BMW's Version Of A Blue Light Special For Speed

2012 BMW 1 Series M Coupe
2012 BMW 1-Series M Coupe Prototype - Click above for high-res image gallery

There's a well-worn automotive axiom that plays out many different ways: The amount of money you spend is proportional to how fast you go. You want more speed? You spend more money.

If you've priced a BMW M3 these days, you see the principle at work. Back in the old days (1987), a U.S.-spec M3 boasted a 195-horsepower four-cylinder engine and did 0-60 miles per hour in about 6.7 seconds on its leisurely way to a 143-mph top speed – all for just over $30,000. Today, the least expensive 414-horsepower V8 M3 will set you back $58,400. As it should, the new M3 trounces the old in every conceivable performance metric with its 4.6-second 0-60 mph run, supercar mid-range and electronically-limited 155-mph top end.

This reality left enthusiasts wishing BMW would offer something a little less speedy for a commensurate drop in MSRP. Seeing the opportunity with its 2012 1 Series Coupe, BMW will soon show us how much speed around $45,000 will buy at the upcoming Detroit Auto Show. But to tide you over until then, come with us for a ride in a BMW 1 Series M Coupe prototype.

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Related Gallery2012 BMW 1 Series M Coupe: Prototype Drive
2012 BMW 1-Series M Coupe Prototype2012 BMW 1-Series M Coupe Prototype2012 BMW 1-Series M Coupe Prototype2012 BMW 1-Series M Coupe Prototype2012 BMW 1-Series M Coupe Prototype2012 BMW 1-Series M Coupe Prototype2012 BMW 1-Series M Coupe Prototype2012 BMW 1-Series M Coupe Prototype

Photos copyright ©2010 Rex Roy / AOL, BMW

Knowing they had us by the short hairs, BMW saw fit tease us about this car for more than a year. Even though we're only a little over a month away from its official reveal and four to five months away from its on-sale date, the tease continues.

Do we have final horsepower and torque figures? No. How about final chassis specs? Nope. Can we tell you how much it will cost and its list of options? Not exactly.

2012 BMW 1-Series M Coupe Prototype

All we can do is fill you in on what we learned during a long afternoon's exposure to the M-fettled 1er. It happened not long ago in the small town of Scheyern, not far from BMW's hometown of Munich.

First things first: The name. Why is the 1-Series M Coupe not called the M1? You already know. The name M1 is owned by BMW's 1979-81 mid-engine supercar and is therefore forever retired like a great ballplayer's jersey number. 'Nuff said? Good. Moving on...

The units we saw and drove were still cloaked in light camouflage. But the mod graphics couldn't hide a steroid-injected 1 Series Coupe body.

2012 BMW 1-Series M Coupe Prototype rear 3/4 view2012 BMW 1-Series M Coupe Prototype front detail

BMW shied away from giving track measurements, but they did divulge that the body is a full 80 millimeters (3.14-inches) wider than a standard 1 Series Coupe. The bulging fenders, especially at the rear, look like rippled muscles under a tight t-shirt. The body, including the flares, is all steel. When asked why no carbon fiber, an engineer explained that the cost/benefit ratio didn't favor the choice.

Facing the wind, a new fascia directs air toward a multitude of coolers; a main radiator, intercooler and auxiliary coolers. Out back, a small trunk spoiler sits above the two sets of dual exhausts.

This revised body covers what is most accurately explained as a short-wheelbase M3 chassis. As indicated by the intercooler behind the grille, the engine features forced induction, likely a more highly tuned version of the twin-turbo N54 inline-six sourced from the Z4 sDrive35is. But again, BMW wouldn't give us specifics.

2012 BMW 1-Series M Coupe Prototype engine

The current Z4's 3.0-liter produces 335 horsepower and 332 pound-feet of torque. Even if the new M Coupe's engine just matches this, it will still out-twist the 295 lb-ft offered by the V8 in the M3 – all in a vehicle that's 190 pounds lighter. But it seems likely that the 1 Series M will have more power than the Z4 thanks to higher max-boost levels (0.2 bar boost) and overboost limits (another 0.2 bar). Our educated estimate is in the 345-350 hp range.

When it comes to gearboxes, all four prototypes on hand utilized traditional six-speed manuals. The chatter about a DSG-shifted 1 Series M may be true, but not for the first year of production. At the aft end of the prop shaft, a look under the rear valance panel reveals the M3's M Variable Differential Lock rear differential.

Other serious chassis hardware includes plenty of bits and pieces that look like they were stolen from an M3 with the Competition Package. The springs are all steel and the dampers are non-adjustable. The front suspension is BMW's familiar strut design and the rear is an equally familiar multilink. Large 19-inch wheels wear staggered rubber; Michelin Sport Pilot tires measuring P245/35ZR19R front, P265/35ZR19R rear.

2012 BMW 1-Series M Coupe Prototype wheel2012 BMW 1-Series M Coupe Prototype rear suspension

Climbing in the car, we were informed that our vehicle did not have a production interior. When the car breaks cover in Detroit, expect to see something that looks like a current 1-Series with the Sport Package. Gauges are likely to have M-type markings and there should be special seat trim.

After we hit the starter button, we didn't care about the interior.

The motor spooled up quickly, smoothly and quietly. The short shifter moved easily into gear. Unlike some modern performance vehicles, there are no adjustments for the suspension, the steering or engine management. It is what it is. And it's very good.

The BMW Servotronic steering is a pure hydraulic setup that operates without any electronic intervention. The response is linear, direct and builds predictably through corners.

2012 BMW 1-Series M Coupe Prototype interior2012 BMW 1-Series M Coupe Prototype front seats2012 BMW 1-Series M Coupe Prototype gauges2012 BMW 1-Series M Coupe Prototype shifter

Likewise, the suspension takes a set in corners and plants itself. Unlike other 1 Series, there is no understeer, the model's Achilles' Heal. Thank the wider stance and big Michelins.

While it felt good to not have a computer intervene and give it what you think you want or need, on the damp German roads, we were glad to have BMW's Dynamic Stability Control on in the background. During our exuberant drive, DSC waited for us to screw up or be surprised. It never saw action. To burn off the mph, the brakes proved strong and balanced with good bite and better progression.

The country roads around Scheyern were full of tight to medium curves. Regardless of the corner's radius or gearbox cog, the hottest 1 carved through each one and then roared onto the straights. The torque came on like a freight train's diesel-electric motor, never flagging. Above 1,400 rpm, the entire rev range is rich with power. Turbo lag? Yes, there's some, but truly just a moment's. In most situations, you'll never notice.

2012 BMW 1-Series M Coupe Prototype front driving view

Engine control was exceptionally precise. On throttle, moving from 60-percent pedal to 80-percent, the coupe surged. Going from 80-percent to wide-open-throttle (WOT), the 1-Series jumped again.

The only thing the engine lacked was an exhaust note that matched the engine's performance. Our thinking is that the turbos remove so much energy from the pipes that the sounds we were looking for are used to create boost.

We weren't able to put a clock on the 1 Series M Coupe, but BMW representatives hinted that 0-60 mph should be in the sub-five-second range, with top speed limited to the standard 155 mph.

There's little doubt that an M3 would be faster over these country roads – BMW's pecking order gurus would have it no other way. But getting back to that age-old automotive axiom, how much is more speed worth? This is one of those cases where more speed doesn't necessarily buy you a more entertaining steer. The 1 Series M Coupe doesn't seem to be about outright speed as much as it is about full-on driving satisfaction – something we plan to investigate further once the official model lands in our laps.

Related Gallery2012 BMW 1 Series M Coupe: Prototype Drive
2012 BMW 1-Series M Coupe Prototype2012 BMW 1-Series M Coupe Prototype2012 BMW 1-Series M Coupe Prototype2012 BMW 1-Series M Coupe Prototype2012 BMW 1-Series M Coupe Prototype2012 BMW 1-Series M Coupe Prototype2012 BMW 1-Series M Coupe Prototype2012 BMW 1-Series M Coupe Prototype

Photos copyright ©2010 Rex Roy / AOL, BMW