Used 2011 BMW 1 Series M
- M3-matching handling and performance
- M3-undercutting price
- surprisingly easy and comfortable to drive
- superb front seats.
- Limited production numbers
- not the prettiest sport coupe
- a few cheap interior bits.
Edmunds' Expert Review
The 2011 BMW 1 Series M Coupe earns its M badge thanks to astonishing performance and surprising livability. It's an intriguing alternative to more common sports cars and performance coupes.
Stop reading right now. You don't have time for this. Only 1,000 2011 BMW 1 Series M Coupes will be heading to the United States, and rumor has it that this will be the only year for production. You're going to have to move quickly in order to get one. And believe us, you do want one.
If you're still on the fence, though, here's the story. For its new 1 Series M (it's not called the "M1" due to the company's pre-existing M1 supercar from the 1970s), BMW took its regular 135i coupe and gave it an M performance division treatment. Hard-core BMW enthusiasts will likely bemoan that these upgrades break with M tradition, as the 1 M shares its 3.0-liter turbocharged engine with the "plebeian" BMW 335is and much of its underlying hardware with the M3. We'd agree that the 1 M isn't quite as unique as previous M cars. But it's hard to argue with the result, and this is one of the finest driver's cars available for under $50,000.
With the first turn, you know you've happened upon something special. The steering is beautifully direct and surprisingly light in effort, allowing you to grip the wheel with your fingers and feel every texture of the road. With its short wheelbase and massive torque, you can also steer with the seat of your pants. Powering the tail end out can be great hooligan fun, but the 1 M can also bite back hard should you start playing above your league. In that sense, the 1 Series M is a sharp response to those who complain that the regular 1 Series isn't sporty enough.
Pleasingly, much of the regular 1 Series daily drivability is still intact. The clutch is appropriately a bit heavy, but it's very easy to modulate and rarely bothersome around town and in traffic. That wickedly powerful engine also proves to be surprisingly docile when you have it on an urban leash. The 1's ride is also relatively compliant -- you won't notice jarring wallops going through your spine while encountering massive bumps as you otherwise might with a high-performance car. In that sense, this is truly an M car.
As you can probably tell, we think very highly of the 2011 BMW 1 Series M Coupe. Granted, it's not the prettiest car on the road (far from it) and its interior isn't the most spacious or upscale. But compared to dedicated sports cars like the Chevrolet Corvette and Porsche Cayman, the 1 M does give you the option of transporting four people semi-comfortably. Perhaps with some irony, BMW's own M3 coupe solves these issues -- it's prettier, roomier and nicer inside. But it also costs nearly $13,000 more and is not nearly as rare. So for the driving enthusiast looking for an affordable and under-the-radar M car, the 1 M makes the grade. Just act quickly.
Trim levels & features
The 2011 BMW 1 Series M Coupe seats four passengers and is available in a single trim level. Standard equipment includes 19-inch alloy wheels, high-performance tires, automatic and adaptive xenon headlights, heated mirrors and windshield washer jets, cruise control, automatic wipers, automatic dual-zone climate control, 10-way manual sport seats with power-adjustable bolsters, a tilt-and-telescoping M sport steering wheel, leather upholstery, Alcantara faux-suede interior trim and a premium sound system with a CD player, auxiliary audio jack and HD radio.
The Premium package adds auto-dimming mirrors, eight-way power front seats (with power-adjustable lumbar support, driver memory functions and manual thigh adjuster), interior ambience lighting, Bluetooth and an iPod/USB audio interface (the latter two items are available separately). The Convenience package gets you rear parking sensors, keyless ignition/entry, a navigation system and the iDrive electronics interface. Stand-alone options include heated front seats, advanced iPhone connectivity, satellite radio and a 10-speaker Harman Kardon surround-sound audio system.
Performance & mpg
The BMW 1 M Coupe is powered by a 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged inline-6 that produces 335 horsepower and 332 pound-feet of torque. A temporary overboost function allows for 369 lb-ft at full throttle. This power is sent to the rear wheels through a standard six-speed manual transmission.
In Edmunds performance testing, the 1 M accelerated from zero to 60 mph in 4.6 seconds -- the same as the M3. Estimated fuel economy is respectable for a high-performance car at 19 mpg city and 26 mpg highway.
The 2011 BMW 1 M comes standard with stability and traction control, antilock brakes, front side airbags and side curtain airbags. In Edmunds brake testing, the 1 M came to a stop from 60 mph in an excellent 106 feet.
One moment, the 2011 BMW 1 Series M is a tire-smoking monster ready to lay down hot lap times at your local track day. The next, it's a docile runabout happily filling out your weekday commute. This sort of balance is a BMW trademark.
Admittedly, the 1 M's twin-turbo engine isn't as special as it should be. It has a mountain of low and midrange power, but there's little to be gained by winding it out all the way to redline. That's a sharp contrast to BMW's traditionally peaky, race-oriented and hence more thrilling M engines. But the 1 M nonetheless generates very impressive acceleration times and is fun in its own sort of way.
In terms of handling, the 1 M boasts skid pad and slalom test numbers that are virtually identical to the M3's. On top of this, the 1 is smaller and lighter, and consequently has a more playful and delicate feel to it than the comparatively brutish M3. But frankly, any time a car is favorably compared to the brilliant M3, you know it's in good standing and a total blast to drive.
The interior of the 1 M Coupe is generally competitive with its rivals in terms of materials quality, but hard plastics are more prevalent here than in the M3. To differentiate it from the regular 1 Series, BMW added orange stitching for the standard black leather seats and faux suede to replace what was wood or metal trim on the dash -- the latter is certainly an acquired taste.
The M sport front seats are superb, and we actually suggest that you stick with the 10-way adjustable manual seats, as they offer a greater range of adjustment while still featuring power-operated adjustable bolsters. As with other M cars, the 1 has an almost comically thick-rimmed steering wheel. The rest of the car, though, is pretty much identical to the regular 1 Series.
Although the BMW 1 M is technically a four-seater, the rear seats are more cramped than the M3 coupe, so they're best left to cargo or those of smaller stature. Still, that's better than a Porsche Cayman, which doesn't have a backseat at all. The 1 M's trunk is generously sized, capable of holding 13 cubic feet of luggage.
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It's here, on Willow Springs Raceway, the self-proclaimed "Fastest Road in the West," that our mind begins to wander. Even though we're ripping through Turn 8 at 121 mph in the 2011 BMW 1 Series M Coupe, it's hard to concentrate.
"Are these wheels forged?"
"Did I lock the house this morning?
"Only one day until the rapture? Really?"
"Man, this thing has a lot of grip."
The last thought hangs around for awhile, mainly because it's this car's grip — more than any other M car — that defines it. We're not surprised, as it wears the same set of Michelin Pilot Sport PS2 tires included in the M3's Competition package. More importantly, those four generously sized contact patches support only 3,346 pounds, about 210 fewer than an M3 Coupe.
BMW says the M3 represents everything the company understands about driving dynamics. But the 1 Series M Coupe is half M3 — utilizing not only its tires but also its suspension hardware, brakes, steering rack and more.
Its attitude, however, is different. Still, this is a proper M car.
By now you probably know the 2011 BMW 1 Series M Coupe shares its engine with the Z4 sDrive35is convertible — a machine so poorly named we often forget it exists. But the engine's source and origins are far less important than its numbers and its influence over the M's chassis.
Here the 3.0-liter twin-turbo inline-6 is rated at 335 horsepower and 332 pound-feet of torque, which is sent through a six-speed manual transmission only. Also, because big surges of torque are quite enjoyable, the M-specific engine calibration allows a 5-7-second overboost. Our own internal testing shows it's quite effective.
The question, given the numbers at hand and the hardware at work, isn't whether the 1 Series M Coupe is a proper M car, but rather how does it stack up against the M car — the current-generation M3? When it comes to sheer perception, the littlest M gives up nothing.
In fact, some purists — particularly those who have been whining about the M3's curb weight since it first hit Internet forums — will likely find the M Coupe to be the perfect compromise. Driving the two cars back to back on the 2.5-mile Willow Springs road course, there's little difference in peak speeds on the circuit's front straight.
Although the 2011 BMW 1 Series M Coupe utilizes the M3's aluminum subframes, control arms and links, it lacks that car's Electronic Damping Control. In its place are conventional (aluminum) dampers. BMW, however, refuses to release any information about the M Coupe's spring rates or additional chassis stiffness. There are new gussets surrounding the shock towers under the hood, and the lack of a sunroof no doubt stiffens its chassis relative to the standard 1 Series cars, where it's standard equipment.
The 1M also shares the M3's steering rack, which at 12.5:1 is among the quickest-ratio racks on any production car today. Combine that with the M Coupe's 104.7-inch wheelbase (4 inches shorter than the M3) and this car is, well, lively. And by lively we mean reactive, snappy, punchy and fun. There's even an "M" button on the steering wheel, but on the Coupe it only bumps up throttle response.
It's a concentrated dose of M3. Drink plenty of water.
A Unique Machine
Driving the M Coupe on one of the country's fastest road courses didn't tell us much about its best properties. Those we discovered later, as they're best explored below 80 mph.
This car's explosiveness out of low-speed corners is as fun as it is frantic. It leaps from tight-radius bends as violently as any two-wheel-drive car we've ever driven. It's very controllable, but it's not for beginners. This coupe reacts quickly.
It's the only car that's ever made us want to autocross. With all its wide-bodied, fat-tired, short-wheelbase torquey-ness, the 1M is perfectly suited to slipping between cones on the clock. It might even make that lame form of parking lot racing fun.
At the track, our subjective impressions are rapidly verified as the M brand's little hammer pumps out big numbers. Sixty mph disappears in 4.6 seconds (4.4 seconds with 1 foot of rollout like at a drag strip) and the quarter-mile is gone in 13.0 seconds at 107.7 mph. That's identical to the last M3 Coupe we tested to 60 mph and only two-tenths slower in the quarter-mile.
But the real story, the one that should make you plead for this car, is the way it handles. It's the kind of intuitive-feedback, butt-connected-to-the-contact patch sort of feeling we wish were available in everything we drive. And it's immensely fun.
Given the N54's propensity to pump out huge waves of torque, the relatively short wheelbase and the M3's viscous limited-slip differential, there's a sense of necessary hoonery built into the 1M.
Around the skid pad, this means there's no problem steering with the throttle. And the gap between the limit of grip and limit of control is a big one. Go ahead, slide it all you want; that's what it's for. Keep the rear wheels behind the fronts and it will produce an impressive 0.96g — better than the M3 (0.95g). Slalom speed, at 71.4 mph is similarly impressive, although not quite as good as the M3 (73.3).
Braking from 60 to zero, given the M Coupe's M3 brakes (14.2-inch two-piece rotors and huge sliding calipers up front) is an effortless endeavor. Heat capacity and feel are appropriate for a genuine performance car. Oh, and it stops in only 106 feet — a foot shorter than the M3.
BMW has figured out the key to making a relatively Spartan interior look appropriately unique. A large part of the secret is the utter lack of reflective materials. Yes, there's a satin-finish bezel here and there but this is largely a matte-finish interior. The special part comes from Alcantara suede on the shifter and parking brake boots as well as on the doors, dash insert and instrument panel shade.
Black Boston leather is the only finish available on the 14-way adjustable seats, which along with the Alcantara bits are stitched in orange — a small detail that is tastefully striking. There's also a thick-rimmed, leather-covered steering wheel that seems perfect for directing this angry little pug.
BMW tells us it plans to sell only 1,000 M Coupes in the U.S. this year. It's likely there will never be more. They start at $47,010 including destination fees, which might seem steep until one realizes that it offers performance on par with an M3 for about $10 grand less. Our test car, fitted with heated seats, Valencia Orange paint and the $2,400 Premium package, rings up a $49,585 bill.
Gripes? There are few. The engine lacks the character of most M cars. Yes, it's powerful and amply responsive and probably telling of the powertrains to come in future M vehicles. Still, this isn't the raw, instant, shrill explosion of sound and revs we've become accustomed to from BMW M cars. But it certainly gets the job done.
The 2011 BMW 1 Series M Coupe is what purist drivers want: predictable, responsive, powerful and lighter than the only car it was benchmarked against: the M3.
And after 33 laps at Willow and 350 street miles, our wandering mind has reached the following conclusions: The M Coupe's wheels are not forged, we locked the house and the whole idea of the rapture is ridiculous.
Oh, and the M Coupe's grip? Yes, it has more than we ever imagined. And it is good.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of this evaluation.
Used 2011 BMW 1 Series M Overview
The Used 2011 BMW 1 Series M is offered in the following submodels: 1 Series M Coupe. Available styles include 2dr Coupe (3.0L 6cyl Turbo 6M).
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Should I lease or buy a 2011 BMW 1 Series M?
Is it better to lease or buy a car? Ask most people and they'll probably tell you that car buying is the way to go. And from a financial perspective, it's true, provided you're willing to make higher monthly payments, pay off the loan in full and keep the car for a few years. Leasing, on the other hand, can be a less expensive option on a month-to-month basis. It's also good if you're someone who likes to drive a new car every three years or so.