BMW 130i LE | Spotted

Yellow leather and a punchy price always made the LE an outlier – now it's almost a cult classic…

By Matt Bird / Monday, 9 October 2023 / Loading comments

BMW has a long and (mostly) brilliant history of putting very large straight six engine in cars most would consider too small to house them. Even as far back as the E21 323i, it was determined for the back axle to be given a workout by a great big engine. Over the years cars like the 325ti Compact and M135i have continued the tradition; even today it might be argued that something like the M240i xDrive occupies that space, despite the 2 Series being larger (an xDrive-ier) than ever. There isn’t anything else like it, as per those older models, pairing a relatively compact body with an engine BMW does better than anyone else. 

When the first 1 Series was introduced (almost 20 years ago now), a big six seemed a dead cert, especially given one had featured in the preceding E46 3 Series Compact. In 2005 we got that car, N52-engined 130i, and a compact classic was born. Perhaps it wasn’t the most thrilling hatchback in the world to drive, but in offering a classic rear-drive BMW experience in a model beneath the 3 Series, the 3.0-litre 1 Series won a fair few fans. 

So much so, in fact, that come the time of a 2007 facelift, a three-door model was introduced to compete with those more traditional hot hatches (the 130i having launched as a five-door-only model). To mark the occasion, BMW created something called the LE; just 160 would be allocated to the UK market, priced at £30,300 (or more than £48k in today’s money!), with natty wheels inspired by the 3 Series WTCC racer and offered only in Carbon Black with Lemon leather interior. Yes, really – bold upholstery choices are not reserved to the BMWs of today. Additional M Sport accessories were also included. 

Back then, the LE was really one for the dedicated BMW fans, carrying a near £4k premium over a three-door 130i M Sport for a car very similar to drive. Sports suspension was standard, and the 18-inch wheels would have been on run flats, but it would have been a familiar 1 Series experience. Just with more yellow. With the passage of time, however, it might well be said that the LE has become more interesting, with rarity in its favour and a spec that’s just different enough to mark it out to the eagle eyed. That’s on top of the appeal, seemingly growing by the day, of a manual, rear-drive BMW with the N52 engine. Even looks quite smart, all these years later…

This one looks a particularly nice LE. It’s covered 83,000 miles and is said to boast an ‘outstanding’ service record as well; that’s in addition to four new Goodyear Eagle F1 tyres, recent springs and dampers, plus refurbed alloy wheels. Those in particular look fantastic, showing how well a great set of wheels can really set a car off. Miraculously, the Lemon leather still looks zesty fresh (sorry). 

As the 130i has become more desirable over recent years (the days of £4k cars are long gone, unfortunately), so the LE would inevitably command some extra interest as well. This one is for sale at £9,450; probably more than the last time any of us saw one for sale, but such is the enthusiasm for these little BMWs now. As the future looks uncertain, so people look to the past for their thrills. For some proof of the 130i love in, the selling dealer also has a standard M Sport, which now commands £7k. Still, after its awkward years, it feels like the very best original 1 Series will be cherished for a while yet – particularly the Lemon Edition…


Engine: 2,996cc, straight-six
Transmission: 6-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 265@6,650rpm
Torque (lb ft): 232@2,750rpm
MPG: 34
CO2: 197g/km
First registered: 2007
Recorded mileage: 83,000
Price new: £30,300
Yours for: £9,450

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