This is the new BMW 1-series M Coupe, and it signals a significant departure for BMW’s famed M Division. After generations of high-revving, naturally aspirated engines, BMW M is being forced down the forced induction route in a bid to produce more fuel efficient cars. The forthcoming M5 has a twin-turbo V8, the next-gen M3 will feature a blown six-cylinder engine, and sitting before us on an empty stretch of best German back road is a turbocharged hotrod offering that us enthusiasts could consider as a real M car – the 1-series M Coupe.
We tested the X5 M and X6 M SUVs and came away unimpressed at their new mix of tallboy bodies, automatic gearboxes, four-wheel drive and turbocharged engines but the 1-series M is a blob of orange potential. It’s the smallest M Division product since the Z4M departed this world – and potentially the first true successor to the original E30 M – and beneath the cartoonish bloated skin sits a torquey straight six, plus the suspension, brakes and rear differential from the current M3. If ever a turbocharged M car had a chance to impress, this is it.
The new BMW 1-series M Coupe is the cover star of the new May 2011 issue of CAR, but is it a proper M producti, or just a tweaked 135i Coupe? Read on for the first drive review of the BMW 1-series M Coupe to find out…
So this BMW 1-series M Coupe is actually a 135i underneath?
Only vaguely. To create the 1M, M Division has stripped out all the standard chassis componentry and replaced it wholesale with the suspension, brakes, 19in Competition Pack wheels and clever M Differential from the existing M3.
The bodywork has ballooned front and rear to cope with big brother’s wider tracks, a huge triple-ducted air dam feeds the engine, the rear bumper’s vertical slashes mirror what’s up front, and four signature shotgun exhausts poke out from below the black diffuser to ensure you don’t mistake this 1M for a 135i. From some angles it looks so right, from others completely wrong, but it’s definitely got presence. Especially in Valencia Orange – the only other exterior paint options are black and white.
Has the 1M got the same engine as the 135i?
Nope, the engine’s different too – but not unique to M. Outgoes the newer, single blower 3.0-litre straight six, and in its place is the older, twin-turbo 3.0-litre straight six from the Z4 sDrive 35iS. And it means the 1-series M Coupe is a different sort of M car, one that has low-down, almost-any-gear/any-rev gruns, and one that doesn’t need to be extended to an 8000rpm-plus redline to get the very best from it.
The new forced induction philosophy means it’s much more urgent than an M3 in the bottom half of the rev range. And it sounds good too: way more convincing than a 135i, deep chested and damn mean.
And it’s all controlled via a slick, short-throw six-speed manual. The M3’s dual-clutch M-DCT transmission isn’t an option, but it doesn’t matter – gone is the knuckly shift that’s plagued both BMW and M Division products in the 21st century.
BMW M is steadily improving its steering too. The M3 has taken a step forward since launch in 2007, the helm of the latest Competition Pack cars offering up more clarity to the driver, and the steering of the 1-series M is even crisper.
But without the M3’s adaptive EDC dampers, the firm one-size-fits-all suspension means a fair bit of pitch and enough yaw to deflect you from your chosen path. And that extra low-down oomph means less provocation is needed to send yourself slewing sideways, but despite that M diff it’s a little trickier on the limit that expected.
Inside the interior is ageing, but there’s a chunky steering wheel, Alcantara (with contrasting orange stitching) on the dash and binnacle shroud, the latest iDrive system, and a stubby little gearstick. Properly bespoke M Division instruments also make a return, with that wonderful pale grey-blue background all at CAR so love. The 1M is only available as a two-door coupe though, and don't expect to be able to cross whole countries four-up, like you can in an M3.
The 1-series M is a proper M car, no doubt. Sure, it’s different from what’s gone before, but different doesn’t mean it’s not as good. Our first experience of a proper turbocharged M Division machine has unveiled a 1-series with a character all its own. It’s definitely not a hotted-up 135i, and now we’re looking forward to the future of M.
But how does the BMW 1-series M Coupe match up against its obvious rival from Ingolstadt, the Audi RS3 Sportback? Rear-wheel drive versus four-wheel? A 335bhp/332lb ft twin-turbo 3.0 six-cylinder versus a 335bhp/332lb ft turbo’d 2.5 five pot? Six-speed manual versus seven-speed S-tronic? Only CAR Magazine has brought the two together, and you can read the exclusive twin test in the new May 2011 issue, out now.
Click here to see a full digital preview of the new May 2011 issue of CAR Magazine