We first drove a test mule on the Ascari racetrack in Spain. In terms of sheer grunt, the 1-series M was actually superior to the racy (Europe-only) M3 GTS also on hand. Where the M3's 4.4-liter V-8 needed to give its very best to cough up 325 pound-feet of torque, the 3.0-liter straight six could dish up 369 pound-feet without making a fuss.
Equipped with exactly the same suspension as the M3 with the Competition Pack, the compact M car felt notably more steering-nervous, corner-greedy, and surface-affected than its bigger brother. The shorter wheelbase, the pumped up chassis and the wide tires (245/35/R19 up front, 265/35/R19 at the rear) injected an almost hyperactive degree of agility.
Although this model cannot be ordered with the active steering available in the 135i or the M3, the standard limited-slip rear differential (BMW's variable M differential lock) creates a steering effect of its own. Whenever sharp turn-in and full throttle coincide, the rear end bites like a Bavarian cobra, sending the car on a slightly more apex-oriented trajectory. This trait can curl toenails not only through second-gear kinks but also on autobahn bends taken at an indicated 170 mph, when even mild correction maneuvers overload the g-force sensor inside your brain.
The smallest M car has vivid steering, although the feedback through the wheel is colored with recurrent tugs and kicks. More disconcerting is the somewhat blurred dialogue between the BMW's stability control and limited-slip-differential systems. While the electronic watchdog likes to act as a scrambler, blowing little bubbles into the torque stream, the limited-slip differential tries to rivet the tires to the tarmac.