2011 BMW 1 Series M Coupe Review By Carey Russ +VIDEO
DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD
WITH CAREY RUSS
BMW made its reputation by producing small two-door sedans that outperformed contemporary sports cars of their day in nearly every way. The 1600 of 1966 and especially 1968's 2002 ran circles around the similarly-sized and -priced British and Italian two-seaters of the time, with superior handling and performance -- plus comfort for four and a huge trunk for the size of the car. BMW may not have invented the sports sedan -- look to Italy for that -- but the Bavarians did establish the class, especially in the U.S.
Early safety and emissions laws doomed the 2002 by the late 1970s, and it was replaced by the first 3-Series. Which meant 320i here in the States. The 320i was a more upscale car than the 2002, a bit larger and heavier, and more well-appointed. It had a broader appeal, and even made it into the (satirical) Preppie Handbook. BMW had gone from a little-known enthusiast's car to a fashion accessory…
Well, for some people. Meanwhile, back in Munich, the M (for Motorsport) Division was established in 1971. Its first production vehicle was the stunning Giugiaro-styled, mid-engined M1 coupe in 1978. The M1 was a race car first, with road-legal production to meet the requirements for international racing classes. In road form, it had a 3.5-liter DOHC inline six-cylinder engine with 277 horsepower and a weight of 2800 pounds. The Group 4 racer had 470 hp; the turbo Group 5 car 850 or more. The road version was never officially imported to the US, but the racing versions provided competition to Porsche 934s and 935s in IMSA competition in the `70s and `80s.
M-Power got more notice on the street with the release of the first M3 in 1988. Based on the 3-Series of the day, the first M3 was a thinly-disguised race car that just happened to be road legal. It, too, was never officially imported here.
Later versions were, and have a rabid following. But, like seemingly all cars, the 3-Series has grown over the years. So, enter the 1-Series. The size of earlier 3-Series cars, the regular 1-Series is represented here by 128 and 135 coupes (two-door sedans, really, just like a 2002 or 320i) and convertibles. They have recently gotten a rambunctious relative -- the limited-production 1 Series M Coupe.
Why not call it "M1"? See above. The name's taken. Other than an inline-six engine (a BMW specialty since the 1930s), the 1M Coupe has little in common with an M1. It does, however, have plenty in common with the original M3, being a similar size and having the same character. Which is "barely legal".
Watch the 1 Series M Coupe introductory video
Less is more, when talking weight and performance. And despite its larger wheels, tires, and brakes, and consequently widened bodywork, the 1 Series M Coupe weighs less than a regular 1 Series Coupe by about 77 pounds. 35 pounds of that savings comes from a metal roof panel in place of the regular coupe's sunroof, which also helps lower the center of gravity. And provides more head room - especially with a helmet on a track day.
Which will be natural habitat for the 1M unless the driver is looking for a PhD in traffic school. The 3.0-liter twin-sequential turbo inline-six under its hood might seem familiar from the standard 135, but this one has been breathed upon by the M tuners, to the tune of 335 horsepower and 332 lb-ft. It drives the rear wheels through a six-speed manual gearbox. The suspension is considerably revised to handle the 1M's increased power and ability, and stopping power is via brakes developed for the current M3.
Despite its considerable power and track-ready chassis, the 1 Series M Coupe is easily driven on the street, even (if frustratingly) in traffic. The ride is firm but far from harsh, and enough soundproofing remains that long distances are perfectly reasonable. It's not a car for everyone, but the 1 Series M Coupe is proof positive that the fire still burns at BMW.
Production is slated to stop in the first quarter of 2012, so if you're interested, act quickly.
APPEARANCE: Stealth is not one of the 1 Series M Coupe's styling attributes, especially in the signature "Valencia Orange" color scheme. But the prominent fender flares and scoops and openings in the lower front fascia are all functional. The three large openings direct air to the oil cooler and supplemental radiator. The thin, vertical openings at the sides pressurize and direct air to the sides of the front wheels, reducing turbulence and so increasing efficiency. The outside mirrors are also designed for optimum aerodynamic efficiency, and a near-full undertray further enhances air management. There is no need for a boy-racer wing on the rear; an M3-style lip does just fine.
COMFORT: It may be as fast as some race cars, but the 1M Coupe is appropriately comfortable and well-appointed for its life off the track. With special M touches, it's a lovely office from which to conduct the business of high-performance driving. Basic black is the order of the day, with contrasting orange stitching in the Alcantara faux suede on the instrument binnacle, lower instrument panel, interior door panels, and shift and parking brake lever boots. The power-adjustable front seats provide excellent comfort and support, with moderate bolsters holding driver and front passenger in hard cornering but not impeding access. They mask the stiffness of the suspension very well. Instrumentation is complete and easily visible, glare is non-existent, and seat and steering wheel adjustability allow all drivers to find their optimum position. Leather covers the seats and steering wheel rim, which gets M red, purple, and blue stitching. There is no attempt at a center position in the rear, but there is a good amount of space for two. Access is average for a two-door four-seater. There is a center armrest and rear seatback folds 60/40 if the trunk isn't large enough. That should be a rare problem, as the 1 Series continues the large trunk tradition started with the 1600/2002.
SAFETY: The 1 Series M Coupe has all of the safety features found in a regular 1 Series car, multi-stage front, front seat-mounted side airbags, and full-length head-protection airbags as well as seats and headrests designed to reduce injury from rear impact. Standard Dynamic Stability Control with a high-performance mode and humongous vented, cross-drilled floating cast iron discs ensure good behavior at speed and quick stops, repeatedly.
RIDE AND HANDLING:The goal in modifying the 1 Series Coupe's unibody structure and suspension for the 1M Coupe was to have a chassis that was "faster than its engine". And since the engine is extremely capable, that was a heady order. Carried out successfully. More extensive use of aluminum in the suspension reduces unsprung weight, for quicker response to inputs. Suspension geometry was reconfigured, to better handle the loads from the 245/35 ZR19 front, 265/35 ZR19 rear Michelins. That size means huge contact patch, which means immense grip -- if the tires are in contact with the road surface. Which they are, as although the calibration is very firm, it's not the near race-spec of older M3s. The speed-sensitive power steering allows low-speed maneuvering without need to work out at the gym first and appropriate weight at speed. And plenty of positive feedback as to what's happening at the contact patches. If the ride seems a little bumpy on undulating surfaces, wick it up a bit -- it works much better at higher speeds and is more comfortable. Want a word to describe the 1M on the road? Precise.
PERFORMANCE: 3300 pounds, 335 horsepower, 332 lb-ft of torque at pretty much any rpm the engine is turning, and 369 on full-throttle overboost. You do the math… That's less than 10 pounds per horsepower, which means acceleration that was supercar-spec not too long ago. As in 0-60 in under five seconds -- likely quicker than the (roadgoing) M1. That's still second gear, and there are four more to go. Top speed is electronically limited to 155 mph, largely academic anyplace outside of the Bonneville Salt Flats.
The 1 Series M Coupe's engine is based on that of the other 1 Series cars imported to the US, which means aluminum alloy construction, dual overhead cams and four valves per cylinder with "Double-VANOS" continuously-variable cam phasing, direct fuel injection, and twin sequential turbocharging. It gets massaged by the M Department, resulting in the addition of 33 horsepower and 32 lb-ft of torque (or 67 wide open). Peak power is at 5900 rpm; redline at 7000. Peak torque is a plateau from 1500 through 4500 rpm, meaning effortless acceleration with downshifting optional. It sounds like a healthy inline six to 4000 or so, with plenty of grunt. Above that, it's more strident, and things begin to happen quickly. Push it past 6000, and you had best have very quick reactions. Shifting is a pleasure, and the controls are are appropriately heavy. Pedal position makes heel-and-toe shifting easy. Throttle mapping can be changed at a touch of the M button, so less pedal travel is needed.
Fuel economy? Not a reason to buy an M car… Officially it's 19 city, 26 highway. Which might even be possible driving sedately. Driven sanely but with as much use of the power as possible I barely managed 18 mpg.
CONCLUSIONS: Light in weight with nimble reflexes and immense power and grip, the BMW 1 Series M Coupe is a true driver's car.
2011 BMW 1 Series M Coupe
Base Price $ 46,135 Price As Tested $ 50,460 Engine Type dohc aluminum alloy twin sequential turbocharged and intercooled inline 6-cylinder with variable cam phasing Engine Size 3.0 liters / 183 cu. in. Horsepower 335 @ 5900 rpm Torque (lb-ft) 332 @ 1500-4500 rpm (369 on overboost) Transmission 6-speed manual Wheelbase / Length 104.7 in. / 172.4 in. Curb Weight 3296 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 9.8 Fuel Capacity n/a gal. Fuel Requirement 91 octane unleaded premium gasoline Tires f: 245/35 ZR19 r: 265/35 ZR19 Michelin Pilot Sport Brakes, front/rear vented and cross-drilled floating disc all around. ABS and DSC standard Suspension, front/rear independent strut / independent multilink Drivetrain front engine, rear-wheel drive PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 19 / 26 / 18 0 to 60 mph 4.7 sec OPTIONS AND CHARGES Valencia Orange paint $ 550 Premium Package - includes: auto-dimming in and outside mirrors, power front seats, lumbar support, ambiance lighting, iPod and USB adapter, BMW Assist with Bluetooth $ 2,400 Heated front seats $ 500 Destination charge $ 875