BMW 1-Series M Coupe: big bang for the buck!

Compact M Coupe harkens back to the origins of the high-performance “M” division

Published: May 15, 2011, 5:00 PM

2012 BMW 1M

MONTVALE, NJ – It has often been said that good things come in small packages. That is certainly the case with the latest from BMW’s M-divison. While the new 1-Series M Coupe may not win any styling awards, it certainly delivers the most bang for the buck among the various M-models!

Equipped with a seriously upgraded engine, suspension and brakes, BMW has come up with a vehicle that harkens back to the origins of the high-performance "M" division.

Established in 1972, as BMW M GmbH, the M-Technik division was charged with BMW’s racing programs. Over time, modifications developed for these programs found their way into production vehicles. Wearing the "M" badge they were initially available in limited quantities at high prices to a few known customers.

The first widely-available M model was the M3. Based on the standard 1986 3-Series it had a unique four-cylinder engine, stiffened body structure, heavily-revised suspension, wider track and flared fenders to accommodate bigger wheels and tires and a major brake upgrade.

Twenty-five years later we have an entry-level BMW coupe with a unique engine, stiffened body structure, heavily-revised suspension, wider track and flared fenders, to accommodate bigger wheels and tires, and a major brake upgrade.

The 1-Series has supplemented the 3-Series as the entry-level BMW. Looking a lot like a 3-Series that backed into a wall at speed, it is similar to the 3 from the B-pillar forward and shares almost all of its mechanical and chassis pieces with its bigger siblings. But the shortened rear-quarters are not its most attractive feature.

They look a lot better in M-series trim, though, with bulging, flared fenders filled with special, fat 19-inch alloys and a quartet of chromed exhaust outlets hinting that something special is afoot.

While purists will bemoan the fact it does not have a purpose-built engine like most M series BMWs, 335 horsepower and 0-to-100 km/h in less than five seconds puts it soundly in the high-performance territory.

A lot of attention and aluminum has gone into reducing weight. Eliminating the sunroof shaved 15 kg off the highest point of the vehicle with the added bonus of increasing headroom. While we’re on that topic here’s a tip for tall folks – the optional power seat will cost you 14-mm of headroom.

The diet also involved adoption of the aluminum front suspension and front and rear sub-frames from the current M3. Hollow anti-roll bars at both ends complete the picture. Despite all this, the car approaches a not-inconsiderable 1600 kg (3,500 lb), attesting to its stoutness.

The M badge was bestowed on the little two-door after a two-year gestation period that concentrated as much on balance as on power. This is the first M-Series car with an aluminum engine – an in-line six shared with the 335iS and Z4 SDrive iS.

With direct injection, twin turbos, M-specific piston rings and software that allows five-seconds of over-boost it puts out 369 lb-ft of torque, 80 lb-ft more the V-8 in the current M3.

Thanks to the turbos, low-end power is plentiful and instantly on tap whether at part or full throttle. Keep your foot in it for more than a few seconds and the six proves just as happy at the other end of the rev band.

Power goes to the rear wheels through a six-speed manual gearbox. Modified to handle the torque produced by this engine, it utilizes a dual-mass flywheel to reduce clutch effort. No automatic is available.

The short throw shifter is paired with a light yet progressive clutch. BMW’s M-variable rear differential, with centrifugal clutches instead of electronic activation, apportions power to the wheel with the most grip.

Electronic stability and traction control help get available power to the ground and keep things pointed in the intended direction. Turn these systems off entirely and you have a car that can be used for drifting competition.

I tried this during hot laps here at Monticello Motorsport Park and spent a great deal of time looking out the side window with lots of opposite lock applied.

There is a little button on the right spoke of the steering wheel marked with an "M". Push it and you alter the throttle mapping and get even quicker throttle response.

But the magic begins when you use the other "M’ button, this one above the four-way-flasher on the centre of the instrument panel. It should have a little happy face symbol because it allows you to reduce, but not eliminate the amount of electronic intervention. You get some wheel spin and side-slippage but maintain a safety net – perfect for track days!

Left to its own, controlled devices, this is a delightfully neutral car that is a real treat to drive on the track or public roads. Balance is a term that comes to mind and the response to quick transient changes is impressive to say the least.

That capability is thanks, in part, to 235-mm-wide front and 265-mm-wide 40-series rear tires on 19-inch wheels, barely contained by 4-cm-wide fender flares. The light alloy wheels are from the M3 Competition Package and measure nine inches in width at the front and 10 at the rear.

As you would expect from an M-modified BMW, the brakes are up to the task of erasing silly speeds – repeatedly. The compound, internally-vented and cross-drilled units are also borrowed from the M3 parts bin.

Only 200 of these cars are coming to Canada for the 2011 model year – in black, white or "Valencia" orange. Standard equipment includes: Xenon lights, ABS. stability and traction control, heated mirrors, power windows and locks, remote keyless entry, cruise control, tilt & telescope wheel, automatic climate control, heated seats, eight-speaker audio system, wireless connectivity and a variety of M-specific trim touches including the instrument cluster and black sport seats with contrasting stitching.

All of this comes at a price – specifically, $54,000. BMW was unable to explain why Americans pay $7,000 less ($47,000) when our dollar is worth more. Still, adjusted for inflation, this is the least expensive M-Series ever sold in North America.

Compact and packed with a potent engine, sophisticated suspension and powerful brakes. The BMW 1-Series M Coupe is a pocket rocket of the first order.