If, like us, you thought the 1 Series was the runt of the BMW litter, then prepare to have your misconceptions ripped from your puny, judgmental brain and stomped on. The latest addition to the range, the souped-up 1 Series M Coupe, promises a more powerful engine, race-derived underpinnings and sporty styling.
But can our £45,340 model live up to the legacy of the iconic M cars that came before it? We attended the car's UK launch, hopped in and belted up to find out. The range starts at £40,020.
We've had just about enough of seeing the standard 1 Series on British streets -- the car is as common as facial herpes after an apple-bobbing contest. We'll make an exception for the 1 Series M Coupe, though. Sure, it bears a resemblance to the vanilla 1 Series saloon, but crucial tweaks, including oversized front air intakes, quad exhausts and flared wheel arches, which had to be widened to accommodate the wider track of the M3-derived chassis, give it an attractive, somewhat menacing appearance.
Sadly, the interior is standard fare. The only clues to this car's M heritage are some understated suede detailing below the dashboard and on the seat panelling, an M badge on the gear knob, and a plaque reminding users that their car is one of just 450 that will be released in the UK.
Many manufacturers compromise on cabin tech, skimping on luxuries when creating hot versions of their day-to-day cars, but not BMW. The 1 Series M Coupe has enough gadgets inside to make any self-respecting geek dribble over themselves even more than usual.
Most of the tech is controlled via a 10-inch display mounted on the dashboard. The display forms the basis of BMW's Professional Multimedia navigation system -- a £2,010 option. Sadly, the screen isn't touch-sensitive, so it might ruffle the feathers of the smart-phone set.
Instead, users interact with the display via BMW's iDrive control system, a knob in the centre console that must be twisted, rocked, pushed and pulled to navigate between or select menu options.
We found the interface rather fiddly to use. It requires you to bend your wrist in a way that makes us think the designer is either double-jointed or has unnaturally short forearms. The user interface, which isn't dissimilar to the sliding interface used on the Xbox 360 dashboard, is also quite illogical on occasions. Those who persist with it will unlock many a tech treat, though.
One of the biggest weapons in the 1 Series M Coupe's gadget arsenal is the ConnectedDrive service, which links the car to the Internet via a suite of applications, an internal modem and a SIM card. This allows users to access most websites via the car's central display for a cost of £95 over a three-year period.
Your hard-earned money also buys you access to BMW's Google-powered point-of-interest search system, which uses our mighty search overlord to track down local businesses and tourists hotspots of your choosing. Once a POI has been selected, that location can be viewed using Google Street View or Google's Panoramia photo-sharing service.
It's also possible to download the latest news, sport and weather reports directly to the car. They can be read on the central display, or fed through ConnectedDrive's text-to-speech app and read aloud over the speaker system. The speech synthesiser is far from perfect -- it can sound like the headlines are being read by a foreign Dalek -- but we found it an extremely useful feature.
While the 1 Series M Coupe's text-to-speech technology may elicit a smirk, the optional £915 high-end Harman Kardon speaker system is no joke. The system comprises a 300W amplifier feeding sound through 10 speakers. Those numbers pale in comparison to the 1,200W, 20-speaker system in luxury cars such as the Jaguar XJ, but the kit in the 1 Series M Coupe more than holds its own. Its loud, clear and has enough low-end thump to act as a mild laxative.
It plays music via a wealth of sources, too. Old-school AM and FM radio, and new-school DAB radio make an appearance, and the head unit features a single CD slot. You have the option of installing a multi-disc changer in the boot.
The nav system in our test car was fitted with a 20GB hard drive, 8GB of which was dedicated to storing maps. The other 12GB could be used to store digital copies of music, which can be ripped from an audio CD or copied from a USB mass-storage device.
The gadgets and gizmos are mere sideshows to the 1 Series M Coupe's primary party piece -- breathtaking, seat-moistening, trouser-tenting performance. Unlike the naturally aspirated engines of previous M cars, this model uses a 3-litre twin-turbo engine that chucks out a highly respectable 340bhp and a whopping 450Nm of torque.
On paper, that's enough to push the car from a standstill to 60mph in 4.7 seconds, and onto an electronically limited top speed of 155mph, but it feels far quicker. The torque is especially impressive. Throw the six-speed, short-throw manual transmission from second to fifth gear -- either because you're an idiot, or because you're short-shifting to improve economy or boost the grip levels -- and the car still pulls like it's terrified of its own tail.
The 1 Series M Coupe's handling is, in a word, involving. At speed, every minor twist of the wheel results in a positive action, which can surprise you at first. But, after you've spent some time with the car, it begins to feel like an extension of your body, as if you're connected to the road via a vehicular interface.
The 1 Series M Coupe has prodigious amounts of grip, which is hardly surprising, as it uses the same chassis as the brilliant BMW M3, but it's not an easy car to drive at speed if you're a beginner. Throw it into a corner and the car shifts its weight quite suddenly towards the outside of the turn, throwing it off balance slightly.
This slightly unceremonious change in the centre of mass -- probably a consequence of the relatively compliant suspension -- could cause inexperienced drivers to attempt sudden mid-corner corrections, which could upset the car's balance further and lead to spins. Or death.
For experienced drivers, however, this mid-corner dynamism simply concentrates the mind and provides reason to improve your technique and smoothness. Get a corner right or, better yet, string together a sequence of perfectly tackled corners, and the 1 Series M Coupe provides you with a feeling of accomplishment that even some supercars can't.
The BMW 1 Series M Coupe is a brilliant car in so many ways. It's attractive, it packs in more high-end technology than many luxury cars, and it's so much fun to drive that you'll be cackling like a maniac at every bend. Buy it without hesitation.
Edited by Charles Kloet