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2011 BMW 1 Series M Coupe Review [Video]
BMW blends turbo power with naturally aspirated response, marking a new era of M cars
By Colum Wood, Photography by BMW, Video by Chris Blanchette, Nov. 09, 2011

I told my wife to take it for a spin around the block. Really, she said? Absolutely, I replied. You have to. Twenty years from now you’ll no doubt find yourself standing around with a bunch of car buffs talking about amazing and iconic cars. Remember the NSX? The R35 GT-R? The Boss 302? And then someone will undoubtedly say: remember the 1M Coupe? “Yes” you’ll be able to reply. “I drove it.” To which you’ll be met with respect by those rare few who’ve also had the chance, and nostalgic car guy envy by those who haven’t.

FAST FACTS

1. With 335-hp and 369 lb-ft of torque the 1M is down 79-hp on the V8-powered M3, but makes 74 lb-ft more torque.

2. Flared fenders and a wider track. The 1M is 1.8-inches wider up front and almost 3 inches wider in the rear.

3. Available only with a six-speed manual transmission, BMW claims a 0-60 mph of 4.7 seconds.

The E30 M3? Maybe. Maybe not. But the 1M Coupe is the poster car for a new generation of auto-buffs, those who will recall the first time they read a review in a blog and not a magazine. Perhaps it will only be bought by Gen Xers and older with enough disposable income, but to the Gen Y crowd and the upcoming millenials, it’s a marker in time.

The first turbocharged M car (do those X5/X6 SUVs really count?) the 1M is a watershed moment, marking a new era of turbocharged sports cars.

Perhaps it lacks some of the purist feel of the E30, but remember, that car never had a custom one-off engine either. Rather, it used a modified version of an existing 3 Series 4-cylinder.

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A LITTLE EXTRA POWER, A LOT OF EXTRA RESPONSE

The anticipation is usually better than the reality because it’s always hard to live up to the hype. And prior to its launch the 1M was hyped like no BMW before it. Looking at just the engine and the numbers the 1M fails to impress. For starters, it’s just a hopped up version of the same twin-turbo six-cylinder found in much of the rest of the BMW lineup. Second, the performance increase seems minimal. With 335-hp it’s just a 35-hp upgrade over the 135i. And torque rises to just 332 lb-ft (or 369 in an overboost mode).

2011 BMW 1 Series M Coupe

A closer look at those specs reveals something interesting. Compared to the current M3 it may be short 79 ponies, but it’s also up a solid 74 lb-ft of torque. Plus, weighing 77 lbs less than a 135i it’s actually over 400 lbs less than an M3.

But more important than all of this, is how the engine feels. It might just be the closest any automaker has come yet to building a turbocharged engine that delivers consistent power delivery and throttle response like a naturally aspirated block. And with the quick spooling twin turbochargers delivering most of that power from just 1500 rpm, the 1M likes to go sideways as much as it does forward.

PRECISE, BUT STILL A HANDFULL

2011 BMW 1 Series M Coupe

A boosted beast out of the corners it can be a handful and requires that you’ve got some common sense attached to your right foot. The M Dynamic Mode may be plenty of fun, but you’ll risk burning out the traction control light on the dash. Instead, flick the traction and stability control off… but be warned.

Helping put the power down and keep you in control are some significantly flared fenders, with a wider track, big 19-inch wheels and sticky rubber. Classic and new M design cues do their part to add some muscle to this otherwise cute coupe, but the difference maker is the wide body and bulging corners, fitted with a set of wheels that look like they were jacked from a race car.

In total, the 1M is 1.8-inches wider up front and 2.8-inches thicker out back. Plus there’s that extra rubber out back. But as mentioned, getting full traction is tough.

Handling is superb. There’s little else to say. We found little evidence of undetsteer on the street, although pushed harder on a track would likely reveal more. Body lean is incredibly minimal. The hydraulic power steering is exact. The pedals are perfectly placed for heel-toe action and throttle response is incredible. With a short wheelbase and little overhang it’s nimble, transitioning with ease.

And to ensure the 1M will never become the poseur machine the immensely popular E46 M3 became, it can only be ordered with one transmission, a six-speed manual.

2011 BMW 1 Series M Coupe

Push the M button on the steering wheel and the switch in engine mapping is immediate and tactile. Even with a steady throttle the car surges forward just a touch as the throttle response firms up to race car levels.

BUILT FOR ENTHUSIASTS

2011 BMW 1 Series M Coupe

Inside there’s no fussing around with unnecessary frivolities. You can’t get the 1M with a sunroof, although BMW’s iDrive is standard. Oddly, a “comfort access” fob with push-button ignition isn’t standard. There’s a decent amount of Alcantara, M badges and custom stitching, plus the front seats are so form fitting they’ll even give a supermodel a tight squeeze.

On city streets the suspension is stiff, the steering (especially in MDM) is particularly heavy and the wider wheels pull the car around on uneven asphalt. It’s also loud, but worth it, with an excellent note and even the occasional pop. Toss those criticisms aside, however, as anyone who’s interested in this car won’t care and chances are they’ll wish the exhaust was even louder – we do.

Back to the styling, while the 1M does get more adventurous curves and angles than M models traditionally do, they’re not as significant a nod as we’d like. If this car is missing anything it’s a big rear spoiler – optional at least. Sure M cars are meant to be subtle, but the 1M is a different sort of M and it should send a clear message.

2011 BMW 1 Series M Coupe

THE VERDICT

Traditionally, Americans love big powerful cars. But the 1M isn’t aimed at those folks. Rather, it’s pegged squarely at a new generation of car buffs; those who grew up on the sport compact craze and who see nothing wrong with driving a small car.

The 1M is an acknowledgement of just how well BMW understands what people (and the motoring press) are lusting for. And the wilder styling on this newest M car is a nod to a younger demographic.

2011 BMW 1 Series M Coupe

Philosophically, it’s still hard to get over the borrowed turbo engine, but get behind the wheel and this well-reasoned argument gives way to the awesome reality. In a new era of turbocharged engines we often long for naturally aspirated powerplants, but if the 1M is a sign of what BMW engineers can do, then we welcome a lag-free turbocharged sports car future.

LOVE IT
  • Engine response and incredible acceleration
  • Little things, from the seats to the pedals
  • An incredibly rare enthusiast-only car
LEAVE IT
  • Styling could use more aggression
  • “Borrowed” engine

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