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BMWBLOG Test Drive: 2011 BMW 1 Series M Coupe

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My in-laws stopped by today to show off their new Honda Accord; V6, four doors, automatic, it’s a nice, well built, comfortable car . . …

My in-laws stopped by today to show off their new Honda Accord; V6, four doors, automatic, it’s a nice, well built, comfortable car . . . if you’re looking for transportation. And that’s just it, BMW builds cars for folks that want something more than transportation. Making arguably the best set of sports sedans and coupes available, BMW is known for its focus on the driver’s seat. And then there’s the M cars.

M has always been special, right from the beginning with the epic M1. And the 1M continues the tradition established by M of taking driver focused cars and honing them to a razor sharp edge. The new 1M doesn’t disappoint in that regard. Since I own a 135i, I feel pretty comfortable in relating how the 1M compares to its, now, ‘little’ brother.

BMWBLOG Test Drive: 2011 BMW 1 Series M Coupe

The 135i is no slouch, quick, agile and capable of comfortably devouring two lane highways with aplomb. But if there’s a criticism of the 135i it would be that it is more motor than chassis. It’s a bit soft – maybe too compliant for some tastes. Fortunately there are a ton of aftermarket mods for the suspension and, in my case, Continental ExtremeContact DW tires and Koni FSD dampers have gone a long way to enhancing the feel of my 135i. But there’s more that can be done . . .

“…the 1M continues the tradition established by M of taking driver focused cars and honing them to a razor sharp edge.”

And that’s just what the M group has been up to. The brilliant little short wheelbase 3 series that is the 1 series is a good starting point for the newest M car. The 1M benefits greatly from all of the wonderful M suspension bits from the M3. It sharpens the 135i and does so without too great a penalty in ride quality.

The trip to the Monticello Motor Club facility put about 80 miles on the 1Ms over mixed-quality twisty back roads on the way to the track. You notice the difference in spring rates over really broken road surfaces, but this car is still capable of soaking up a lot of road imperfections without jarring fillings loose from your teeth. This is not a Lancer Evo setup (another brilliant little car), which elicits grins for the first ten minutes on back roads and then grimaces for the remainder of the trip as the truly ‘too stiff for street use’ suspension reveals itself.

And then there’s the motor, what on paper appears to be a simple reuse of the Z4 35is tuned N54B30 is actually more than that. The Z4 35is uses the seven speed DCT box and is tuned for that gearbox. The 1M, using the six speed manual, gave way to different engine tuning to optimizes it for the manual gearbox.

BMWBLOG Test Drive: 2011 BMW 1 Series M Coupe

They found some idle torque laying around in the engine mappings and put it to work. And then the driveline components had to be enhanced to take the increased torque delivery and it’s all capped off with the M3 limited slip differential. And, as an added bit of urgency, the final drive ratio is ‘shorter’ (numerically higher) in the 1M than the 135is. That was discovered as 60 mph on the 1M in sixth gear was at a noticeably higher RPM than in the 135i (and the ratios in the gearbox are shared from the 135i to the 1M).

On the highway the one minor quibble I have with this car is that the exhaust drones a bit at constant speed (around 60 – 70 mph). But man oh man does it sound good when you put your foot in it and when you lift (when it breaks in there’ll be an even more wonderfully sonorous burble on lift throttle). But, unlike other reviews I’ve seen, I have no complaints regarding the steering weight.

The combination of M front suspension bits and the Michelin Pilot Sports have enhanced the steering feel. Much more info is being passed up into your hands from the road surface in the 1M than the 135i. But it isn’t harsh by any stretch of the imagination.

BMWBLOG Test Drive: 2011 BMW 1 Series M Coupe

So on the road, you can throw a couple of kids in the back, the spouse in the passenger seat and head out on vacation. It works just like a 135i in that regard with just a bit of a compromise to comfort in the suspension.

But, once the commutermobile duties are dispensed with, and you pull the helmet out of the bag, this car comes alive! Press the M button on the steering wheel to liven up the accelerator mappings and then go into M Dynamic Mode via the center stack button, make sure you’re strapped in tight, and head for the apex of turn 1.

“At track out, you can take it right to the edge of the pavement and keep it there; it doesn’t wiggle or wander.”

The suspension has been tuned to eliminate roll and the beefy front tires (and wider wheels) have all but banished the understeer felt in the 135i to a faint memory. And, like all M cars, the steering is quick and ultra precise. You can put this car exactly where you want it. At track out, you can take it right to the edge of the pavement and keep it there; it doesn’t wiggle or wander.

And then there’s the brakes – yes the floating calipers aren’t as visually compelling as the fixed six pot fronts on the 135i, but boy howdy do they work! And the cross drilled rotors do a good job of dispelling heat. No brake fade was encountered (although I wasn’t using the binders as heavily as others).

BMWBLOG Test Drive: 2011 BMW 1 Series M Coupe

I availed myself of some instruction from Allison Duncan, an instructor at the BMW Performance Driving School. And with her help explored some of my limits as well as the cars. The 1M is more car than most will ever be able to take advantage of. It’s limits on the track are way beyond mine, but fortunately, when I did get a bit ham handed, the 1M never bit back.

“The 1M on the track is addictive. It’s a combination of great sounds, great chassis, and a thoroughly well matched powerplant to the car.”

I was having some fun trying to do well in a double apex corner, and a couple of times I came in too hot and had to stay on the brakes a bit longer (a bit past turn in to be honest) and trailing brake isn’t the recommended method for this car. But it just shrugged it off, scrubbed more speed and when I got off the binders it had no problem turning in and getting me through the corner.

The 1M on the track is addictive. It’s a combination of great sounds, great chassis, and a thoroughly well matched powerplant to the car. It’s shorter wheelbase makes it just that much more nimble than larger cars and all of that torque, available almost off idle this will make the 1M a killer on any track with a surfeit of slow speed corners. This thing is nasty quick, it just digs hard out of the corners. Go wide open throttle and you’ll get the additional torque from the overboost function for about five seconds, enough to propel you headlong into the next corner.

BMWBLOG Test Drive: 2011 BMW 1 Series M Coupe

But it all comes back to how easy this car is to drive. It’s forgiving, sure footed, exceptionally quick, with a brilliant set of brakes and great steering and steering feel. If you ever intend to do track days (and especially if you’re a track day junkie) this car has to be at the top of the short list.

And that gets us to the issues of price and availability. At a base price of $47,010 in the US, this is about as inexpensive a route into a high performance car as you’ll find. It has the ability to shine on the track and yet more than adequately serve as daily transportation. As to availability, well we know that BMW has said they’ll make at least 800 for model year 2011 (with no word on production beyond the 2011 model year). That’s at least 800, more can be made depending on demand.

BMWBLOG Test Drive: 2011 BMW 1 Series M Coupe

“It’s forgiving, sure footed, exceptionally quick, with a brilliant set of brakes and great steering and steering feel.”

What may limit demand is the fact that the 1M only comes with a manual transmission. Couple that with the fact that only three exterior colors are available (one being an arresting orange, pun intended). And you can get the interior in any color you want as long as it’s black (and leather at that).

But the 1M is an intoxicating blend of chassis and engine that has to be experienced on the track to be understood. It has M tires, M suspension, M tuned engine, and M brakes.

So what do we say, is it an M car? Absolutely!

  • Manny Antunes

    Great write up Hugo! Spot on with the evaluation. You left out the part where Allison scare you half to death… ;-)

  • Dan G

    Great review!!! So glad I ordered this car! October can’t come soon enough

  • Dan G

    So tough choice now for many buyers. M3 vs 1M….

    What’s your favorite color on the 1M?

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000477069969 Hugo Becker

      White, the orange is just way too visible, if you know what I mean. ; -)

  • Michael Dunlop

    I am sold. Where can I find one?

    Hugo, tell me more about the track experience…how fast is the car really? Better than you expected?

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000477069969 Hugo Becker

      They didn’t let us use the main straight on the south course, so we didn’t really reach terminal speed (in all senses of the word ‘terminal’ ;-). Most automakers know that you have to impose limits on these types of events because driver skills vary widely. I will say there were some journos there that are very good drivers with plenty of high speed seat time.

      That said, I doubt we ever reached 100 – but that’s not the point. The amount of torque available at a ridiculously low RPM catapults this car from corner to corner. It’s more about how quickly it accelerates than top speed.

      The chassis is spot on – biased toward the track, yet still livable in the real world. A true race car will just shake the snot out of you on anything but a race track, so this isn’t a full on race car. But wow, it is a track day tool and a half.

      They could sell a ton of these if they had an optional DCT. I, on the other hand, am glad it’s a manual. I guess I’m old-fashioned (as well as old ;-).

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000404206443 Misha Nikolich

    Great job on the review, Mr. Becker! As a current 135i coupe owner – could you see yourself owning a 1M in the future?

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000477069969 Hugo Becker

      No – I don’t think so. I’m not doing a lot of track time and that’s this cars forte (and I think purpose in life). There’s still a few things I’d like to do to the suspension on the 135i, but the 1M would just get me into trouble (not that the 135i can’t ;-)

  • Future1M

     In your opinion, is there anything different that BMW could have done with this car? Beside the DCT. 

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000477069969 Hugo Becker

       Well, I don’t care for the DCT myself. I am of the opinion that any gearbox that has the ability to be put in ‘D’ will end up spending most of its time there. And I’ve only owned cars with manual transmissions (the wife has had the automatic cars). 

      However, the lack of a DCT limits the appeal of the car, and a DCT would have been the perfect choice for a track day car. Beyond that I think they did a brilliant job making the 135i just that much better.

  • Shawn

     Fantastic write up Hugo.  Entertaining as always.  I also enjoyed your direct comparisons drawn from your 135i ownership.  

    How is the clutch weighted?  Fairly heavy?  

    In my experience, most track day junkies are heavily focused on honing the “art” of driving, and that is inextricably linked to mastering three pedals, not two.  I personally don’t think that the manual only option will hinder sales of this car, and I love that it adds more credibility to the M brand for building a manual only car, as if to say, “only hot shoes welcome.”

    Thanks for the great read Hugo!

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000477069969 Hugo Becker

      Clutch didn’t feel any different than the 135i – I grew up driving Mustang’s w/o hydraulic assist on the clutch so it has to be pretty heavy before I notice it.

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  • Giom

    I just don’t get the Brits… Top Gear magazine failed the new 6 series for being too good at everything. British Car Magazine chose the RS3 over the 1M because it’s a better allrounder than the BMW. Even tho the BMW was the most fun to drive. Poor BMW, just can’t win with these Brits!

    Btw, I’ll get to this write up later, I just had to get that off my chest. Can’t wait! 

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  • Bryan Davidson

    Hugo, is this better than the E30 M3? Or better question: is it the new E30 M3? I can’t decide between an M3 ZCP and 1M

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000477069969 Hugo Becker

      Bryan, unfortunately I don’t the answer to that never having driven an E30 M3.However, it’s a very different experience than an E46 M3. I found the E46 M3′s steering to be a bit sharper (for some reason) and to me the E46 M3 felt like it was up on the balls of its feet (like a sprinter). The 1M is a bit more relaxed.

      The other thing of note is that this engine is nothing like the S54B30. The N54B30 on the 1M reminds me of a 396 big block (if I can make that comparison), just loads of grunt at low rpm that is really addictive – but it doesn’t shine at the top of its RPM range. It’s a great motor but substantially different than a peaky powerplant.

      I happen to work on the principle that I’ll take as much low speed torque for a street car (and a wide flat powerful torque curve for a race car). Most people don’t understand the difference between torque and HP so here’s a little link on the origins of the term ‘horsepower’ that may help explain it: http://auto.howstuffworks.com/horsepower.htm

      And then there’s explanation of converting torque to HP:
      http://www.howstuffworks.com/question622.htm

      And I’m not sure any of that helps with the E30 M3 question. ;-)

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  • John.

    Hugo, Help me out here… I have a serious problem on my hands. I just bought a brand new Lancer EVO X GSR about 4 months ago. I love the car but after seeing this new M car I am considering selling the EVO (and taking a HUGE hit in the wallet) to buy a 1M.

    How would you say the 2 cars compare? The 1M definately wins in the interior department… but thats not my main concern. Do you think this baby M is faster than an EVO? Does it handle as well? Will I miss the AWD? Will it be as much fun to drive?

    Any help or insight is greatly appreciated. I really love the 1M but I’m worried it may be a step back in performance. If it’s pretty close or better than the EVO I just may take the plunge =)

    Thanks in advance for your thougts.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000477069969 Hugo Becker

      My experience with Evo’s is with the Evo VIII and IX, haven’t driven the latest. First I think you’ll find the 1M is simpler, no fiddly stuff – it’s a pretty straight up, press the M button on the steering wheel for throttle maps and the DCT button in the center stack and then you shift and steer from there.

      I think the 1M will be better as a daily driver than the Evo, unless the new iteration of the Evo is much softer than an Evo 8 or 9 were.

      As far as faster? Hmmmm, remember that BMW is WAY conservative in their stated numbers. They say 4.7 seconds 0-60, I suspect it’s quicker than that. The one thing that I believe you’d notice immediately is the amount of torque right off idle.

      I like well done AWD but I really like the separation of ‘church and state’ (steering and power delivery) that RWD offers.

      It would be a hard call to take the hit on the Evo though. All I can recommend is that you try as hard as possible to get a test drive in one – but that’s going to be difficult, I’m afraid.

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  • Welc0me

    This is he best bmw made so far,espechially compared to its ugly family members like the m5.
    Thumbs up to this car for bmw!

  • Anonymous

    The first paragraph is so true. It’s exactly what I tell ‘non-believers’ when they comment to me that “BMW’s are over-priced”.

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    BMW 1 series offers an excellent packaging of
    feature rich luxury, style and sporty performance.

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