In today’s age of electronic power steering, drive modes and driver assists, the BMW 1 Series M Coupe (1M) presents one of the Bavarian factory’s last forays into the mechanical motoring world.
Perhaps the most controversial part of the car is the N54 inline six-cylinder turbocharged engine sourced from a Z4 35is (also present in lesser tunes in the 135i, 335i, 535i – well, you get it). Some purists would argue that this car is not deserving of the M badge, much like how the 991 GT3 is not a true GT car due to its lack of a bespoke engine. To these people, I strongly recommend you go drive one.
While not as sonorous and eventful as its bigger brother’s (E9x M3) eight-cylinder V8 engine, the humble ubiquitous N54 engine more than makes up for urgency and torque. It certainly agrees more with my wallet when it comes to servicing.
Behaving much like an old-school turbo, the peaky nature of the engine can be felt when you depress the pedal to access its 500Nm of torque on overboost. The car certainly becomes more spiky past 3000–3500rpm, despite its on-paper peak torque at 1500rpm.
While the M3 with its longer wheelbase feels more mature and sedate on normal roads, this is not the case in BMW’s first baby M. Underpinned by all the same M3 running bits and the large Competition Pack wheels from the LCI E9x M3, the 1M is not to be underestimated.
The turn-in is rapid and sharp, and the car dances over road undulations with an equal amount of finesse and uneasiness that makes a commute at normal street speeds an event.
Take heed, though – the presence of a factory M diff helps smooth the handling as you approach the limit, but beyond 8–9/10 driving, the car becomes surprisingly snappy, especially in the wet. On the average blast up the hills, no issues at all.
Interior and the Other Mature Bits
Now, who are we kidding here? For a $110–$120k car, the 1M has an abysmal interior. It is standard BMW fare of that era – plenty of hard-texture plastics. The 1M is set aside by its orange stitching and Alcantara door panels, but many will still find it lacking.
I personally prefer the minimalist BMW cabin design compared to its competitors, but I suspect most will not agree with me.
The iDrive in the car is an upgrade over previous versions, and Bluetooth audio streaming comes standard (like it always should have), but the sat-nav will still be trumped by a good TomTom or Android Auto/Apple CarPlay system.
Interior space is good for a car of this size, and able to fit four adults for short trips. Longer trips should be restricted to two, as the poor bodies stuffed in the back seats will get blood clots in the legs owing to the lack of movement by the time you have arrived at your destination. Hey, but #coupelife – at least it has got mounting points for child seats to provide a sense of feigned practicality.
The car does, however, have a surprising amount of storage space – the back seats drop down completely, allowing for through-loading of longer cargo. So much so, I managed to move homes recently in the car. The only downside concerns the high contours around the boot, necessitating a good degree of lifting to get things into the boot.
Its lumpty-dumpty appearance is rather polarising, as is the limited-run Valencia Orange paint. The 1 Series has never been a unanimously loved car for its looks, and despite multiple redesigns (with LED light bars, front fascias etc), it still doesn’t look quite right.
What looks right, though, are the large air dams and aggressive front bar, and flared arches. I mean, flared arches. Why bother with wide-body kits when your car comes stock with huge fenders?
Looking at second-hand prices, I considered a Focus RS (in its ‘subtle’ Nitrous Blue guise for its hilariously good fun, handling and flared arches) and an A45 AMG second-hand (cheaper by $10–$15K depending on spec’ and year).
In the end, I settled for the limited-run 1M. Approximately 350–360 made it to Australian shores, which was more than twice as initially intended. At the time of writing, a few have been written off in the last few months owing to shady shenanigans. A few more were converted for track use, as evident by the recent Bathurst six-hour line-up. I doubt you will find something more special at the same price.
While I don’t anticipate this car rising in value, unlike in the UK and USA (much fewer cars per population), I don’t see the value of the 1M plummeting any time soon.
When it comes to individuality, the car can be made more special by the myriad of aftermarket parts and tuning options. Oh, and did I mention that mine has an Akrapovic Slip-on generously donated by the previous owner?