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car review

2011 BMW 135i

Even though it's the baby of the BMW family, there's nothing small about its size, power, or price.

Starting at $43,000 the BMW 135i coupe isn't exactly cheap. And once you add a $3,700 Executive package with electric seats, driver memory, and leather upholstery plus a $1,900 M Sport package to liven things up, the price jumps north of $50,000, which dips into 3-Series territory.

But if you're a thrill seeker who wants power and instant gratification at the touch of a pedal, the 135i coupe with the M body kit will satisfy your craving. Thanks to a gutsy and spirited 300-horsepower, 3.0-litre, six-cylinder, twin-turbocharged engine.

A six-speed manual transmission is standard, but my tester is fitted with an optional seven-speed double clutch transmission, which costs $1,950. Car purists might prefer the manual, but the seven-speed is the next best thing. The shift points are quick. You can also use the manual shift mode on the gear shifter by nudging it to the left and then moving it up or down to shift gears. Personally, I prefer the oversized paddle shifters on the steering wheel.

The 135i is sporty and fun to drive. It's agile, quick, and nimble. Off the line, this 1,560-kg coupe will hit 0 to 100 km/h in only 5.3 seconds with little turbo lag to slow you down. The top speed is electronically limited to 240 km/h. Body control along corners and bends is excellent; the rear-wheel-drive coupe hugs the road beautifully; the steering is accurate and precise. Braking is sharp, too. The coupe also has a nice, tight turning radius. And on the highway or city streets, the cabin remains whisper quiet at all speeds.

On the fuel economy front, the 135i averages 11.7 litres/100 km in the city and 7.9 on the highway; I averaged a combined driving figure of 10.2 litres/100 km, which is decent for this type of vehicle.

My tester's Le Mans blue metallic exterior colour is gorgeous. It stands out on the road as do the 18-inch M double-spoke performance run-flat tires - they're hefty and well proportioned to the rest of the car, which includes a muscular front end with chrome grille, chrome-plated kidney bars and BMW's famed propeller on the long hood. A wide rear with black chrome twin exhaust tips hint at the power under the hood.

Adaptive xenon headlights move with the steering wheel. As a result, you'll see further down the road along every bend and turn. Adaptive rear brake lights have a two-stage brake light system. With normal braking, the main light illuminates; but under sudden braking, the entire light glows red to warn other drivers.

The interior seats four, but it's a bit snug in the cabin. The front sport seats are comfortable and nicely sculpted; they're electric powered with an electrically adjustable width and driver memory. But the two rear seats aren't as impressive. Entering and exiting the rear is tricky, too - it requires some contortionist twists to get in the back. Once nestled inside it's tight for passengers - even at five-foot-five, I lacked leg- and headroom. On short drives, it's fine, but on long drives you feel a bit claustrophobic riding in the rear.

The fit and finish on the dashboard is impressive. The beefy M sport steering wheel feels nice and chunky in the hands. The layout is simple and straightforward - there's no annoying or distracting iDrive to complicate the simplest functions.

But some of the controls are too small - especially the radio buttons. When you're wearing gloves it's easy to press two radio buttons instead of one because they're so tiny and too close together. At least the climate control dials are larger and easier to adjust.

Comfort access, which is part of my tester's Executive Package, lets you unlock the doors by simply touching the door handle, eliminating the need for a key. You can even keep the fob in your pocket and fire up the engine by pushing the start-stop button.

The trunk space is respectable. There's 370 litres of room, which is on par with some sedans. But if you need extra room, the 60/40-split rear seats fold down for more cargo-carrying capacity.

If the 135i is out of your price range don't worry. You can always get the base model, a 128i. It'll still satisfy any driver's itch.

Powering it is a 230-horsepower, 3.0-litre, six-cylinder engine. A six-speed manual transmission is standard; a six speed automatic is optional. Prices start at $35,800, but again be wary about adding on the options. Later this year, an all new BMW 1-Series M coupe will hit the road as part of BMW's high-performance M line - but you can bet it'll cost a lot more cash.

But for all that money, I still wonder, would you be better off moving up the BMW ladder to a more spacious and luxurious 3-Series sedan? After all, a 323i starts at $37,650; the top-of-the-line 335i x-drive sedan starts at $52,100. So, for the price, you might want to comparison shop with a 3-Series.

2011 BMW 135i

Type: Two-door, four-passenger coupe

Base Price: $43,000; as tested, $54,000

Engine: 3-litre, DOHC, twin-turbo inline-six

Horsepower/torque: 300 hp/300 lb-ft

Transmission: Seven-speed double clutch

Drive: Rear-wheel

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 11.7 city/7.9 highway; premium gas

Alternatives: Audi A3, Infiniti G37 coupe, Nissan 370Z