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BMW 1 Series seems less than M caliber

BMW released the M version of its 1 Series coupe, a vehicle with a little more horsepower and slightly better handling than the next model down, the 135i. CNET reviews the new car to see if it really earns its M badge.

BMW 1 M Coupe
Wayne Cunningham/CNET

When BMW announced the M version of its 1 Series last year, we were skeptical. From the specs, the car seemed too close in performance to the already excellent 135i. Now we've had a chance to test the 1 M Coupe and, well, it didn't change our opinion much.

The 1 M Coupe boasts only 35 more horsepower than the 135i. While launching the 1 M Coupe gives an exciting rush as the speedometer climbs to 60 mph, the adrenaline levels reached in the 135i are not that much different.

BMW widened the track of the 1 M Coupe and includes its M Dynamic Mode for traction control. That latter piece of the equation may make the difference. In normal mode, the 1 M Coupe's traction control stepped on our cornering efforts heavily. The M Dynamic Mode made a huge difference, letting the back end drift out a bit and not arresting all power at the apex.

We've heard the argument that the 1 M Coupe represents a return to a pure sports car, without the same kind of technology that lets the BMW M3 chop up turns into bite-size pieces. But like it or not, the current M3 is the state of the art for BMW high-tech performance. The 1 M Coupe does not even aspire to its level, and it looks like BMW is using the M badge as a marketing tool, rather than a designation for its best-performing vehicles.

Read our review of the 2011 BMW 1 M Coupe.