2011 BMW 1-series M Coupe Review
The ‘ultimate driving machine’ is back, and we call it the 1M!
By Shahzad Sheikh
BMW: big, bloated, over-complicated to drive, incongruous styling, and does not the ditching of ‘The Ultimate Driving Machine’ tagline signal a tacit admission of having lost its way down the wrong exit off the Autobahn somewhere? Well dust off that ‘Ultimate’ tagline, because like a great action hero in its twilight years, it’s been recalled for ‘one last job’.
The conversation went something like this:
Ultimate: ‘I’m not going back, I already told ya. Since the po-faced accountants took over and the precocious pen-men went all flame-surfacing, it just wasn’t the same. I was never a cog in the machine, I meant to make a difference. If I go back now, I’d just be lying to myself.’
Veteran sent to reenlist him: ‘I hear what you’re saying, but it’s different this time. We got the old team together, they’ve been working on a covert job – off the radar – we’ve come up with something I think you might like the sound of…’
Twin-turbo straight-six pumping out 335bhp, 332lb ft of torque on a short-wheel-base rear-wheel drive car through a short-throw six speed manual…
Oh yeah, I think we all like the sound of that!
And as we get to hear more… compact coupe bodystyle, plus suspension, brakes, 19-inch competition pack wheels and the smart-alec M Differential from the current M3.
It sounds like a reawakening is going on deep in the engineering bowels of the Bayerische Motoren Werke, where they appear to have cobbled together a pivotal motor. And if the men in lab-coats are standing on the precipice wondering which way to go now, I suggest they turn their backs on the ‘Gran Turismo’ editions and the M-badged SUVs, and follow me to where stands a BMW 1-series M Coupe, or 1M as we prefer to call it.
From ugly duckling to not-quite-swan, the 1-series started off life as a car only its mother could love, but things improved dramatically with the coupe that came three years later, as a shorter, tauter roof seemed to give context to the phat waist. But as an M, it’s evolved further into a belligerent beauty with more attitude and presence than its diminutive size would suggest – thanks partly to the Valencia Orange paint (also available in black or white). It’s helped by a wider track necessitating bigger wheel arches, massive air intakes to gulp more air, and four tailpipes flanked by even more air vents. It looks like it wants to punch way above its weight, and you know what, it does.
This is no tricked-out 135i. That engine has been dumped in favour of an old favourite from the Z4 with a pair of turbos forcing induction into a 3.0-litre straight six that will rev to over 8000rpm, for 0-100kph in 4.9 seconds and 250kph. But those figures don’t tell you that this engine is aggressive and rumbles with intent, giving grunt throughout the rev-range, particularly from the get-go.
Work the stubby little gear lever hard and you’ve got grip-busting performance. Fortunately the traction control seems to be working overtime, as the light appears to be on, constantly. But it’s a good kind of driver-aid, a newer version that doesn’t appear to be interfering too much, even though it’s saving your sorry behind on every corner. You start to learn some of this through a steering that’s meaty, chunky, crisp and talkative, and through the neutral-to-oversteer poise through the apexes often betrayed by a little jink that the back does.
Your confidence grows as you learn to drive this car, which is how it should be. Press on and it gets on the psychoanalyst’s couch, betraying its shortcomings and failings – which merely confirm what a keen driver will be discovering: this car is genius, because all genius is flawed. The ride for example, especially on the rough UK roads where I got to drive the car, gives you a pounding – it’s hard and fidgety and likes to tramline, but that just means it transmits precisely what you’re dealing with.
Anyway, it’ll cope a lot better on GCC roads. But unlike other M’s there’s no 74-settings for the suspension and twice as many again for the gearbox. In this car you get one button on the steering wheel marked ‘M’ which simply turns up what is already a pretty aggressive pocket rocket.
The interior may be looking a little dated, and the cabin is obviously a little cramped, but its old-skool contempt for more modern rivals that try to be all things to all people shines through and just adds to its appeal. And that’s the ultimate brilliance of this car, it feels like the sort of car BMW used to make, one that is focussed on performance and driving fun.
In fact, having been in the privileged position to try it for a few days during my holiday in the UK – it’ll be next to impossible to get a drive in one here – I can tell you that this car really only has two downsides.
Firstly, it’s a pricey little bugger, and that’s entirely due to the second issue, it’s a rare beast. Only a few hundred are being made and less than a handful will come to the Middle East – and those are all spoken for. So if I’ve got you all worked up ready to go out and sign the dotted line at the nearest BMW dealer – I’m sorry, but the honest truth is, they’re limited in numbers. BMW was originally going to build less than 3000 examples, but it has since relented and agreed to keep making them until early next year, when the entire current 1-series lineup is replaced. Still you’d better get your order in asap!
And that’s the ultimate tragedy of this ultimate driving machine. This little Beemer encompasses all that fans of yesteryear held dear about the marque; some of those qualities have certainly eroded in more recent years. Never mind us staring at and drooling over the 1M, BMW itself should take a long-hard look at this car and re-examine its current strategy.
Even if it concludes that it must build the multiple niche busting chariots of confusion currently sitting in showrooms, that’s fine, but surely there’s room to churn out more 1Ms and cars just like it.
Post-recession it’s all about getting back to basics baby, and the car makers better wise-up and jump on this bandwagon to motoring nirvana. We’ll be along for the ride!
Go on people, petition your dealers, I hear they’re open to suggestion…
How much? $60,000 (estimated, check with your local dealer)
Engine: 2979cc twin-turbo straight-six, 335bhp @ 5900rpm, 332 lb ft @ 1500-4500rpm
Transmission: Six-speed manual, rear wheel drive
Fuel Economy: 11.5l/100km
Performance: 4.9 sec 0-100, 250kph
How heavy? 1495kg
9/10 – Most ‘fun’ BMW I’ve driven in a very long time