They were tempted to badge it M1. But the original M1, codeveloped with Lamborghini, was a much more special machine, a successful brand-shaper, exquisite and expensive enough to qualify as a true supercar. The 2012 BMW 135i M coupe is, on the other hand, a straightforward 1-series derivative -- more straightforward, in fact, than M3, M5, and M6, all of which boast a bespoke engine.
The go-faster 1-series instead makes do with the tweaked twin-turbo 3.0-liter straight-six we know from the Z4 sDrive 35is. Rated at 335 hp and a peak torque of 369 lb-ft with overboost, the compact M coupe will have no difficulties eclipsing the 135i, which delivers 300 hp and 300 lb-ft of torque. Since the 135i is 180 pounds lighter than the corresponding 3-series, the hottest 1-series should neatly plug the performance gap between the 135i and the M3.
According to a source from within the M division, the newest arrival can sprint from 0-62 mph in 4.6 seconds, thereby losing only 0.2 second to the 414-hp M3. The top speed is in both cases electronically limited to 155 mph, but extra money may buy a higher 175-mph limit together with a professional driver-training course. While a six-speed manual is standard, the seven-speed dual-clutch offered in the 135i should also be available for the 340-hp version. Also part of the M parcel is a lowered suspension setting featuring stiffer springs and tauter dampers. Whether the torque-vectoring M differential makes it into the 135i M is, at this point, still subject to speculation.
A ride in a new car never tells the full story, but five laps in the 1-series M coupe left me sufficiently breathless to kneel down in awe and start counting the pennies. True, the twin-turbo straight six does not deliver quite the same punch as the big brother's higher-revving, normally aspirated V-8, but the boosted engine offers more mid-range torque and is positively physical. The throttle response is ultra-brisk in sport mode (there is no shift-speed adjustment or power button as in the M3) and the suspension feels confidence-inspiring, even from the right side of the car. The brakes are sufficiently powerful to turn this passenger's stomach inside out. When you hit the M button, the character of the wide-body 1-series shifts from hot to flame-throwing spicy. Although stability control can be completely deactivated, the loosened M Dynamic Mode permits sufficiently lurid second- and third-gear tail slides without removing the safety net altogether. There is no doubt about it: affordable and energetic rear-wheel drive has not been this much fun in a long time.