i is likely more noticeable than the weight difference.
BMW E82 Reliability & Problems
Again, we’ll be quick since we touched on this earlier. The previous links to our engine problems guides are helpful resources for specific issues with each engine. One benefit to almost all BMW E82 and E88 models is their simplicity. They’re intended to be smaller, light-weight drivers cars. As such, the 1-series BMW’s typically come with a bit less technology and features.
Power seats and steering wheel adjustment (among many other things) are often found on larger 3-series and 5-series. While they were options on some 128i and 135i models many are manual. The basic design does help with reliability in avoiding electrical gremlins that many older BMW’s seem to run into.
All of the engine options can be hit or miss. The N52 128i likely carries an edge since they’re NA engines. N54 and N55 powered 135i models can be a bit more demanding on maintenance. Direct injection leads to carbon build-up concerns. Turbo engines burn through spark plugs and ignition coils. Then the E82/E88 turbo engines also leave more room for potential failures.
Otherwise, these engines share many similar reliability concerns. Things like VANOS solenoids, valve cover gaskets, oil pan gaskets, water pumps, coolant hoses, expansion tanks, etc are all pretty common problems. Especially with the age of the BMW E82 1-series all of these engines are likely to need a little work from time to time. Most repairs aren’t too expensive for the DIY crowd, but costs add up quickly if you go to a repair shop or dealer for everything.
E82/E88 Buyers Guide Summary
BMW E82 and E88 chassis have many things going for them. Cars in general continue getting bigger and bigger every year. The E82 128i, 135i, and 1M are all small and don’t carry much weight relative to cars of the era. US models all receive 3.0L inline-6 engines making the BMW 1-series a very capable car.
Unfortunately, most will need to cross the awesome BMW 1M off their list immediately. At $40,000-$60,000+ and with the N54 engine these cars aren’t cheap to purchase or maintain. The 135is is a compelling option, but they’re also pretty pricey for being an 8 year old car.
As such, for most the BMW E82 comparison comes down to the 128i and 135i. They both have a lot to offer, and we think it’s hard to go wrong with either. BMW 135i models hold the edge in performance and tuning, especially with the twin turbo N54 engine. However, the lighter 128i might be the better choice for a balance of fuel economy, reliability, and handling. They’re both very capable cars, so it really just comes down to personal preference.
What’s your experience with the BMW E82 & E88? Are you considering one?
Leave a comment & let us know!
Looking for something bigger? Check out our E90 3-series buyers guide