The 2011 BMW 1 M makes a killer first impression. So much so, that if you’re trying to come up with a short list of very special cars you gotta have for around 50 large, our fervent recommendation is to put this new hi-performance coupe from Bayerische Motoren Werke last in your test-drive schedule. Your left brain will thank you for keeping those messy emotions in check.
Approach the 1 M coupe from nearly any angle and the first thing that screams out is its aggressive stance, a pugnaciousness that’s accentuated by 1.6-inch wheel-well flares that pay homage to the original M3’s boxed arches. Slide into the leather-covered driver’s seat. Grip the thick, supremely comfortable leather-covered magnesium steering wheel. Scan the special M instrument cluster and dash noting that the Alcatara inserts and other materials that cut down glare. Let your right hand fall onto what’s essentially a factory short-shifter. Take a moment to drink in this elegantly efficient office. All is well with the world.
Press the start button, bring the beast to life.
Head directly for your favorite stretch of road.
Let the grins begin.
Yes, this is a BMW and all that implies. But with its 3.0-liter, direct-injected in-line six churning out 335 horsepower and 332 ft-lb of torque with the aid of a twin-scroll turbocharger, you instantly get that you’re at the controls of a machine that delivers the thrust of an old-school American muscle car, yet modern European sophistication. Handling the impressive thrust is one of the sweetest-shifting gearboxes I’ve come across. Not only does the 1 M benefit from a lighter, dual-disc clutch, its synchros are carbon coated to reduce friction, and – are you listening, techies? – a dry-sump cooling system.
BMW’s main man for the M brand in the United States, Matt Russell, said it took two years to fine-tune a 1 Series worthy of wearing the M badge. The hours we got to spend at the wheel of the new kid on the block went by too quickly, but we can attest that the result of that development period is a track-attack weapon that won’t beat you up on the street.
On Willow Springs Raceway’s road course in the Southern California’s high desert, the torquey 1 M was a joy, requiring only 3rd and 4th gear once the driver settles into the 2.5-mile track’s groove. Two “M” controls let the driver have more fun. The M Drive button on the steering wheel provides sharper throttle response. In M Dynamic Mode, or what Russell calls “track trainer,” a button on the dash dials back the stability control system for optimum track work.
It’s easy to understand why this 3,296-lb Bimmer is so at home at triple-digit speeds. Many M3 goodies wound up on the 1 M, including the front and rear suspension (nearly all-aluminum), brakes (14.2 inch rotors up front, 13.8 at the rear; the pad compound may differ slightly), 19-inch “Y-spoke” wheels and tires (9-inch wide light alloys with 245/35s ZRs up front and 10 inchers with 265/35 ZRs bringing up the rear), and limited-slip differential. Ditto with the four-outlet exhaust.
One thing the 1 Series M coupe doesn’t get is the M3’s sleeker lines and more wind-cheating drag. The taller greenhouse of the 1 M may be great for driver seating position, taller occupants and drivers wearing racing helmets, but it results in a coefficient of drag (Cd) of 0.37 vs. 0.31 for the 3 coupe. Top speed for both, however, is electronically capped at 155 mph.
The 1 M Coupe went on sale this month (May) and sports an MSRP of $47,875, including destination. Even if you wanted to load it with all the options (and weight?), the window sticker will max out under $55,000. But this is the real world, and with the reality of BMW allocating fewer than 1,000 1 M coupes for the U.S. in 2011, don’t be surprised if the dealer demands an extra bounty.