We have a problem. As of last week BMW UK had already sold more than 2/3rds of their 1 Series M Coupé allocation, and unless the new M5 really pulls a rabbit out of a hat, this innocuous-looking entry-level M car is probably the best car BMW have produced in nearly a decade.

How did I arrive at such a preposterous conclusion? After all isn’t this just a 135i with a re-mapped twin-turbo six engine and a fancy body kit?

Well, on a scale of 1 to 10, where 10 is “I’ve just been given a free lunch” and 1 signifies “I’ve been screwed”, the 1 Series M Coupé is a 12. And a half. Seriously.

Setting off from the short-stay car park at Inverness Airport, after collecting the keys to our pumpkin-hued baby M-car, the first thing that struck me was how well the 1M fitted. Like a well-designed pair of jeans, I felt immediately at home, the steering felt crisp and attentive, the exhaust burbled away purposefully – I knew right away that the 1M and me would get along just fine. 1 Series M Coupe on track Then 50 yards beyond the car park exit and we meet our first roundabout – time to find out if this is really an M-car. If you’ve had the pleasure of owning (or driving) an M-car then you’ll be familiar with this moment – the empty roundabout. Whilst extensive testing and development on the Nürburgring might represent the serious side of the M brand, for most of us outside of a track day, the humble British roundabout represents the best opportunity to feel the genius that’s gone into creating the variable M differential – a device so simple (in theory) but essential in pitching the tail of an M-car sideways under throttle… and keeping it there.

The 1M passed the test with honours. Not since the iconic M3 CSL has an M-car been produced that rewards such a side-window navigation style of driving. The M differential deliver the perfect tag-team performance alongside the 1M’s quick and responsive steering, meaning that anyone (not just the slide-heroes) can enjoy the 1M’s perfect 50:50 balance.

Rather than continue eulogising about the 1M’s talents, not least because there are so many that by the time you read this article all remaining 1M’s will have been sold, I thought it would be more useful to just focus on the reasons why you’d wish you’d got your cheque book out and secured one for yourself.

So here goes. Just hum along to the tune of Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ and by the time I’ve finished you should be ready to pick up the phone or search the classifieds for your own little piece of M-heaven.

BMW 1 Series M Coupe

The Sweet Spot

  • Engine (8 out of 10)

    The 3-litre twin-turbocharged N54 engine is a familiar unit in BMWs, having already appeared in the 135i, 335i, Z4 and even X5/X6. But what would appear to be a downside ends up being one of the 1M’s greatest strengths. BMW claim that the engine produces 332bhp @5,900 rpm and 332lb/ft of torque (450 Nm, or 500 Nm/370 lb/ft available in over-boost mode), which sounds respectable but by no means exceptional for an M-car.

    However it feels quicker than that – much quicker and according to a dyno test performed by US magazine Inside Line, there’s a reason why. The figures measured by Inside Line were 326bhp and 362lb/ft (at the wheels), now allowing for even minimal transmission losses very few cars can retain more than 80% of the power produced at the flywheel by the time it reaches the wheels – that would mean power at the flywheel (which is the way all manufacturers quote their figures) for the car tested by Inside Line of well over 400 bhp..

    To quote the well known film, Dude, Where’s My Car? – Sweet! Dude! Sweet!

    So what does 400bhp in a 1 Series feel like? The overriding sensation is one of effortless performance, I’ve seen some reviewers refer to the 1M as being all about torque but I feel that’s misleading. The most effective way of driving quickly in the 1M is certainly to surf along on a plentiful supply mid-range torque, but the engine pulls hard until 6,500 rpm after which it flattens out.

    This is an engine which is reminds me most of Porsche’s 997 Turbo, not in its absolute performance but in the way it can warp distances with very little movement of the throttle. Within its slug of acceleration from mid-range to peak power I’d say it was probably quicker than an E92 M3 – it’s that good.

    Downsides? Very few really. There’s no discernible turbo lag whatsoever, but unlike M-cars of old there’s little reward in stringing the engine out to its rev limiter. I found this initially disappointing, but once I’d explored the 1M’s wider talents, I soon forgot about the loss of a few thousand revs. If it were any other make of car, it wouldn’t be worthy of comment, but if like me you’ve become accustomed to the high-revving engines fitted to M cars during the past decade, then its worth noting.

    One further point if I’m being really picky is the 1M’s behaviour during heel-and-toe down-changes, the turbocharged nature of the straight-six engine and perhaps also the setup of the throttle map makes blipping the throttle on down-changes a difficult and unrewarding exercise, that’s one of the characteristics I like so much about the M3, but I suspect I’m probably in a minority. Most people will be more than happy with the character and performance of the 1M’s engine. It’s definitely good enough to be considered a proper M car engine.

    Take a closer look:   Make sure you select ‘M’ mode on the steering wheel when you first drive a 1 Series M Coupé, it makes a huge difference to the responsiveness and outright squirt-ability of the car and arguably results in a more relaxing car to drive quickly.

BMW 1 Series M Coupe

  • Steering and confidence at the wheel (7 out of 10)

    One of the most important attributes of any high-performance car is how it feels to steer under throttle and at speed, a car which is nervous or unpredictable when turning into a corner will be slower (and a lot less enjoyable) than one who’s steering and chassis response inspires confidence.

    Of all the 1 Series M Coupé’s many capabilities, I found this to be its least impressive. The steering provides plenty of feel and response for those lairy roundabout moments, but at speed beginning that turn into a corner there’s a slight looseness to the first degree or two of input which is initially disconcerting. The solution is to turn in progressively but confidently, overcoming any slight vagueness and enabling the 1M’s well planted front end to start feeding back those reassuring signs of composure.

    Over the 300 miles or so of our test, my confidence grew and the 1M proved to be an indecently quick tool across the fast and twisty highland roads around Inverness. More telling is how this confidence remained throughout the day, on both wet and dry roads and every conceivable road surface – a 400 bhp rear-wheel drive car that remains rewarding and fun on wet roads is a good car indeed. Very good.

    Take a closer look:   Make sure you get a good feel for the steering response in the 1M early on in your acquaintance with the car, any slight vagueness when turning into fast corners is easily overcome by using more progressive steering inputs. Depending on what you’re used to this may come naturally or take a few miles of practice.

BMW 1 Series M Coupe

  • Agility becomes the new watchword for modern day M cars (A big fat 10 out of 10)

    If I had any reservations about the 1 Series M Coupé’s high speed turn-in, then this was completely eradicated the moment we came across a series of tight and twisty turns in the hills near Glen Urquhart. If you thought an M3 was quite agile, then welcome to the new benchmark in the M car stable.

    The 1 Series M Coupé is not like other 1 Series models, for a start it uses numerous key suspension components, originally conceived for the BMW M3, which have then been modified for use in this car. Think of it as having all of the best bits of the M3, but with more than 100 kg less mass to carry around.

    It was on that Scottish hillside that all the pieces clicked into place, the punchy engine, quick steering and unimpeachable chassis were laughing at my attempts to challenge their supremacy. Having been an M3 CSL owner myself for almost 8 years, I thought I’d learned all there was to know about BMW’s best rear-drive chassis, but the 1 Series M Coupé was so much fun that I turned around and tackled the same set of tight cambered curves again. Twice.

    It’s hard to think of a more enjoyable chassis in these circumstances, I’d need to compare it back to back with a Porsche Cayman and even then I suspect the result would be close. But whilst the 1M dismissed my attempts to dent its composure at speed, the really delightful observation is how enjoyable it feels even at slow speeds. Despite what you might have read elsewhere, the 1 Series M Coupé is not some track-focused toy, it’s a great all rounder, comfortable along our uniquely surfaced British roads, an easy companion on motorways and yet a car so quick and competent that you’ll find yourself laughing out loud that you’ve been lucky enough to bag one.

    And did I mention it retails at only £40,020 on-the-road?

    Now pick up the phone or get yourself down to a BMW dealer before they’ve all been snapped up. Trust me, you’ll be sorry if you don’t.

    Take a closer look:   Driving a 1 Series M Coupé on a tight and twisty b-road will rate right up there with one of the best drives of your life. I challenge you to find a more fun drivers car for the price.


Written By

Steve Davies

Steve is an investor, private equity advisor and former Partner at KPMG, PwC and Bain.   Most importantly he's a life-long car enthusiast, mountain biker and active sports enthusiast. He designs and builds technology platforms and is the architect behind Transmission.

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