It's not called the M1, but BMW's smallest M-car still lives up to the revered badge.
Technically, of course, it should be called the M1. The BMW 1-Series M Coupe, after all, is the flagship, performance-enhanced variant of the 1-Series range – just as the BMW M3 is to the 3-Series and the BMW M5 to the 5-Series.
In BMW World, however, it seems the M1 name will forever be attached to the company’s mid-engined supercar of the late 70s and early 80s.
Even with a more convoluted title, though, the BMW 1 Series M Coupe is BMW’s M division aiming to get back on track with its core customer base after the lukewarm reception given to M versions of the German brand’s BMW X5 and BMW X6 SUVs.
It’s also more affordable than any previous M-car, though at $99,900 the 1-Series M Coupe isn’t exactly cheap.
For the same money, for example, you could buy a pair of new-generation BMW 118ds, five first-class return airfares to New York, eight Suzuki Altos or, if it’s your thing, pay to save a few dozen wild Sumatran Tigers in Asia.
But then again, we are talking about a BMW with an M badge on its rump.
And it looks like the sort of car the Devil’s offpsring would drive, with bold and assertive styling giving it the impression of a mini-Me muscle car. (It’s still based on the original 1-Series Coupe that has some life left in it despite the 1-Series hatch ust being released locally in second-generation form.)
It boasts a powerful 3.0-litre in-line six-cylinder twin-turbocharged engine at the front with all its might heading straight to the rear 19-inch wheels. It’s also available as a manual only, which means it’s not a car for poseurs.
Better still, it performs the 0-100km/h dash in 4.9 seconds, the same as the BMW M3 Pure Edition manual (the dual-clutch M3 does it in 4.6sec).
If you think about it that way, you’re actually getting a car as fast as an M3 - even with some parts of its suspension, plus all the M credentials - for about $32,000 less. Sounding like a better deal?
It doesn’t take long behind the wheel of the 1-Series M Coupe, either, to realise your getting your money’s worth over the already-rapid 135i that costs $75,000.
On paper the 1-Series M Coupe’s power and torque advantage over the 135i that uses a detuned version of the same engine may not seem that great – after all, 250kW and 450Nm (up to 500Nm on overboost) is merely 25kW and 50Nm more than its sibling.
But when BMW puts an M badge on something (and we don’t mean the sports or suspension kits) – at least certainly not its passenger cars - it’s not just a marketing gimmick or a quick way to make bigger margins on existing models. It takes a particular series BMW to an entirely new level. And, as such, the 1-Series M Coupe – or 1M, if you prefer (as we do) – is much, much more than just additional horsepower and torque.
There are a number of exterior design cues that tend to give the 1M away as a more exceptional offering than a 135i from all angles. There are the flared wheel-arches (housing wider axles), quad rear exhausts, massive M brakes (360mm front, 350mm rear), 19-inch M alloy wheels (from the M3 competition pack) and M3 wing mirrors. If, for some strange reason you’re still oblivious to all that, the M badging and the barking exhaust sound are guaranteed to get your attention.
Under all that aggressive styling – perhaps too OTT for some – the BMW ‘1M’ uses a tuned version of the 135i’s twin-turbo engine that is shared, controversially for an M-car, with the $120,500 BMW Z4 sDrive35is.
And then there are the borrowed parts from the M3, though few 1M owners will be troubled by that.
Components such as the double joint rear axle and five-link rear suspension are made almost entirely of aluminium to help reduce weight. And there’s a variable M differential lock on the rear axle (offering up to 100% locking power) to help the 1M fly out of corners at blistering pace.
On the inside the BMW packs an 8.8-inch high-resolution screen linked up the latest version of BMW iDrive technology featuring satellite navigation, voice control, internet connectivity (via data tethering from your iPhone/Andriod) and a whole lot more.
You also get a remote alarm system, adaptive xenon headlights, Harman Kardon 10-speaker surround sound system, M servotronic and M Drive all included as part of the asking price.
All that technical stuff aside, the BMW 1M is all about the drive. Behind the wheel the 1M is pure magic.
It accelerates violently from a stand still and knocks you back in to your seat. That feeling that tingles down your spine when the turbos start to spool up is a constant reminder that this is something very special.
The six-speed manual gearbox - specially developed (and weighing just 43kg) to cope with the additional power - is as simple as they come, with a short throw and perfectly weighted clutch. The clutch and brake positions allow for a seamless heal-and-toe action without any adjustment period while the M steering wheel is chunky and easy to grip.
During our week-long test drive there was plenty of torrential rain to test out the 1M’s stability and traction control systems. Left on, stability control can be surprisingly intrusive for a BMW, stepping in to correct power distribution when things have only just started to get slippery. We felt the M Dynamic Mode (activated via a button) to be a nice balance between on and off. This allows for a higher threshold before stability control interventions occur. In BMW’s own words, it permits “deliberate drifting abilities”. You’re unlikely to find that phrase in a Toyota owner’s manual.
And the 1M is a car that demands respect.
In the wet, the rear end tends to slide when given the slightest chance. It’s easy to correct if you’ve got Lewis Hamilton’s reaction times, but if you overdo it, there’s no turning back.
In the dry, though, it’s a case of near surgically precise control. You can feel everything through the exceptionally weighted steering wheel and you have to be pushing hard or deliberately trying to get the rear-end to hang out before things start to go wrong.
Around hilly and winding roads the 1M feels quick, nimble and terrifically balanced.
On acceleration the quad exhaust system does everything it possibly can to generate noise. The closer you get to the 7000rpm redline the better it sounds. It may not be in the same league as the monstrous V8 noise of the M3, but it’s not far off and, if you can hear it over the 1M’s 10-speaker sound system, it’s doing a good job.
Officially the 1M uses 9.6 litres of premium fuel (premium) per 100km and that’s definitely achievable if you can control your urges and stay below 4000rpm. Otherwise expect to head into 13.0L-plus territory, as we did on test (13.5L/100km).
As with other BMW 1-Series Coupes, the 1M offers generous room to front passengers but can accommodate two adults in the back for short trips, so it’s not totally impractical.
As comfortable as the seats are, though, and as beautiful as the interior is, we felt it could be a bit more special for an M car.
It’s manual-only offering is also both a positive and a negative, as the highly praised BMW’s seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox has already proven to work with this engine (in the Z4 sDrive35is) and would make the M1 even quicker.
The 1M doesn’t quite balance sharp handling and ride comfort as well as an M3 (on 18-inch wheels). The stiff suspension can be a tough ask for those daily commutes.
The limited number of BMW 1Ms coming to Australia has meant the model’s exclusivity remains high. It’s likely to remain high on lists of best driver’s cars, too.
BMW almost decided not to make the 1-Series M Coupe. Let’s hope they’ve already cemented the plan for its replacement.