Consumer Reports picks BMW 135i as its top-rated sports car

Consumer Reports has given the BMW 135i an overall score of “Excellent” beating the Subaru Impreza WRX STi, Volkswagen R32, Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution (which followed the 135i in that ranking order).

CR said that the BMW 135i “drew praise for its splendid handling, a punchy engine delivering a 0-to-60 mph acceleration time of 5.2 seconds, and its overall fun-to-drive quality.”

Power comes from the 3.0L twin-turbocharged 6-cylinder engine that produces 300-hp mated to a 6-speed manual transmission. Estimated fuel-economy comes in at 23mpg on premium fuel.

Click through for more images and the press release.

2008 BMW 135i:



Press Release:

CR tests BMW coupe against Subaru Impreza WRX STi, Volkswagen R32, Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution and others for October issue

YONKERS, N.Y., Sept. 2, 2008 – The BMW 135i achieved an “Excellent” overall score and outpaced all its competitors to become Consumer Reports’ top-rated sporty car in testing for the October issue. The 135i drew praise for its splendid handling, a punchy engine delivering a 0-to-60 mph acceleration time of 5.2 seconds, and its overall fun-to-drive quality.

Other highly-rated cars in this month’s test group of eight sports and sporty cars were the Subaru Impreza WRX STi, Volkswagen R32, and Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution, in that ranking order. All three of those vehicles achieved overall scores that were also in the “Excellent” range, but lower than the 135i. The four top-rated vehicles ranged in price from $33,630 for the R32 to $38,078 for the “Evo.”

The October test group also included four other cars, which are priced about $10,000 less and delivered impressive performance for the price. They included the Subaru Impreza WRX, Chevrolet Cobalt SS, Nissan Sentra SE-R, and Dodge Caliber SRT4. Prices for those models ranged from $23,310 for the SE-R to $25,169 for the WRX.

The issue also includes an “Auto Test Extra” report on the Volvo C30 hatchback, which is less sporty than the other eight models tested but is stylish and capable. It earned a “Very Good” overall score.

“The new 135i is quick, well balanced and a lot of fun to drive,” said David Champion, senior director of automotive testing for Consumer Reports. “The engine is smooth and powerful and returns relatively good fuel economy. Steering and brakes are excellent, and the cabin is well finished and quiet, with comfortable front seats.”

Full tests and ratings of the sporty cars group and the C30 appear in the redesigned October issue of Consumer Reports, which goes on sale September 2. The reports are also available to subscribers of

The only vehicle that Consumer Reports is Recommending from this month’s testing are the Subaru Impreza WRX and the more aggressive WRX STi, based on previous Subaru models’ reliability. The other tested vehicles are still too new for Consumer Reports to have reliability data on them. CR only recommends vehicles that have performed well in its tests, have at least average predicted reliability based on CR’s annual survey of its more than seven million print and web subscribers, and performed at least adequately if crash-tested or included in a government rollover test.

BMW began selling the 135i in the U.S. this year, but the 1 Series has been sold elsewhere since 2004. In addition to having the quickest 0-to-60-mph acceleration time in this group, it also had the shortest braking distances on dry and wet surfaces, and the highest speed through CR’s avoidance maneuver, which measures at-the-limit handling. The 135i ($37,650 Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price as tested) is powered by a 300-hp, 3.0-liter, twin-turbocharged six-cylinder engine that delivers uninterrupted punch and pulls powerfully from idle to redline. Expect 23 mpg overall on premium fuel. The six-speed manual transmission shifts accurately and smoothly but is a bit notchy. The brakes are excellent.

Redesigned for 2008, the WRX STi delivers impressive acceleration, braking, and handling. Still, the STi doesn’t live up to the standards set by the previous generation car. It isn’t as exciting to drive, the steering isn’t as sharp, and the shifter and clutch require lots of effort to use. The STi ($37,640 MSRP as tested) is equipped with a 305-hp, turbocharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that delivers quick acceleration when pressed except in very low revs. The STi returned 21 mpg overall on premium fuel in CR’s own fuel economy tests. Braking is excellent.

The limited-production Volkswagen R32 ($33,630 MSRP as tested) is a more powerful, luxurious, and pricier all-wheel-drive version of VW’s impressive GTI. It provides superior handling balance, accelerates briskly, sounds muscular and brakes well. It pampers occupants with comfortable seats, a high-quality cabin, and decent ride-comfort and noise levels for this class. The R32 is powered by a 250-hp, 3.2-liter V6 that is both responsive and strong. The six-speed, automated manual transmission shifts smoothly and quickly. CR averaged 22 mpg overall in its tests on premium fuel. Braking was very good.

The Lancer Evolution, or Evo, is an uncompromising high-performance sports car. With quick acceleration and impressive handling, it is a lot of fun in the right conditions. But its frenetic highway behavior, stiff ride, raucous cabin, spartan interior, and confining seats mean that this car is not for the average driver. The Evo ($38,078 MSRP as tested) is powered by a 291-hp, 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that is a strong performer. Its five-speed manual transmission performs well, but its short gearing adversely affects noise and fuel consumption on the highway. CR recorded 21 mpg overall on premium fuel. Brakes are excellent.

The WRX is roomier, quieter, and more comfortable and refined than its predecessor. But it’s lost some sportiness that made the original so much fun to drive. It still remains a practical, affordable, sedan that’s quick and fairly agile. The WRX ($25,169 MSRP as tested) is propelled by a 224-hp, 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that provides effortless power while averaging a respectable 24 mpg on premium fuel. The five-speed manual transmission shifts well. Braking is excellent.

Swapping out a supercharger for a turbocharger and implementing other tweaks make the revised 2008 Chevrolet Cobalt SS a better car and a more credible sports coupe. It accelerates quickly and has capable handling, excellent brakes, and a tolerable ride. The engine and exhaust note sound invigorating. But its score was hurt by unimpressive interior fit and finish, wind noise, and rear-seat access. The Cobalt SS ($24,535 MSRP as tested) is powered by a 260-hp, 2.0-liter turbocharged, four-cylinder engine that delivers excellent acceleration and 22 mpg overall on premium gas. The short-throw five-speed manual transmission shifts crisply.

Years ago, the Sentra SE-R was a fun-to-drive little pocket rocket, but no more. CR tested the sportiest, most powerful current version, called the Spec V. Yet when it comes to sporty driving, it’s unimpressive. It has decent power and a fairly roomy interior. But there is little that is special about its handling. The Sentra SE-R Spec V ($23,310 MSRP as tested) is equipped with a 200-hp, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that delivers lively acceleration and averaged 30 mpg on premium. Its six-speed manual transmission is a bit clunky. Braking is very good. The SE-R was the only car in this group without electronic stability control, a valuable safety feature.

An attempt to make the mediocre Caliber into a sports car, the SRT4 succeeds only in creating a faster version of a car that was crude to begin with. The SRT4 is relatively quick, and the engine sounds good, but it fails to deliver where it matters most: the fun-to-drive factor. Clumsy handling, a balky shifter, a heavy clutch, a very stiff ride, and constant loud noise compromise the driving experience. The SRT4 ($24,930 MSRP as tested) is powered by a 285-hp, 2.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that delivers strong acceleration but feels coarse. The six-speed manual transmission has long throws and heavy shifter effort. Brakes are very good.

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