First Drive: BMW 1 Series M Coupe

BMW 1 Series M Coupe 1

Short and sweet – BMW’s 1 Series M Coupe is a potent machine that’s sure to find favour with keen drivers everywhere

The 1 Series M Coupe has been an eagerly awaited addition to BMW’s M fleet for some time. That it’s a good bit cheaper than a current M3 will be a bonus for many. It’s ironic, then, to learn that mechanically the 1M shares a quite a bit with the M3.

BMW’s 1 Series Coupe has always been pitched as the performance poster boy of the range, but the 1M takes this a step further. It might share the 3.0-litre, six-cylinder petrol motor of the 135i, but in 1M form the twin-turbo unit boasts a healthy 340 horsepower and an equally useful 369lb/ft of torque.

And the M3 connection? In reality the 1M is an M3 in 1 Series clothes, albeit ones that have been stretched over a shortened and modified M3 chassis. This is partly the reason for the car’s muscular stance. The car’s wider track is all M3, which does wonders for its ride and handling balance.

Forget any notions of this car being little more than a shrink-wrapped M3, though. BMW has sought to carve out a nice little niche for the 1M. And with rivals such as Porsche’s Cayman and Audi’s RS3 mentioned in the same breath, this is no cut and shut job. It’s also no slouch, with on-paper performance figures that almost match its bigger brother.

For every rose tinted notion that BMW’s original E30 M3 was and still is a driving sensation there’s always a counter argument that, in today’s world, it’s slow and needs revving hard to uncork its modest potential. The later E36 isn’t far behind, but for a new generation of financially independent and informed enthusiasts the 1M could well be the modern interpretation they’re looking for.

BMW 1 Series M CoupeThe 1M is compact but unlike its fondly remembered predecessors isn’t lacking when it comes to safety kit (airbags, ABS, ESP) and creature comforts (climate control, leather, cruise control, decent audio).

With all the best bits from the current M3 under you and a massaged in-line turbo six-cylinder motor up front, the 1M delivers a sparkling performance that anyone with a fondness for old-school rear-drive fun will love. It even comes with BMW’s trick M differential lock to enhance grip and stability when pressing on.

The car’s weighty but direct steering never fails to communicate the road conditions. The stubby manual gearlever slots securely into the ratio of your choosing no matter how fast you shift. And, this is the best bit, despite the car’s short wheelbase and wide track, the ride is more forgiving than you could hope for even when accounting for the car’s super low profile tyres wrapped around the M3 Competition model’s alloy wheels.

Completing the experience is the 1M’s engine, which is never short of puff or character. The latter takes the form of a deep-chested rasp that rises to a rich, baritone wail when the six-pot motor is fully extended. It’s even better from the outside, thanks in part to the car’s quad tailpipes.

On a practical note you’ll struggle to detect the forced induction assistance, with only the slightest hint of turbo whistle audible at low speeds. Wind up the motor and the result is an elastic response, encouraging you to hold a gear for as long as is humanly possible. Overtaking potential is present in spades, and thanks to the engine’s near bottomless pit of torque you rarely have to drop a gear to make a move.

BMW 1 Series M Coupe 2Factor in the car’s impressive agility and composure over even the roughest of Tarmac and the most challenging roads and it’s hard not to be impressed. Grip is in plentiful supply until you turn the traction system off, and then it’s a whole new ball game. But get this; there’s no need to be flying at some crazy speed to enjoy yourself. The car’s eagerness to play and the modest power and grip levels allow you to break loose at sensible speeds, not supercar go-to-jail velocities.

Look beyond the ‘one of 450’ limited run cabin plaques – yes, that’s the full UK allocation – and the 1M offers drivers a simple combination of an abundance of power, an agile chassis, a composed ride without any electronic interference, a trick differential and a manual gearbox.

This modern take on a back to basics approach to performance motoring is, sadly, an all too rare one, but BMW has hit the jackpot with the right blend of mechanical components and emotional experiences. There’s nothing basic about the 1M but it will serve up simple thrills for keen, experienced drivers all day long. And it doesn’t get any better than that.

Model: BMW 1 Series M Coupe from £40,020 on the road.
Engine: 3.0-litre petrol unit developing 340bhp.
Transmission: 6-speed manual transmission as standard, driving the rear wheels.
Performance: Maximum speed 155mph, 0-62mph 4.9 seconds.
Economy: 29.4mpg.
CO2 Rating: 224g/km.

By Iain Dooley

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