While BMW’s “M” cars are designed and built in Germany, it’s clear to me that the engineers in Bavaria have more than a little bit of New Jersey attitude in their DNA. And that’s never more apparent than with the new 1 Series M – a small package with a big personality. (Oh yeah, Just like New Jersey!)
If you have followed the BMW line over the past 20 years, the size and power of its cars have grown from the E36 3 Series – once their smallest car offered in the USA – to the new E90 series, cars larger and heavier than the 5 Series sedans of just a few years ago. And while the 3 Series is still the benchmark for fast, powerful and fun luxury sedans, many want-to-be BMW owners found the new 3 too big, heavy and/or expensive for their tastes.
To satisfy the demands of the younger, price conscious and/or performance oriented buyer, BMW introduced the 1 Series (E81) – a small and less expensive model that manages to retain all of the qualities that make a BMW a BMW.
While the 1 Series was well received and has sold well, pundits often speculated about what would happen if the boys in the M division waved their hot rod magic wand on the very practical 1 Series. Speculate no more – the new 1 Series M. (Note: Never say M1 – that’s reserved for a very special, classic BMW).
Announced in July of 2010, the M guys took a basic 1 Series coupe and added all of the underpinnings from the M3 to make the 1 Series M handle, ride and stop like every M ever made. Add to that a slick shifting manual six-speed transmission mated to a 335 horsepower twin turbo straight six cylinder and you have the makings of a racecar for the street. The interior was not neglected by the M team, with very supportive, adjustable and comfortable sports buckets installed.
Compared with the non-M cars, the 1 Series M Coupe is 2.1 inches wider, 0.2 inches longer, and 0.5 inches taller. The M coupe is 77 pounds lighter than the 135i, weighing in at 3,296 pounds. The 1 Series M comes standard with 19 inch rims shod with 245/35 tires up front and 265/35 tires out back.
Exterior paint choices are limited to just 3 colors – Metallic black, Metallic Orange and non-metallic refrigerator white. (White being one of two official German racing colors.)
As you can imagine, performance on the 1 Series M is nothing short of amazing. The combination of lightweight, high horsepower and really strong low-end torque (332 lb-ft at just 1,500 RPM) make for “Oh My Goodness!” acceleration. Quicker, in fact that many pure sports cars (can you spell Porsche Boxster or Cayman?) with a sub 5 second 0-60 time.
But we’re car people, not accountants so reading numbers off a page are not the true measure of a car’s fun factor. You really have to drive a car to experience how well the bits and pieces work to bring a smile to your face. I recently had the good fortune to drive a 1 Series M on the twisty back roads in rural up state NY and follow that up with several fast laps on the Monticello Motor Club race track. I even had a chance to drive it back to back on the track against a Porsche Cayman R. And without a moment’s hesitation, I have to say; the 1 Series M is an amazing, exciting and highly desirable car. Period!
Handling was direct without being darty (a common problem for short wheel base cars). Cornering speeds on the racetrack are very high but control at the limit proved to be very predictable with gradual breakaway. I attribute it to a near perfect 50/50 weight balance, a highly evolved and tuned sport suspension and sticky but forgiving tires.
The shifter was snick-snick perfect making me speculate, once again, why almost anyone buying a BMW would ever select an automatic. (Yes, I understand, there are drivers with special needs but what about the rest of you?)
And let’s not forget the brakes! BMW brakes are probably among the finest made on any car, but when you see the M badge on a BMW, you have a right to expect more. In this car, that expectation is met. The brakes were fade free on the track, hauling my little M down safely from triple digit speeds, lap after lap.
The ride on the street was stiff but not jarring, the seats were perfectly suitable for sporting driving, yet comfortable enough for a long trip – I loved them. Road noise was minimal but you could always hear the growl of the engine when you pressed hard on the go-pedal. I loved this as well.
All of this goodness, alas, comes with a price. Base sticker is about $47,000 (includes destination charges). If you add heated front seats (always a good idea in New Jersey), the convenience and premium package, your sticker would be a tick over $53,000 minus tax and tags. Not cheap, but a heck of a lot of car for the money.
Do good things come in small packages? With the 1 Series M, as with New Jersey, the answer is a resounding YES!