At last! An affordable BMW that is also somewhat economical to operate with its EPA rated 19 city, 28 highway mpg.BMW's new 1-Series is considered a premium, rear-drive compact car that is new to this country and is slightly smaller and less expensive than the popular 3-Series.

Offered with two engine choices and in coupe and convertible, the power plants include a 230-hp, 3.0L I-6 cylinder labeled as a 128i and a 300-hp 3.0L twin-turbocharged I-6 labeled an 135i.

I tested the 128i (for the above mileage ratings) and found it to be extremely potent with exhilarating acceleration from standing stops to highway passing. I can only imagine how the twin-turbos perform. Power was routed to the wheels through an optional 6-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters on the steering wheel for those who prefer do it-yourself sport shifting. A 6-speed manual trans is standard.

I must confess. I admire BMW powertrains. Built with a magnesium/aluminum block, they are smooth, quiet and run like a Rolex. The sensation can also be heard. The hushed sound of the engine in concert with the exhaust tone signifies there is something special under the hood-a precision piece of art, if you will.

With leather Recaro type supportive front seats, the 1's interior is manicured and almost seamless. Everything blends and meshes precisely. HVAC controls are straight forward and easy to use. The GPS nav system and audio functions, however, are a different story. An LCD screen pops up in the center of the dash to view and select a particular function via a dial or mouse on the console. It's not a task easily done while driving. But a keyless ignition alleviates having to hunt for the keys as long as the keyfob is in the vehicle.

The "for two" back seat is particularly firm and accessed after powering the front seats forward which takes a good 10 seconds. A manual operation would be considerably faster.

As most comparable coupes and convertibles have small trunks, the 1-Series has better than average capacity which is rated at 13.1 cubic feet or, more meaningful, one hardsider plus a couple back-packs.

Aside from the powertrain, BMWs are noted for their excellent handling and road feel. The ride is taut since mostly all significant road imperfections can be felt, albeit dampened, through the wheel. On the flip side, handling is superb. If you so desire to drive this way, the car can be launched through and from a sharp turn with nary any body lean or tilt. The 17-inch Goodyear Eagle performance tires stick like glue although they should be replaced with snow tires for the winter.

Price wise, the base starts at $28,600 but after adding a very long list of options (26 to be exact) including a $475 charge for metallic paint, the 1-Series coupe bottom-lined at $42,395. Well, it started out affordable.

A lifelong resident of Lehigh County, Nick Hromiak has been writing about cars and trucks for 21 years. His love of cars has evolved into penning weekly automotive reviews. He is a member of International Motor Press Association and has been published in national magazines and weekly newspapers. To contact him via e-mail, contact the editor at jpopichak@berksmontnews.com

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