Vital Stats

Engine:
Twin-Turbo 3.0L I6
Power:
335 HP / 332 LB-FT
Transmission:
6-Speed Manual
0-60 Time:
4.7 Seconds
Top Speed:
155 MPH (limited)
Drivetrain:
Rear-Wheel Drive
Curb Weight:
3,362 LBS
Seating:
2+2
Cargo:
13.1 CU-FT
MPG:
19 City / 26 HWY
Life in the Key of M. Minor.



If you have read the breathless reviews and overwritten comparos, you would assume that the 2011 BMW 1 Series M Coupe is infused with the second coming of Senna. And for BMW to unabashedly draw a line between the M Coupe and the most holy of holies, the 1986-92 E30 M3, smacks of PRified nostalgia stoking. Call me a contrarian, but I refuse to believe the hype.

So as soon as the orange Bimmer landed on my fleet schedule, any and all reading, writing and discussion about the littlest M ceased. I would drive it for a week, live with it as if it were my own and deliver a critical, blatantly unbiased review of Life in the Key of M.

Five minutes into my first drive, I immediately pulled into a turnout, sat there for a second, took a deep breathe and realized – dammit – everyone was right. Brilliance is back in a small package.
Yes, brilliance. Surprising considering the M Coupe is the prototypical parts-bin special. But then again, when your parts bin is made up of some of the best driver-oriented bits in the biz, brilliance isn't expected, it's demanded.

2011 BMW 1 Series M Coupe side view2011 BMW 1 Series M Coupe front view2011 BMW 1 Series M Coupe rear view

So let's start with the core of any M-badged vehicle, the engine. It's the same twin-turbocharged N54 inline-six fitted to the Z4 sDrive35is and my current favorite non-M 3 Series, the 335is. Three liters of displacement and those duo of turbos put out 335 horsepower at 5,800 rpm and 332 pound-feet of torque from 1,500 4,500 rpm through the car's only transmission option: a proper six-speed manual. Peg the throttle to the floor and, if the ECU favors the conditions, an overboost function allows the turbo six to deliver an additional 37 torques, bringing the total up to 369 lb-ft. BMW claims a 0-60 mph run of around 4.7 seconds, but I don't buy it. My ass might not be as highly calibrated as other hot-shoe scribes, but there's no doubt the M Coupe is a solid 4.5-second runner – and instrumented testing both here and abroad bears this out.

Forward momentum in any part of the rev range is immediate and addicting, devoid of lag unless the needle is on the far left side of the tach. And even then, that minute pause is instantaneously consumed by traction-testing torque, a subtle turbo whine and an exhaust note that's more guttural drone than screaming sex six. Then again, this isn't an "M" engine. It's a chip and a massage. But it simply doesn't matter.

2011 BMW 1 Series M Coupe engine

What has been pulled from the BMW's motorsports arm are the bits that matter most: everything shoved into the wheel arches and connected to the driver.

The front track has been extended by 2.8 inches and fitted with double pivot struts, while the rear has grown 1.7 inches and equipped with the standard multilink suspension, both of which are comprised entirely of aluminum. The rolling stock is pulled directly from the M3 Competition Package, including 19x9-inch front wheels wrapped in Michelin Pilot Sport PS2 rubber sized 245/35R19 and 19x10-inch rear rollers with 265/35R19s.

That combination may say "stick" on paper, and it does... until you disengage the traction control. And trust me, you will.

With the system set to Normal, the Axis light on the dash flickers with the insistence of a Christmas tree with an electrical short, pulling power at the faintest hint of wheel spin. The accelerator, well-mannered in most environments, goes from tepid to tenacious with the flex of your foot. But if it's slightly numb in its standard setting, it's a different beast when engaging M Dynamic Mode. All the lil' steering wheel-mounted M button does is recalibrate throttle response, delivering a surge of rubber-ripping acceleration further down the pedal travel. Neither setting is particularly bad, but on-edge confidence suffers as a result.

2011 BMW 1 Series M Coupe headlight2011 BMW 1 Series M Coupe wheel2011 BMW 1 Series M Coupe taillight2011 BMW 1 Series M Coupe taillight

So when the time comes to dispatch all the electro-nannies, your right foot and two hands had better be ready to respond. Quickly. The amount of traction afforded by those massive meats is almost in direct opposition to the 104.7-inch wheelbase. So the M Coupe goes from grip to gone in an instant. No, this isn't the predictable breakaway we've experienced in the larger, more portly M3 (or any other M, for that matter). That's due to a number of variables, but chief among them is the 1's nearly square dimensions.

But when you hit it right, with the exact amount of power, the right amount of bank and the precise amount of steering, the 1 does what every proper M car should do: hangs out its tail until instructed otherwise.

Much of that sure-footed ease comes at the expense of overall ride quality when ambling about town, but it's nowhere near unbearable, and at speed, and for the 1M's intended audience (Hi Mom!) it's no-nonsense perfect. That same perfection winds its way up through the leather-wrapped wheel thanks to the M3-sourced speed-sensitive steering rack. That ever-so-slight sense of vagueness in the standard 1 Series is gone for good – and it was damned good to begin with. The clutch, while overly springy, has a perfectly defined friction point and the six-speed manual gearbox never ceased to impress and reassure each and every time we grabbed a gear.

2011 BMW 1 Series M Coupe interior2011 BMW 1 Series M Coupe front seats2011 BMW 1 Series M Coupe speedometer2011 BMW 1 Series M Coupe shifter

The brakes are another matter, but only because of their track-focused brutality. Cross-drilled and sized 14.2-inches in front and 13.8-inches out back, they never faded, never shuddered and never faltered. They also make smooth heel-and-toeing a near impossibility. Just breathing on the middle pedal sheds off velocity in an instant, but when attempting that life-affirming throttle blip, my right calf was stretched to its breaking point. This could just be a product of journo-inflicted wear or a brand new set of pads, but it was enough to stymie an otherwise faultless backroad run.

Other faults? Without getting into fuel economy numbers (estimate: 19/26 mpg, observed: 17.8), the transition from HD to ST on the radio would double-up the audio, and while the Alcantara on the dash trim and shift boot is a nice touch, if you're going to go full-M, why not coat the steering wheel and shift lever – the two most important touch points – with the same delectable material? Yes, it's a dealer option on the base 1 Series, but for $47k and change, you'd assume it would be standard on the 1M.

2011 BMW 1 Series M Coupe rear 3/4 view

But these are infantile nits to pick when looking at the M Coupe as a whole. This is a pure driver's machine through-and-through – a true M, or at least the closest we'll get in the 21st century.

Which brings up a larger point. As enthusiasts, we have to come to grips with the fact that no modern automaker can match the involvement and tactility of a vehicle designed before massive feature creep and ever-expanding safety regulations. That time has passed. And while this isn't the E30 M3 successor we might've hoped for, in many ways, it's better. The 1M is more livable, more powerful and surely more reliable. It sticks harder and goes faster, and BMW did its best to remove the buzz-killing insularity that plagues most modern vehicles. The 1M delivers what M-heads value most: driving delight über alles. And it's one of the only times in years that anything with four wheels has lived up to the hype.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 98 Comments
      b33g33
      • 3 Years Ago
      Damon, the lack of Alcantara on the steering wheel is a positive, not a negative. If you drive the 1M the way it should be driven, that Alcantara wheel will look like a Raccon with mange in a couple of years.
        cashsixeight
        • 3 Years Ago
        @b33g33
        Agree 100000%. See my above comment.
        Walfisch
        • 3 Years Ago
        @b33g33
        Thank you for pointing that out. The alcantara steering wheel that came with the ZHP package for the E46 M3 is known to wear out, and becomes gross and ragged looking after a few months of normal driving.
      Dan Mendes
      • 3 Years Ago
      I've seen this car in person the other night... A. it's gorgeous B. once the guy driving it saw I was looking, he ripped it so fast past my 94 325is cried.
      Gubbins
      • 3 Years Ago
      "HEAL and toeing"?
      NightFlight
      • 3 Years Ago
      Who in the hell proofed this article? "Forward momentum in any part of the rev range is immediate and addicting, devoid of lag unless the needle is on the far right side of the tack. And even then, that minute pause is instantaneously consumed by traction-testing torque, a subtle turbo wine" Tach, not tack. Whine, not wine. "...They also make smooth heal-and-toeing a near impossibility. Just breathing on the middle pedal sheds off velocity in an instant, but when attempting that life-affirming throttle blip, my right calve was stretched to its breaking point. This could just be a product of journo-inflicted wear or a brand new set of pads, but it was enough to stymie an otherwise faultless backroad run." Heel, not heal. Calf, not calve. "The 1M is more livable, more powerful and surely more reliable." The new 1M filled with electronics and an overly complicated engine is more reliable than the extremely basic and non-F/Ied E30 M3? I seriously doubt that and I also doubt that you even checked the reliability data for the E30.
      htay9500
      • 3 Years Ago
      I just saw my 1st 1M coupe in inka orange today on the way home. It looked a lot better in person than in photos and seems like a very promising car to drive. As for the comments, I was glad to read the owners' perspective of this car especially from those who once owned the E30 M3. Hard to choose now between this and an M3.
      Gorgenapper
      • 3 Years Ago
      Is there a reason why AB cannot screen comments from spammers?
      alkalinebay
      • 3 Years Ago
      why is this car getting so much press? Its vaporware, you can't even buy one next year..just stupid
        mrpinto
        • 3 Years Ago
        @alkalinebay
        Vapor? The car in the photo looks pretty real to me... =)
      axelman9
      • 3 Years Ago
      Probably drives great but looks like a riced Mazda Protege. BMW got the most important parts right but their styling is pretty bottom of the barrel (and we won't even touch their cheaper than a pickup truck interior)
        niky
        • 3 Years Ago
        @axelman9
        That riced Protege (Mazdaspeed) drove great, too! Also had a turbo-four, also a parts-bin special. With an off-the-shelf turbo, an LSD from a Japanese market car, and an intercooler from a diesel. But it had a subwoofer, man... a subwoofer. Take that, BMW.
      Myself
      • 3 Years Ago
      It's not a coupe, it's a three-door sedan. And an ugly one.
        Myself
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Myself
        Now, I'm sorry fanboys, but it IS a sedan - it has a body of a sedan.
          • 3 Years Ago
          @Myself
          [blocked]
        Myself
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Myself
        Ok, then, it is a coupe and the tested car was black. Satisfied?
      simianspeedster
      • 3 Years Ago
      Gotta love the haters. BMW builds a completely focused drivers car for the niche market -- you know, the kind of car that we all complain that companies NEVER build -- and people mock the looks and the name. The people who buy this car know exactly what they're getting. Sure, it's not the prettiest thing on the road, but if you can't get past that and see this car's inner beauty, it was never intended for you. They will sell out quickly. I'll add this: The E30 M3 looked downright garish when it was introduced, but that was part of its charm. I'm permitted to hold that opinion because I had an E30 M3 back in the day and I remember how cool it was when it first came to America. As the author says, this is as close as we're going to get to an E30 M3 in today's crazy world, so props to BMW for the effort and the result, just as Ford deserves ample credit for the Mustang Boss 302. It's fairly amazing that either car even exists in this economy.
        soundbargaming
        • 3 Years Ago
        @simianspeedster
        I never complained that they don't build this kind of car. I wish an automaker would release a car that flies because honestly I'm getting tired of all this talking about the next generation especially from BMW when they unveil it, it has 4 wheels and drives along the ground. They need a complete change. Sort of like jump form landlines to cellphones. They're doing more like Blackberry to Android at the moment. We need to untether ourselves from the ground. And again, Terrafugia is not the answer.
      stevenh
      • 3 Years Ago
      great numbers and handling, too bad the ugly bulldog like body does not match the rest of the car, it is anything but an example of beauty. If it had a sexy body that created oohs and aws the car would sell well
        simianspeedster
        • 3 Years Ago
        @stevenh
        No car that costs $50K and only comes with a manual transmission will sell well today in the U.S. regardless of looks. No, the 1M is for hard core enthusiasts and they're will certainly be more interested buyers that cars available. Whatever you think of the looks, BMW deserves credit for building one of the most focused performance cars available today.
          b33g33
          • 3 Years Ago
          @simianspeedster
          I think you make a valid point about there being more enthusiasts "than" cars being available. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that the 1M is very limited edition model (around 2700 worldwide and about 800 in the US). However, I disagree with your comment that $50k and above cars with manual transmissions are not selling well in the US. The E60 M5 had a lukewarm reception at release primarily because it DID NOT have a manual and the enthusiast community made their displeasure known (the crappy SMG box didn't help either). The F30 M5 will come with a manual from the get go.
          simianspeedster
          • 3 Years Ago
          @simianspeedster
          b33g33, Don't get me wrong -- I'm a manual transmission guy through and through -- but cars that ONLY come in manual transmissions do not sell in large numbers these days in the U.S., so they are almost never offered any more. I briefly leased a MazdaSpeed6 several years back that I got for an unbelievably low price of nearly 30% off sticker. Why? The dealer told me that they couldn't move them because they didn't offer a manual transmission, so prospective buying couples would walk away when one of them would object (you guess which one). I can't name a single car for sale in the U.S. that offers both transmission options where the manual transmission outsells its automatic equivalent. Indeed, Porsche sells far more 911s, Boxsters and Caymans with the PDK transmission than they do with manuals. The global take rate for manual Panameras is only 5%, probably even lower in the U.S. I believe I read recently that the take rate for the Acura TL SH-AWD is 3% in America and about 5% of all new 5 Series are selling with manuals. Early indicators show hope for manuals in the Fiat 500, but I believe that will be short lived as more non-enthusiasts buy 500s as they did Minis (and demand automatics). Manual transmission are getting more difficult to choose these days because, unlike the old days, automatics and semi-automatics offer more gears, better fuel economy and they're often faster to boot. On the new 5 Series, for example, you can choose between a 6 speed manual that averages 22MPG or and 8 speed automatic that averages 24. That's a serious role reversal from the days where automatics carried a speed and mileage penalty. Mark my words -- the take rate for the manual F30 M5 will be 25% or lower in the U.S. And if the 1M Coupe were offered with a choice of transmission, 50% would probably sell as automatics. For this car, I'm glad they went manual only to make sure it found serious buyers willing to buy into the old-school drivers philosophy. Sadly, it's only wishful thinking that cars over $50K, let alone under $50K, sell well in the U.S. If you think I'm wrong, please provide a list of cars that sell in big numbers with manual transmissions. I don't think you'll come up with anything!
        ravenosa
        • 3 Years Ago
        @stevenh
        It's the only car in BMW's lineup I actually enjoy the look of. It actually has some personality, doesn't look like a Honda from far away...
          Krishan Mistry
          • 3 Years Ago
          @ravenosa
          Some of BMW's best cars have been its flashiest: Like the CSL "Batmobile". And this. It is form follows function, and if stevenh cant take it seriously because of its looks, then he cant appreciate its function.
        Stefan
        • 3 Years Ago
        @stevenh
        This car has been completely sold out in Canada since a few days after they opened pre-orders. There's a wait list for the wait list.
      SloopJohnB
      • 3 Years Ago
      And last, I still say it looks like a ricer-boy got a load of M-stickers and a four-pot exhaust set and bolted them on.
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