Let's not extend the suspense any longer. The 2011 BMW 1 Series M Coupe is a fantastically compelling machine. It is fast — faster in real-world terms than the M3 on most roads. It has a truly brawny engine that sounds great at wide-open throttle, handles with all the precision expected of a car wearing the evocative M badge, and is super practical given its performance brief.
And, to our eyes at least, the BMW 1M looks great — even in the garish metallic orange paint scheme BMW has chosen for launch cars.
All of which comes as a bit of a relief, because up until now BMW has not given us the feeling that it really meant business with the 1 Series M Coupe. If anything, its efforts to mold the 1 Series Coupe into a true rival to the Porsche Cayman have appeared somewhat half-hearted, its decisions dictated perhaps more by the German carmaker's accounting department than the enthusiasts at its revered M division.
A True M Car?
It has taken more than four years to get to the point where the 1 Series M Coupe is even ready for production. Along the way, BMW decided not to provide its most affordable performance model with a unique engine as with every M car that had gone before it.
With such a troubled birth, the big question is whether the new car can live up to the high standards of the original E30 M3, a car BMW suggests is the spiritual ancestor to the 1 Series M Coupe. If first impressions are anything to go by, the answer is an unequivocal yes.
Like all M cars, though, the heart of the 1 Series M Coupe is very much its engine. The twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder unit mounted longitudinally up front is the same as that found in the Z4 sDrive35is, save for some fine-tuning of the inlet manifold and exhaust system to provide it with a more menacing aural character.
Significantly, it is only the second forced-induction engine to be used by BMW's M division, following on from the more powerful twin-turbocharged 4.4-liter V8 found in the X5 M and X6 M. It's a trend that will also extend to future incarnations of the M3 and M5, bringing to an end a fine tradition of naturally aspirated power plants.
It Definitely Has M Power
With 335 horsepower at 5,900 rpm, the 1 Series M Coupe can't match the 414 hp of the M3 and its 4.0-liter V8. But what it lacks in outright power it more than makes up for in torque. With a nominal 332 pound-feet, it boasts 37 lb-ft more than the M3, and it is delivered on a wide band of revs stretching from just 1,500 rpm all the way through to 4,500 rpm. It'll even spit out 369 lb-ft for periods of full-throttle acceleration in so-called overboost mode, although only briefly.
There's no doubting the effectiveness of it all. We expected the 1 Series M Coupe to be fast, but it still came as a surprise to discover just how fast it really is in a straight line. Coupled to a slick-shifting six-speed manual — the only gearbox available — the engine is tremendously effective, hauling the new M car's 3,296 pounds with real gusto.
With all that torque concentrated so low, you don't actually need many gears. You can call up 5th and pull on anything between 30 and 130 mph. The overall flexibility is truly impressive and quite unlike the peaky delivery of earlier M cars.
But there is another side to the 1 Series M Coupe, one that's sure to please the traditionalists. Despite the inclusion of turbochargers, the muscular properties of the engine don't trail off beyond 4,500 rpm — the point where peak torque begins to subside. If anything, it continues to feel stronger the closer you run it to the 7,000-rpm cutout. Revs rise in an urgent fashion, but without any lag.
BMW claims zero to 62 mph (100 km/h) in 4.9 seconds and zero to 124 mph (200 km/h) in 17.3 seconds, but you can forget the official figures. Like most performance-oriented BMWs of late, it's sure to be underrated. Our long-term 2008 135i took 5.1 seconds to reach 60 mph with nearly 28,000 miles on the clock. There's no argument about its top speed, though. Like all M cars, it is limited to 155 mph.
To get a better idea of the 1 Series M Coupe's real-world performance, it's better to focus on BMW's in-gear claims. Official figures suggest it'll storm from 50-75 mph in 4th gear in just 4.1 seconds. By way of comparison, the German carmaker says the M3 requires 4.7 seconds for the same discipline. It's this usable performance that makes the new car so persuasive.
Certainly Not Perfect
One area where the 2011 BMW 1 Series M lags the M3 is throttle response. The N54 straight-6 doesn't deliver the razor-sharp reactions you get in the M3. Power delivery is another issue. Despite the inclusion of an M variable differential, with its capability to provide 100 percent lock-up, the engine is strong enough to see the rear tires (265/35R19 in profile) break traction even in dry conditions, which causes the DSC+T (dynamic stability control and traction) system to constantly engage.
With a relatively small 14-gallon (U.S.) fuel tank, though, the 1 Series M Coupe's range is not a strong point. Although BMW's M division claims combined average consumption of 24.5 mpg (U.S.) on the European cycle, full-throttle running quickly sees it drop; we saw 15.2 mpg appear on the onboard computer at one stage, a figure that, if sustained, would only get you 212 miles down the road before a need to refill.
The Real M Parts
Better news comes from the chassis, which takes the standard 1 Series Coupe suspension geometry, but enhances it with components from the M3. The biggest change concerns the track widths, which have increased by 2.8 inches and 1.7 inches front and rear, respectively. As well as endowing the 1 Series M Coupe with a terrific stance, they also extend its dynamic properties, adding a further dimension in available grip. There are also the obligatory changes to the springs and damper rates, both of which have been firmed up quite appreciably along with beefed-up antiroll bars.
On public roads you're immediately aware of the heightened dynamic properties. The 1 Series M Coupe always feels far more responsive and agile than lesser versions of the 1 Series which, given the amount of tinkering that has taken place underneath, is no real surprise. It is both remarkably competent and entertaining — qualities that clearly set it apart as a real M car.
The new coupe is capable of carrying big speeds down winding back roads without any premature breakaway, and it rewards the driver with a terrifically neutral handling balance as lateral forces begin to build. The front end, which wears a pair of P245/35 size tires, is extremely secure, successfully delaying the onset of understeer in all but the tightest of corners. Excellent damping control also ensures roll angles are kept well in check.
The steering has improved, too. The speed-sensitive hydraulically operated arrangement adopts a much more direct ratio (12.4:1) than the standard 1 Series Coupe (16.0:1), imbuing the 1 Series M Coupe with added response and more urgent turn-in properties. But with increased weighting, you really have to work for it. The result? The sort of confidence-inspiring qualities that quickly see you edging up to the limits.
The Right Tool for the Job
Did we mention that it's stupid fun with the DSC+T switched off? With the computers looking the other way, you can rely on the muscular properties of the engine to send the rear end into a progressive drift on the exit of corners. There are no qualms about the brakes, either. Lifted straight off the M3, they feature 14.2-inch vented and cross-drilled discs up front and 13.8-inch vented and cross-drilled discs out back. They're over-dimensioned for the job at hand, but at the same time ultra-reliable.
There's no denying we like the 2011 BMW 1 Series M Coupe. Even if it doesn't have a dedicated engine or a proper name, it delivers the goods on the road. The sounds, the power, the looks, they're all there. It deserves an M badge.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
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