BMW’s M division has a long, proud history of building cars with an emphasis on sport. Through the years, BMW M cars have gotten faster, more refined, and more luxurious, but at the expense of weight and physical size. The BMW 1 Series M Coupe is on a mission to right that course, claiming to been inspired by the original (and some say, the greatest) M car: the first-generation E30 series M3.
Consider the 1 Series M Coupe’s dimensions. Measuring 172.4 inches from nose to tail, the car is just 1.3-inches longer than a 1988 M3. Of course, the M Coupe is wider by 4.8 inches, has a longer wheelbase by 3 inches, and is heavier by several hundred pounds (3296 compared to the 1988 M3’s 2800-pound curb weight). Still, compared to the current 3700-pound M3 coupe, the 1 Series M is a lightweight.
Compared to the 135i, the 1 Series M Coupe features some significant design changes. Flared fenders and rear quarter panels are necessary to cover a track that has been increased by 2.8 inches up front and 1.8 inches out back. The new front fascia contains a wide central air intake covered by a honeycomb-pattern grille, flanked by two smaller ducts on either side — mandatory to feed air to both the oil cooler and the supplemental radiator during track stints. On the extreme sides of the front fascia, openings BMW calls air curtains allow high-pressure air to “curtain” the front wheels, reducing turbulence. The technology is applied for the first time on the 1 Series M Coupe. Out back, the rear fascia features ducts similar in style (though not in function), and a lip spoiler is fitted to the trunk lid. M3-style side mirrors are wind-tunnel optimized and M-characteristic fender vents incorporate both turn indicators and the M badge.
Overall, the M car is wider by 2.1 inches and, surprisingly, sits half an inch taller. To cut 35 pounds and lower the M Coupe’s center of gravity, there’s no sunroof. Weight savings can also be found in the suspension, where nearly every front-end component is crafted from aluminum for stiffness. In the rear, the geometry of the five-link setup has been reworked to be stiffer, replacing most steel components with aluminum, including the dampers. Hollow stabilizer bars have been fit both front and rear, while two longitudinal reinforcement bars are added.
The heart of the 1 Series M Coupe is BMW’s twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter I-6 “N54” paired to a single transmission – a conventional six-speed manual. For the M car, the turbocharger, exhaust system, and ECU have been revised to produce 335 horsepower and 332 pound-feet of torque, though up to 369 pound-feet are available temporarily in overboost mode. Redline is found at 7000 rpm. Coupled with the M Coupe’s lighter weight, BMW claims 0-60 mph sprints take 4.7 seconds with the quarter-mile run dispatched in 13.2 seconds. The top speed is limited to 155 mph by the ECU.
As in all BMW M cars, the M Coupe also gets various suspension, stability control, and ECU modes, capped off with the M Dynamic Mode, activated by a button on the center stack. An M button is also found on the three-spoke sport steering wheel to activate the mode along with the sharpest throttle response setting. A variable M differential lock is also included for greater traction on slippery surfaces, as well as allowing the more entertaining aspects of the car’s rear-wheel-drive layout to be exploited.
Responsibly, BMW has seen fit to update the 135i’s brakes for 1 Series M Coupe duty. Effectively, the current M3 lent its cross-drilled 14.2-inch front and 13.8-inch rear discs to the M Coupe, along with floating aluminum hubs and a wear indicator viewable on the in-car display. All this is covered in the 19 x 9-inch light alloy wheels available with the M3 Competition Package and the M3 GTS. Tires are 245/35/R19 up front, 265/35/R19 in the back.
Inside the 1 Series M Coupe, the black Alcantara (here with orange stitching) expected to be found in modern performance cars is present nearly everywhere, covering the door panels, door pulls, instrument cluster binnacle, and dash panel, along with the boots for both gearshift and brake lever. Instrument faces boast gray dials and red needles, meanwhile, the M logo finds its way to the dead pedal, door sills, and sport seat headrests. Dark colors are used for both the A-pillars and headliner to reduce glare and focus attention on the road ahead.
Whether the BMW 1 Series M Coupe really is the second coming of the E30 M3 remains to be seen after we get a more thorough drive than was allowed to us in a preproduction car. You’ll be able to make the call for yourself when the car arrives in U.S. showrooms in spring 2011 in limited quantities. Pricing has yet to be determined, though a mid-$40,000 figure is expected.
2011 BMW 1 Series M Coupe
Base price: $45,000 (est)
Vehicle layout: Front-engine, RWD, 4-pass, 2-door coupe
Engine Engines: 3.0L/335-hp/332-lb-ft twin-turbo DOHC 24-valve I-6
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Curb weight: 3300 lb (mfr)
Wheelbase: 104.7 in
Length x width x height: 172.4 x 70.9 x 55.9 in
0-60 mph: 4.7 sec (mfr est)
EPA city/hwy fuel econ: 18/26 mpg
CO2 emissions: 0.93 lb/mile (est)
On sale in U.S.: Spring 2011