MONTEREY, CA – BMW North America LLC’s dealers will begin receiving the 1-Series in late March, and the vehicle’s sales launch is shaping up to be one of the most historic in the auto maker’s history.

Dealers here began accepting orders for the car in December.

“We’ve had the most leads and test drive requests for the 1-Series than any other model we’ve ever had,” says Anthony Foulk, BMW product manager.

Two versions of the 1-Series will be available. The 128i starts at $29,375 and is powered by a 3.0L, 230-hp inline-6 engine that generates 200 lb.-ft. (271 Nm) of torque. The 135i starts at $35,675 and is motivated by a twin-turbocharged version of the 3.0L that produces 300 hp and 300 lb.-ft. (407 Nm) of torque.

Sales of the 1-Series coupe begin March 27, and deliveries of the convertible start after May 1, BMW says. However an exact sales date has not been set for the drop-top.

BMW is trying to recapture the passion of the 2002 model that 40 years ago established the brand as the benchmark for luxury sports sedans.

The new 1-Series already is on sale in Europe, where it generally is marketed as more of an entry-level vehicle. However, the German importer is intent on selling the 1-Series as s premium performance car in the U.S.

Foulk forecasts the average transaction price for the 128i coupe will be $33,000-$34,000, while the convertible version could go as high as $36,000. For the 135i coupe, the average transaction price will be just under $40,000, he says, while the convertible variant will average just below $45,000. The 1-Series will have a lower lease penetration than the 3-Series but higher than the Mini, Foulk says.

BMW will launch sales of 1-Series performance parts soon after the vehicle’s March introduction. Buyers will be able to customize with performance suspension, brakes and aerodynamic kits.

Various ordering combinations are available to 1-Series buyers, including optional leather and sports packages. Also available is BMW’s controversial iDrive with an optional navigation system.

As with other BMW vehicles, 1-Series buyers receive the auto maker’s no-cost maintenance program for four years, or 50,000 miles (80,470 km). The warranty covers oil changes, brake pads, wiper blades and other wear and tear items. Free roadside assistance for four years with no mileage limit also is included.