BMW has referred to its vehicles as the "ultimate driving machines" for so long the phrase has become as much a part of the company's identity as Mazda's "Zoom Zoom." We'll leave the "ultimate" claim as a debate for another day. It suffices to say that a BMW is almost always enjoyable to drive.

Today's featured vehicle - the BMW 128i - is all of that. The 128i is the smaller, engine-wise, of BMW's two 1 Series coupes. It produces "only" 230 horsepower and 200 lb-ft. of torque from the 3.0-liter inline six. The turbocharged 135i bumps both those figures to 300.

Our test car had a 6-speed Steptronic automatic with paddle shifters. It was fun to use the paddle shifters for a short bit, but just popping it in drive and listening to the exhaust tone quickly changing its tune with the crisp shifts was almost as satisfying. My preference would have been the 6-speed manual, but then I don't have to sit in commuter traffic on a daily basis, either.

So, the 128i has plenty of power. It looks great, hardly like the baby, entry-level BMW that it is. It handles great, with true near 50/50 front-engine, rear-wheel drive balance. Unlike the 3 Series, you don't see as many 1s on the road.

So what's not to like?

A few things, especially if you're a bit of a curmudgeon:

The price. Our 128i started with a MSRP of $29,200, plus a destination charge of $825. If you could stop there, we could see this as an entry-level sports coupe. However, an array of ``normal'' BMW options pushed the final price to $41,345. We had the Sport package ($1,300), Premium Package ($3,700), Steptronic with paddles ($1,425), Xenon headlights ($800), and Navigation system ($2,100) as the major add-ons. For comparison, a comparable 3-Series has a base price of $33,600 and would be about $45,500 similarly equipped.

A combination iPod/USB adaptor was $400. That's more expensive than an iPod!

The two-part starting "system" is pretentious. Push the key fob into the dash, and then hit the start/stop button. How about reverting to turnkey vehicles?

The 19 (city) / 28 (highway) EPA fuel economy rating. We averaged 21.3 in driving limited miles. A better combination of power and economy is called for these days.

The back seat. We had three folks to go riding but couldn't convince anyone to take a day trip in the back seat. Why consumers buy a car with such all-but-useless rear seats is a head-scratcher. Don't they have friends? If you buy a BMW it would stand to reason you like to drive and occasionally have the need to carry more than one passenger. I coerced my son - your standard 6-foot, 190-pound issue - to accompany us on a short ride. Mrs. G slid the passenger seat all the way forward, and he endured the contortionist's role for a 20 minute ride with no repercussions but no good words for the experience.

The cup holders. There's a big one - MINI-style - on the passenger side and another tucked half under the center armrest. It's a bit on the sparse side for Mrs. G who's inclined to embark on a three-hour morning trip with hot tea, Diet Coke and a bottle of water, almost always guaranteeing a pit stop.

The rest of the family thought the interior was a bit Spartan, but my feeling was that it was BMW-like.

On the good side, the 128i comes with a four-year/50,000-mile full maintenance program, stability and traction control, brake-fade and drying systems, and rain-sensing wipers.

And the real bottom line, as opposed to the one on the window sticker? It's a blast to drive.