2011 BMW 1 Series M
Dubbed the "spiritual successor" to the original M3, which debuted 1988, the new $46,135 BMW 1 M Coupe transplants numerous mechanical underpinnings from the current-generation M3, and packs them inside the diminutive 1-series body. The engine is a slightly modified version of the mill found in the Z4 sDrive35is
, while bodywork and interior components have been altered with the typically more aggressive "M" treatment.
This new pint-sized pocket rocket is BMW's first "M" car that's not powered by a specially developed engine. Does it really channel the spirit of the first 1980s-era M3—and more crucially, is it worthy of BMW's coveted "M" badge? We spent a day driving on both road and racetrack to find out, and what we discovered might surprise you.
What's to Like
Taut, muscular, and aggressively sporty, the BMW 1 M Coupe is exactly what it claims to be: a smaller but equally stirring alternative to the venerable M3
. From its no-frills interior to its buttoned-down performance, the 1 M exudes an honest, down-to-earth air about its purposeful personality, and it's that sort of earnestness that should make its allotment of 1,000 cars for the U.S. market quickly snatched up by enthusiasts.
What's Not to Like
The 1 M's stability control is triggered surprisingly easily on twisty roads, even in "M" mode, which only changes throttle response to a sharper setting; for maximum performance with a safety net, you've got to select "MDM" mode. And though the 1 M Coupe will undoubtedly attract performance-hungry drivers, its firm ride still might get tiresome during prolonged stretches on less than perfect roads. Finally, fans of clutchless driving will be disappointed: the 1 M is only available with a manual gearbox.
Though motivated by a less powerful engine than the M3
, the 1 M Coupe measures 9.6 inches shorter and 342 pounds lighter than its stablemate, enabling it to tie the M3
's 0-60 mph time of 4.7 seconds. But the real differences come through on mountain roads, where the 1 M's go-kart-ish proportions lend it an uncanny level of nimbleness. The speed-sensitive steering is accurate and nicely weighted, providing an excellent amount feedback through the leather-wrapped magnesium wheel. As we've come to expect with BMWs—especially high-performance M models—there's a rewarding tactile interplay between the progressive clutch pedal, the floor-mounted accelerator, and the shifter, which moves through the gates with a somewhat long, but Teflon-smooth throw.
We also tested the 1 M Coupe at Willow Springs Raceway in Rosamond, California, where its true intent was plumbed; though it exhibited more nervousness than the M3
on the track's rougher surfaces, it also rotated with more ease and braked with phenomenal stopping power, offering a fierce, focused, and tight little package that's seemingly tailor-made for track day enthusiasts.
Engine and Drivetrain
The BMW 1 M Coupe's 3.0-liter, twin-turbocharged inline-six cylinder powerplant is the same mill found in the Z4 sDrive35is, with M-specific piston rings and software management enabling more generous overboost when conditions allow. The engine produces 335 horsepower and 332 lb-ft of torque, and can only be mated to a six-speed manual transmission; according to BMW, the 1 M's quick two-year development cycle simply didn't allow enough time to produce a clutchless gearbox.
Green Evaluation/Gas Mileage
The BMW 1 M Coupe's 19 mpg/25 mpg fuel economy figures may seem unexceptional given its shoebox-like proportions, but those numbers are passable when considering its blistering performance figures.
Interesting Vehicle Features and Options
Packed to the gills with performance-oriented standard features, the BMW 1 M Coupe's optional equipment list is essentially luxury and convenience focused. Á la carte possibilities include heated front seats ($500), BMW Assist with Bluetooth ($750), satellite radio ($350), and a Harman Kardon sound system ($875).
The premium package ($2,400) adds niceties like power front seats, lumbar support, BMW Assist/Bluetooth, and an iPod/USB adaptor, while the convenience package ($2,700, only available with the premium package) adds navigation, an alarm, and several other items.
Key Technology Evaluation
Technology options like an 8.8-inch iDrive control display and an 80GB media server are available for the 1 M Coupe, but some of the most noteworthy tech gems can be found within its M3-derived underpinnings. For instance, the M variable differential works with the dynamic stability control system to alter how aggressively power is laid down to the road. The mostly aluminum, five-link rear suspension setup pulled from the M3 is a tried-and-true masterpiece of performance engineering, while the M compound brakes deliver breathtaking stopping strength and the M3 sourced steering rack provides excellent feel. The 1 M Coupe's standout features may not appease tech geeks, but they'll certainly satisfy track day junkies.
Modesty and understatement rules the interior of this four-seat coupe. "This is probably the most driver-oriented cabin of any BMW," declares M Brand Manager Matt Russell, and we think that's a great thing; you can only order the 1 M Coupe with orange contrast-stitched Black Boston leather with discreet touches of anthracite Alcantara.
Refined in BMW's Munich-based wind tunnel, the 1 M Coupe's exterior offers a telling visual representation of the car's voracious appetite for road. Though the four-cm-wide fender flares lend it a mean appearance, they contribute to an SUV-like drag coefficient of .37; however, the so-called "air curtain system" created by the vertical slats in the grille helps smooth airflow over the front wheels.
Market Segment and Pricing
BMW executives say the M3 was the only car the 1 M Coupe was benchmarked against, and given its 1,000 car allotment for the 2011 model year, we believe them. This is a niche vehicle tailored to a small subset of enthusiasts who aren't put off by its Lilliputian dimensions. That said, the Audi TT RS
($56,850) and Porsche Cayman R
($66,300) are perhaps the two most comparable examples on the market, and their base prices exceed the BMW's fully loaded MSRP of $54,085.
What We Think
In the face of big, heavy sports cars powered by gas-guzzling engines, we found ourselves refreshed to climb into the BMW 1 M Coupe's compact cabin, and even more thrilled to drive it. It may not offer the cargo capacity of a 3 Series
, the passenger room of a 5 Series
, or the magic carpet ride of a 7 Series
, but the sensations from behind the wheel—the steering feel, the way the twin-turbocharged six-cylinder spools up seamlessly and pushes you into your seat, and how it digs into tarmac with seemingly endless grip—is the stuff that makes the driving cognoscenti swoon. If hardcore driving is your thing, the BMW 1 M Coupe may just be your ideal ride.