Review and road test of the BMW 1 Series M Coupe (2011 - 2012)
BY ANDY ENRIGHT
It's fair to say that BMW has been a little less than choosy where it applies the M badge in recent years. There have been cars you'd rather forget about, those that do a job and then there are the rare gems. Cars like the 1 Series M Coupe. Here was a model that bolstered rather than devalued the M badge. It was everything you want in an M-car; ferociously quick, light on its feet, smart in the way it deployed its technology and capable of painting a huge grin on its owner's face. Small wonder that used 1 M Coupes are now highly sought after.
(2 door coupe: 3.0 petrol [M])
It's hard to believe that BMW took quite so long to bring us a hot 1 Series. The hatch model debuted in 2004 but it wasn't until the two-door coupe version was introduced in 2007 that we got a rapid 306bhp 135i model. BMW freely admits it was pleasantly surprised by the take up of the fastest model in the 1 Series range and realised that with the M3 becoming ever more expensive, there was both demand for a hot 1 Series and a hole in the range into which it could be neatly plugged.
BMW needed to be a little coy around its nomenclature though. An M3 or an M5 is clearly the M version of a 3 Series or a 5 Series, so it seemed logical to call a 1 Series Coupe with a proper 'M' motorsport engine the 'M1'. The trouble was that the 'BMW M1' name had already long ago been taken - and by a very different machine. That was used on a beautiful mid-engined supercar developed in the Seventies, with styling jointly conceived by Giugiaro in cooperation with Paul Bracq, BMW Design Studio designer of the time. That M1 was made so that BMW could go racing in the World Championship for Makes and ever since, for followers of the Munich brand, the M1 model has occupied a very special place in BMW's history.
All of which explains why the lairiest 1 Series ever made was badged the '1 Series M Coupe' at its launch in July 2010, conducted via an official YouTube video and press release. In December 2010, BMW officially announced all details of the car in the media for a 2011 model year release. The model was an instant hit with both press and public, BMW selling a healthy 400 cars in the UK before the model was finally deleted in November 2012.
What You Get
Stick with me a moment while I talk about the 1 Series M Coupe's stance. It's important. So many car manufacturers get this aspect of a sporting car wrong, but BMW have it so right with this model. Stance encompasses a number of qualities. The angle of the car's waistline, the visual relationship between the wheel and tyre and the corresponding relationship between wheels and wheel arches. Get it even slightly wrong and the design looks awkward and without dynamic tension. With a rear track that's been increased in width by 55mm and a chassis that sits properly hunkered down on its 19-inch Y-spoke alloy wheels, the 1 Series M Coupe looks power packed, like a Hanna-Barbera bottle rocket.
The interior features sports seats in Boston leather with Kyalami orange stitching that offer plenty of lateral support. Customers also get an M leather steering wheel, while there's Alcantara with Kyalami orange contrast stitching on the door trim, door inserts, handbrake and gear lever gaiter and instrument binnacle cowling. The M logo is also embossed in the front of the headrests. Like other 1 Series Coupe, access to the rear seats is a bit restricted but some recompense comes in the shape of a respectable 370-litre boot.
The car comes with a Dynamic Stability Control system that includes elements such as an anti-slip control function (ASC), brake assistant Dynamic Brake Control (DBC), a drive-off assistant, Cornering Brake Control (CBC), an anti-fading function and a dry brake function is also standard. There's also two-zone air-conditioning, cruise control, BMW Radio Business with MP3-capable CD player and six speakers. Options include Comfort Access, Harman Kardon Surround Sound System, Professional Navigation system with hard drive storage, Adaptive Headlights and High beam Assistant.
What to Look For
The 1 Series has gained a reputation as a tough little thing but there are a few issues which affect the 1 Series M Coupe. Look out for damaged wheelarch liners, usually the result of reversing the car on full lock. There have been reported issues with the high pressure fuel pump and the knock sensor but the most common problem is popping or cracking of the charge pipe, caused by a C-clip loosening or failing. The heating elements in the front seats are also prone to failure. Other than these sporadic issues, the 1 Series M Coupe is a reliable proposition for such a high performance car.
(based on a 2012 1 Series M Coupe - ex Vat) A clutch assembly is around £195. Front brake pads are around £70, a full exhaust about £450, an alternator around £100 and front tyres around £170. A starter motor is about £120.
On the Road
BMW already had a fantastic basis for an M model in the shape of its cracking 135i Coupe. With a twin-turbocharged, direct injection engine good for 306bhp and refreshingly compact dimensions, transforming this into an M car needn't have taken long. BMW didn't just turn the wick up on the 135i and plaster a few carbon bits about the interior though. The BMW 1 Series M Coupe has at its heart the same in-line six-cylinder engine, in this instance tweaked to develop a maximum output of 340bhp and with enough about it to guarantee zero to 60mph in just 4.7 seconds. Unofficial figures hint that this car is quicker around the N??rburgring Nordschleife than the previous generation E46 BMW M3. Equally impressive is the fact that maximum torque of 450Nm is produced from as little as 1,500rpm. A button on the steering wheel switches the car into M Dynamic Mode (MDM), sharpening throttle response instantly when you spot a decent section of road or need to punch in instant overtaking urge.
BMW has kept the 1 Series M Coupe's weight down by extensive use of aluminium, with both front and rear suspension assemblies being built from the stuff. The kerb weight of 1,495kgs translates to a power-to-weight ratio of 227bhp/tonne - again better than the E46 M3. As standard, the 1 Series M Coupe comes with a Variable M differential lock, compound brakes, DSC stability control with MDM and M Servotronic steering. The Variable M differential lock guarantees great traction out of corners or when encountering slippery surfaces.
The BMW 1 Series M Coupe is by no means a performance bargain, but its limited production run, riotous driving dynamics and rapturous critical reception ensure that it'll be remembered as one of the greatest BMW sports models of recent years. Think of it as a downsized M3 CSL and you're not too far off the mark. Perhaps we won't see its like again, BMW seemingly having waved goodbye to manual gearboxes in its sports models. If you want a car that can thrill like few others, you'll need to dig deep. We doubt you'll regret the decision though.
BMW 1 Series M Coupe (2011 - 2012) review by ANDY ENRIGHT