BMW has been hinting about their most affordable M car for almost two years now. Finally, the time has come to parade its attributes. On sale now in limited quantities, the 2011 BMW 1 Series M Coupe can be all yours for a base MSRP of $47,010 in either Alpine White, Black Sapphire Metallic or Valencia Orange Metallic. Whatever color you choose, expect much attention to be drawn when the wide-bodied coupe rips through your block with controlled anger.
The “M” moniker dates back to 1979 when Bavarian Motor Works (BMW) unleashed their first supercar dubbed the M1. It utilized a mid-engine, 3.5-liter, inline-6 with 286 horsepower. Four hundred M1 units were sold during its 3-year production run and only a few made it to the States. Actually, this car is the reason why BMW didn’t name the 1 Series M Coupe the M1. It would be sacrilegious to the brand.
Think of the 1 Series M Coupe as a hybrid Bimmer. How so? Because it was engineered from a combination of several BMW vehicles. Its heritage and spirit derives from the original 1988 M3, the body is from the 1 Series, underpinnings and componentry are borrowed from the current M3 and the retuned aluminum 3-liter twin-turbocharged inline-6 is sourced from the Z4 sDrive35is. And unlike the M3 and M5, which focus on the engine first as the source of inspiration, the 1 Series M Coupe does everything right for optimal performance on road or the track.
Automotive Rhythms was able to experience first hand how much heart and guts this small wonder has packed in its 104.7” wheelbase. BMW set us up at Monticello Motor Club for morning and afternoon hot laps. Because it is shorter than the M3 and inherits the same Competition Package (larger 19” wheels and wider track) the vehicle retains great agility and ran through turns like mice in mazes. It also matches the M3 in short distance speed with both having a 0 to 60 time of 4.7 seconds. The brakes are amazing as well. A standard 6-speed manual transmission (also from the 1 Series) keeps the 335 horsepower and up to 369 lb-ft of torque in check. I say “up to” because the sporty “2 plus 2 seating” coupe has a temporary boost mechanism that adds 37 lb-ft of torque when absolutely necessary, but last only 5 to 7 seconds maximum. Think of it as an “urgency” mode. With the torque available from 1500 rpm to 4500 rpm you can instantly explode the 1 Series M Coupe out of corners in any gear. Never did the vehicle lose momentum from an upshift. Expect your 1 Series M Coupe to achieve 19 city mpg and 25 highway mpg.
Bear in mind, though BMW told their engineers to build a car they would want to drive on weekends, the 1 Series M Coupe is nowhere near the technical prowess of the M3 which is BMW’s benchmark performance vehicle. The M3 has a magnificent V8, better high-speed stability because of its extra length and is tuned with far more technology and dynamics. Even its M Button is a watered down version of the M3’s M Button. In this case the M Button on the 1 Series M Coupe only affects throttle response for quicker shifts. The M Dynamic Mode on the dash allows for more slip for performance driving. But to make the 1 Series M Coupe as good as a small performance car needs to be, it did inherit roughly 30% to 40% of the M3’s DNA. To be specific, it has the wheels, tires, compound brakes, differential, springs, shocks, steering wheel and the suspension.
At Monticello, we had all three colors on the track playing cat and mouse. The massively flared wheel wells, M quad pipes, three large front air intakes (air curtain system), M3 wing mirrors, LED lighted “eyebrows,” halogen BMW corona rings, M Badging, rear trunklid spoiler lip and a black plastic diffuser apron is what physically turns David Banner into the Hulk. There is no way you will second guess that this is an M car!
Take into account there is only one interior to settle on. It commingles Black Boston leather seats with Anthracite Alcantara lining and “unique to the 1 Series M Coupe” orange contrast stitching. BMW went with Alcantara because it absorbs sun glare they explained. I also enjoyed the 14-way M Sport seats with thick bolstering. Especially since I was driving with a cracked left rib. The side-to-side jerking and G-forces could have been disastrous without the bolstering.
Navigation is available with the 4th Gen iDrive and an 8.8” gig hard drive for media downloads. Yet, in order to get the nav system, BMW makes you opt for the $2,400 Premium Package (Auto-dimming mirrors, power front seats, lumbar support, ambient lighting, BMW Assist, Bluetooth, iPod and USB adaptor) before you can get the $2,700 Convenience Package (alarm, Comfort Access, PDC Rear, Navigation). BMW says this is due to the compatibility of the systems in each package. So, basically, if you want navigation you have to spend a total of $5,100.
No matter what, you still have an M car that’s $10,000 less than an M3 Sedan and $13,000 less than an M3 Coupe and runs the same time in wind sprints. It’s no small wonder!