No doubt about it, the 1-series M coupe is just as good as Jason Cammisa claimed it was in our first drive report in our August 2011 issue, and it is clearly going to enter the history books as one of the most exciting performance cars to debut in 2011. We’re well familiar with this N54-series twin-turbo in-line six-cylinder engine, having driven it in both the 3-series and the Z4 roadster, but never before has it been installed in a car with such a keenly tuned chassis. Throttle response, brake pedal modulation, brake performance, clutch pedal take-up, gearshift action, steering precision and feel: all I can say is yum, yum, yum, and double yum again. No surprise on those fronts, since much of the chassis is taken straight from the BMW M3.
I was pleasantly surprised by how good the ride quality is, considering the short wheelbase and the ultra-sporty suspension tuning that virtually eradicates pitch, dive, squat, and body roll. Even as I trundled up seven floors of our parking structure this morning, the multiple speed bumps didn’t make me cringe the way they have in some other recent test cars I’ve driven over them, such as the Nissan GT-R.
Last Friday night, after watching the Detroit Tigers annihilate the Los Angeles Angels 12-2, I handed the keys to our orange 1-series M coupe tester to road test editor Chris Nelson for the drive back to Ann Arbor. Associate web editor Ben Timmins rode shotgun, and I wedged my tired body into the rear seat. Here is where one realizes a principal difference between the M3 and the 1-series M. There’s no center armrest, space is tight, and there’s a very annoying driveline resonance beating away at your back and butt. The next day, back in my rightful place at the steering wheel, I was again bothered by the resonance, which settles in once you’ve reached your 80-mph cruising speed and are in sixth gear. Strangely enough, downshifting to fifth gear quells the noise a bit, but that’s hardly ideal for freeway cruising.
What am I saying? As Timmins noted the previous evening while I piloted the three of us from Ann Arbor to Detroit in rush hour traffic, I had the 1-series M in fourth gear most of the time, the better to dive into holes in traffic at 90 mph and generally make a spectacle of ourselves on eastbound M-14 in our little orange BMW rocket. And this car does get a lot of attention; plenty of people seemed to know what it was. Thankfully, we did not get the attention of the police, but I would have a hard time avoiding the cops if I owned this car.
Thank God for the little bit of Alcantara trim in the cabin. Oh, sure, there are the wonderfully bolstered sport bucket seats and the typical thick M steering wheel with the red and blue stitching, plus some M gauges, but there’s not much else to signify that this is anything more than a garden-variety 1-series. One turn behind the wheel, though, and you’ll know that it is indeed far more than that. Oh, yes, this is a great, great car.
Joe DeMatio, Deputy Editor
We’re going to be talking about this car — and holding it up as a benchmark — for a very long time. It is plainly clear that this is a future classic, and I feel very fortunate that I was able to drive one of the limited number (probably less than 1000) of cars that’ll be sold in the U.S. There is no better possible way that you could spend $46,000 on a new German car today.
The 1-series M’s steering is fabulous, its gearbox feels great, acceleration is incredibly snappy, and it looks completely badass. My single complaint is that the exhaust note gets pretty droning on the highway. Simple solution: drive faster!
Damn the fact that I drove it mostly on the highway in the rain. (By the way, it’s ridiculously easy to get stability control to kick in if you carefully floor the throttle in sixth gear at 70 mph on a wet interstate.) I wish I’d had a chance to drive this car on a racetrack, but perhaps it’s just as well — I can definitely see Jason Cammisa and Phil Floraday’s point that this little Bimmer can get you into trouble quickly.
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
I hope the fine folks in Munich have found as much inspiration in the BMW 1-Series M Coupe as we have. The latest M car is proof that simplicity and purity trump technology and complexity.
The result should refocus the Bavarian engineers on the lithe, sporty cars they’ve forsaken lately. Building the perfect modern M didn’t require adaptive suspension hardware or exotic handbuilt engines.
Eric Tingwall, Associate Editor
I don’t believe in love at first sight. And at first sight, it’s definitely hard to love the BMW 1-series M coupe. While West Coast editor Jason Cammisa says the 1M doesn’t have any flaws, I have to disagree. Put aside the performance numbers you already know and just look at the Bimmer’s front bumper. What happened here? I would’ve loved a gently massaged 1-series front fascia, but this one looks like a very pissed dinosaur who’s really just sad underneath it all, thanks to droopy, repurposed, already-ugly M3 side mirrors.
Cammisa and I may have different opinions of what flawlessness is, but we have very similar tastes when it comes to race-ready road cars. So when he wrote that the new BMW is, “one of those rare cars that’s so good that it shrugs off flaws,” I began itching to get behind the wheel of the itsy-bitsy M, hoping it would live up to the hype.
And it does. The obvious place to start is the beginning — starting the car. A delightful beep, which kindly reminds you that you have now entered the vehicle and have inserted the key, is drowned out by what can only be described as automotive opera. A contralto exhaust burbles while soprano twin-turbos sing away. Add in a little more throttle and the two dramatically rise and work together to create complete harmony. All of this before you pull out of the garage.
On the road, the beautiful sound becomes insignificant. A modern-day-classic twin-turbo in-line six-cylinder engine and an absolutely astounding chassis demand your attention. Wicked throttle response and more-than-ample power keep the electronic stability control hard at work. And the chassis? After a few tough corners, you’re pretty sure the 1M could tuck, roll, somersault, and land on its rubber without a scratch. It’s that tight. Just like deputy editor Joe DeMatio, I’m shocked at how comfortable the car is — despite its short wheelbase and taut suspension — when you’re cruising at or under the speed limit (which will not happen until you get stuck behind a minivan in a no-passing zone).
Luckily, looking at the interior is a pleasure as well. Orange stitching on suede accents and M blue-and-red corset stitching on a leather-wrapped steering wheel are some of the few things that set this car apart from a plain 1-series, but it doesn’t bother me like it does DeMatio. I would’ve been fine with a standard 1-series interior, to be frank. The touches were nice and thoughtful, and they didn’t take the BMW into the netherworld of tuner interiors.
I’m brand-new to the world of automotive journalism and, unlike many of my colleagues, I’ve driven only a few dozen cars in my life, not a few thousand. So far, the BMW 1-series M coupe is without question the best car I have ever driven, and I bet it will retain that status for some time to come.
Chris Nelson, Road Test Editor
On one particular occasion with our (dearly missed) Four Seasons 2008 BMW 135i, I literally chucked it into a corner to see if it would oversteer only for it to plow more or less straight ahead. Why, I wondered, did BMW engineers tune such a powerful little sports car to understeer? The answer, as provided by this M treatment, is that the 1-series is insane. Insane, I tell you. Freed of its understeering straightjacket, the short wheelbase twitches even with stability control enabled in M Dynamic Mode. Dive into a corner in this setting, and you can feel the back end step out before the brakes chatter to keep your sorry picture out of automotive blogs. Floor it out of a stoplight, and the safety electronics effectively throw up their hands, as the bushels of torque overwhelm the rear axle and kick it sideways. Obviously, this is fantastic fun. Moreover, the reward for the bad behavior in back is razor-sharp steering in front. Actually, razor-sharp everything. As Joe DeMatio notes, clutch, brakes, and shifter are all above reproach. And if the gas pedal isn’t quite as progressive that in the M3, it’s still sensitive enough that you can literally adjust the throttle by flexing your big toe. Of course, with the turbocharged straight six, it’s always tempting to be far less delicate, hence the rear-end twitching and the stability-control-administered slaps on the wrist. Get everything right on a highway on-ramp, though, and your life will momentarily seem perfect.
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor
Torque is the first thing you’ll notice after driving the 1-series M – particularly if you have any experience with BMW’s spectacular M3. The M3 has many outstanding attributes, but torque is not one of them. The 1M not only develops more torque than the M3, it unleashes all of that torque in a singular blow that completely overwhelms the rear tires if there’s even a hint of steering angle. Leaving stability control on results in a constant flash of the light on the instrument panel as the computers attempt to keep the rear end in check. Turn off stability control and you’ll quickly understand why there’s already an online campaign to save the 1-series M coupe from idiotic drivers – the cars are being wrecked at a rate that approaches that of the Ferrari Enzo.
The 1M’s best feature is its compact footprint. There’s an immediate response from the car with each minor input of gas, brake, or steering that simply isn’t possible with a car as big as an M3 or M5. And that immediate response rewards good inputs while punishing the bad. Driving the 1M around a track is spectacular. Really wringing out the car without the help of any electronic aides is best reserved for very skilled drivers, but the rewards are great. In a world where cars keep getting bigger, heavier, and more complex, the 1M is a refreshing return to the basics. There’s no hiding behind an automatic transmission, launch control, or a plethora of other “smart” features.
Track prowess doesn’t come at the expense of on-road drivability in the 1M. Yes, the suspension is stiff, there are certain speeds where resonance from the exhaust gives you a headache, and the interior is pretty much the same as a 128i, but it’s a very livable car. If you don’t live in the Snowbelt, the 1M would make a great daily driver. I’m sure a proper set of snow tires would help it through winter in Michigan, but the roads get too degraded after the freeze/thaw cycle and pervasive use of road salt run their course. Hopefully these cars find good homes with owners willing to flog them on tracks and mountain or canyon roads. I’m already tired of reading about 1Ms involved in stupid crashes.
Phil Floraday, Senior Web Editor
The BMW 1M is that rare car in which the mere act of driving engenders such a feeling of delight that you become completely immersed in steering, shifting, accelerating, and braking. It’s not perfect either ergonomically or aesthetically, and its firm suspension tuning means that you can definitely feel any road irregularities, but minor shortcomings are forgotten when you let up the clutch and step on the gas. If you’re a sybarite you’ll probably be happier with an M3, but for pure performance the 1M is hard to beat. It’s also a pretty great deal at less than $50,000. Too bad the production run of 1000 cars are already all spoken for.
Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor
Never before have I wished for the ability to order parts of a car a la carte as much as I have with the 1 M Coupe. That’s not to say this isn’t a well-executed package, but I’m more smitten with certain parts more than others – namely the chassis.
I already thought the 1-Series was a grippy, tossable car in stock 128i and 135i forms, but the folks at M GmBH cranked the proverbial knobs well past eleven. I’m particularly smitten with the suspension tuning that’s unique to this car. The grip is utterly amazing, and body motions are controlled, yet it rides no worse than your typical sport-package Bimmer. Better yet, it helps the car look downright menacing – the lowered ride height actually prompted one bystander in a parking garage to suggest I might need new dampers in back.
What I could live without, however, is the power – or at least this much power. Look, I love horsepower and low-end torque as much as the next guy, but stuffing it into a car this light seems a bit…well, overkill. Heck, a 135i is already an incredibly virile package with 300 hp 300 lb-ft of torque on tap.
Am I glad BMW took a chance to dabble with an M-tuned 1? Yes. Am I saddened the car may not live past the 2011 model year? Absolutely. But if inventory still existed, would I buy one? I’m not sure. This seems a little more wicked than the M3 when pushed to its absolute limits on the track. I would love, however, for much – if not all – of the 1M’s suspension tuning to trickle down into lesser trims. The idea of this setup becoming an optional sport pack for a future 128i or 135i has me drooling.
Evan McCausland, Associate Web Editor
2011 BMW 1 Series M coupe
Base price (with destination): $ 47,010
Price as tested: $ 50,460
3.0-liter aluminum I-6 twin-turbocharged engine w/variable valve timing
Dynamic stability control
M dynamic mode, Variable M differential lock, & M suspension
4-wheel BMW M vacuum-assisted ventilated, cross-drilled floating compound brake rotors
Dynamic brake control
19×9 front, 19×10 rear light alloy wheels
245/35ZFR19 front, 265/35ZFR19 rear tires
Air Curtain drag-reduction system
Flared front & rear fenders
Rain-sensing windshield wipers
Advanced safety system
M Mobility system
Options on this vehicle:
Valencia orange paint – $550
Premium package – $2400
Auto-dimming rearview mirror
Power front seats
iPod & USB adapter
BMW Assist w/Bluetooth
Heated front seats – $500
Key options not on vehicle:
3.0-liter aluminum I-6 engine w/variable valve timing
Horsepower: 335 hp @ 5900 rpm
Torque: 332 lb-ft @ 1500-4500 rpm (370 lb-ft w/overboost)
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Curb weight: 3296 lb
19×9 front, 19×10 rear light alloy wheels
245/35ZFR19 front, 265/35ZFR19 rear tires