The One

A driver’s car par excellence, the new 1 Series M Coupe evokes the spirit of the E30 M3 with its tactile speed and simplicity.

June 1, 2011
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With its heady combination of visceral input, perfect turn-in, outstanding throttle response, formidable power delivery and ergonomic perfection, the 1 Series M Coupe is the most playful, communicative, predictable and soulful new BMW I’ve driven in a very long time.

Built to satisfy customer requests for an “edgier” 1 Series, the 1 M Coupe was designed and engineered to be equally at home—and equally fun to drive—on the Nürburgring Nordschleife as it is on the back roads of North America. Neutral handling was a priority along with tactile, direct steering, and indeed the car does not understeer at anywhere near the cornering forces that can be generated on the street. (We hadn’t tested it on the track when this issue went to press but will have done so by the time you read this.)

Dynamic Stability Control is tuned more liberally than on any modern BMW I’ve driven, allowing the back of the 1 M Coupe to slide a bit even without engaging M Dynamic Mode to raise the threshold of intervention. The standard throttle map is also fairly aggressive, making the faster response available by pushing the M button largely unnecessary. (I didn’t even use it, so good was the “regular” throttle response.)

With its free-revving N54 six-cylinder engine tuned to put out 335 hp at 5,800 rpm and 332 lb-ft of torque at 1,500 rpm, or 370 lb-ft on overboost, the 1 Series M Coupe is certainly quick. With a curb weight of just 3,296 lbs.—143 fewer than a 135i Coupe, 408 fewer than an M3 Coupe—it can cover the zero to 60 mph sprint in 4.7 seconds, 0.3 second faster than the 135i and just 0.2 shy of the M3. Few drivers will find it lacking for either power or speed.

That said, neither of those qualities are really at the essence of the 1 Series M Coupe. Instead, it’s all about driving fun, and to that end its chassis is faster than the engine, as befits the classic M philosophy.

On most tracks and virtually all public roads, it’s more fun to drive a lighter, less-powerful car quickly than it is to drive a bigger but more powerful car below its potential. We had a blast driving the 1 M Coupe like we would an E30 M3 from the late 1980s or a well-sorted 1970s 2002: hard and quick on extremely tight, twisty two-lane roads. The car’s lineage was clear, reflected in every sensation. More importantly, the spirit of the car echoed those earlier Bimmers perfectly.

Genesis of the 1 M

We can’t say so with absolute certainty, but an M version doesn’t seem to have been part of BMW’s original plan for the 1 Series. Instead, the impetus to build the car came directly from enthusiasts, specifically those consulted by then-M Brand Manager Larry Koch at events around the U.S.

Koch recalls one event in particular, the BMW Car Club of America’s Oktoberfest in 2008, that he attended with Albert Bierman, the M division’s head engineer. Holding an impromptu focus group following their presentation of the new E92 M3, Koch and Bierman were asked why BMW didn’t build an M version of the 1 Series.

“They wanted an edgier car that was better balanced, and they said that the 135i was probably quick enough but had too much luxury compared to what they were looking for in an M car,” Koch recalls.

Specifically, North American enthusiasts were asking for a modern interpretation of the legendary E30 M3 produced from 1986 to 1991, and Koch pushed the engineers in Munich to build exactly that.

Also from Issue 100

  • Special content for a special issue
  • 1982 320is: Like new! Lo miles!
  • Not for U.S.: the 57-mpg 320d EDE
  • A chat with BMW NA product guru Rich Brekus
  • From 7 cars to 15: How the lineup has grown
  • Joji Nagashima, designer of Z3, E39 & E90
  • How BMW Classic was born
  • A bit of ’30s racing history—with Nazis!
  • World champion John Surtees and his 507
  • Ludvigsen recalls BMW in the ’50s & ’60s
  • Utterly outlandish: the Project Goldfish V16
  • Roy Hopkins' Targa-winning 2002
  • Fat and fast: Vorsteiner/Active M3
  • Bill Auberlen's 25-year career with BMW
  • Latest news from the BMW racing scene
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