BMW made a big mistake when it brought the 135i to the U.S. in 2007. If the company had anticipated building an M version of the 1 series, it should have brought out only the 128i at launch, reserving the twin turbo for the later M version. As it stands, the 2011 1 Series M Coupe hits the road with only 35 more horsepower than the 135i.
So the question becomes, does the 1 M Coupe really earn its M badge? The 1 M Coupe gets a wider track width, by 1.73 inches, than the 135i. Flared fenders and a different front air dam distinguish the M version from the 135i, although it could be mistaken for a custom body kit.
The M model gets some different suspension work and a variable slip differential. Robust brakes give the 1 M Coupe extra stopping power, which can be more finely applied.
BMW deems that this car's performance upgrades are enough to earn it the M badge.
Both models use BMW's N54 twin turbocharged 3-liter engine, although the M model has been tuned for more horsepower, boasting 335 hp along with its 332 pound-feet of torque. The 1 M Coupe features an M button on the steering wheel, which remaps the throttle for more aggressive response. And if you push the traction control button, the letters MDM appear on the instrument cluster.
With the 1 M Coupe you have a choice of three colors, compared with 13 for the 135i. The M3's active suspension technology is not available for the 1 M Coupe, nor is BMW's Double Clutch Transmission, which you actually can get on the 135i. But you could argue that limiting the 1 M Coupe to a six-speed manual makes it more of a pure sports car.
So the 1 M Coupe doesn't seem to have a whole lot over the 135i. Then again, it is not too much more expensive either, coming in at about seven grand more than the 135i's base $39,050.
When you push its start button, the 1 M Coupe gives a satisfying growl, but it is only a few kittens louder than the 135i. The M steering wheel is nice and thick, easy to grip while sawing through a turn, but that same wheel can be had as an option on the 135i.
The sport tuning of the 1 M Coupe's suspension is not so rigid as to make the ride uncomfortable. As with other BMW models, the car delivers very civilized comfort in the way it handles the rough spots in the road. It was a far cry from the jolting delivered by the Porsche 911 Carrera GTS.
This six-speed manual is the only transmission available for the 1 M Coupe. BMW doesn't offer its DCT.
When you activate M mode and aim for BMW's 4.9-second 0-to-62 mph time, the rear wheels give a little as the torque launches the car forward. The tachometer gives an indication of when to shift with a nice yellow zone from 6,500rpm to 7,000rpm. The shifter slots neatly through its gate, and second gear takes the car past 60 mph. The foot-down power spools up smoothly and inexorably, never seeming to let up.
On an excellent road with a ridiculous number of turns, some a series of esses, some tight hairpins going up a mountain, and some broad sweepers, the 1 M Coupe got to show its handling prowess. The brakes allowed good modulation ahead of the corners, and the car remained stable under even heavy braking. The wheel guided the car neatly into the corners.
But then the traction control light flashed like an overcoat-wearing pervert at a cheerleader parade, cutting off power to the rear wheels as the car tried to keep itself under control. With power reduced, it slogged out of the corner, destroying what might have been a sublime experience.
Through turn after turn, the traction control stepped heavily on the car. We had dutifully pushed the M button before tackling this road, and began looking everywhere around the cabin for some way of suspending traction control. And before being forced to look at the manual, we spotted it: a button with a traction control symbol next to the word off, at the top of the dashboard.
Pushing that button did not, in fact, turn the traction control off. Rather, it lit up those MDM letters on the instrument cluster, which put the car in M Dynamic Mode. After a little griping about how BMW should have caused that traction control mode to come on when we pushed the M button, it was back to road testing.
The M button on the wheel only changes the throttle mapping. You have to push the traction control button for M Dynamic Mode.
MDM delivered a strikingly different experience in the corners. No longer did the traction control light blink so furiously, although it still had occasion to come on. No longer did the car crawl out of each turn. Instead, MDM let the car get its back end a little wiggly, properly rotating around the tight turns. The 1 M Coupe's real performance was unleashed.
Now it really was fun. The car delivered on its sport promise, keeping a good amount of grip as we flogged it into the turns. It didn't mind a hard stomp on the gas coming out of the turns, able to perform as it was designed.
And in normal driving, leaving the traction control on MDM, the car didn't feel any less safe. It wasn't going to spin out while speeding over a cloverleaf or taking a fast 90-degree right turn at an intersection. In fact, M Dynamic Mode did seem worth the extra price of this car.
The 1 M Coupe isn't that much of an upgrade over the 135i, but is still very fun on a twisty road.
One attribute of current BMW M cars is that they all have a split personality. Turn off all the performance modes, and they saunter along the road like a poodle out for a Sunday stroll. But engage the M button, and the hundred or so other sport settings, and they suddenly become ferocious German shepherds, ready to swallow chunks of pavement whole.
The 1 M Coupe is not quite as extreme in that regard. It merely has mood swings rather than a full-blown bipolar disorder. It doesn't even chug gasoline like a race car, turning in an average of 20.1 mpg over a variety of driving conditions.
BMW Apps available
As with the car's stablemates, BMW lets you civilize the 1 M Coupe even more with a full suite of advanced cabin electronics. The vehicle BMW loaned to CNET came almost stripped, lacking the navigation and new BMW Apps feature. But its $2,000 Premium package brought in a Bluetooth phone system and iPod integration, along with a few other niceties that barely justified the price.
As equipped, this 1 M Coupe used its radio display to show a paired phone's contact list and an iPod's music library. BMW cleverly makes use of this very limited display, but it is really too small for lists of phone numbers or MP3 tracks. BMW should really go to a more robust standard display, as some other automakers are doing.
This radio display is barely adequate for showing an iPod's music library.
BMW makes HD Radio standard in its cars now, but Bluetooth streaming audio isn't available in the 1 M Coupe. The navigation option adds onboard hard-drive storage for music.
The stock stereo in the 1 M Coupe is better than average, delivering strong sound, but it doesn't elevate music to sublime levels. For that, you would need the optional 10-speaker Harman Kardon audio system.
More exciting is the BMW Apps option, which offers similar features to the Mini Connected option we recently tested in the 2011 Mini Cooper Clubman. You install BMW Apps on an iPhone and plug the phone into the car; it enables in-car Twitter and Facebook interfaces, and integrates Google local search into the navigation system. Although we weren't able to try it out, it worked very well in the Mini, and should be no different in the BMW.
The drawbacks to this system are that it only works with iOS devices, and you have to get the navigation system to enable it.
Recent navigation systems have been very good, with high-resolution maps, topographical features, and traffic data. With maps stored on a hard drive, response times are quick. In the 1 series, the navigation screen pops up from the center dash.
The engine in the 2011 BMW 1 Series M Coupe shows the full force of BMW's high-tech engineering. It produces loads of power while maintaining reasonable fuel economy. It's too bad the company's Double Clutch Transmission isn't available for this car. Still, the six-speed manual shifts nicely. The suspension can feel a little spongy, but the limited slip differential and M Dynamic Mode traction control help the car's handling.
BMW tends to overprice its options, and makes very few features standard. But the available cabin tech is very good. The new BMW Apps feature should be an excellent addition, and BMW navigation we've seen in previous cars has been excellent. Harman Kardon is also a good partner for its premium audio system.
The main area where the 1 M Coupe falls down is in its electronics interface. The radio display is barely adequate for music selection, and the iDrive interface, although much improved over the years, is still not very intuitive.
|Model||2011 BMW 1 Series M Coupe|
|Power train||Direct-injection twin turbocharged 3-liter straight six-cylinder engine, six-speed manual transmission|
|EPA fuel economy||19 mpg city/26 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||20.1 mpg|
|Navigation||Hard-drive-based with traffic|
|Bluetooth phone support||Yes, includes contact list|
|Disc player||MP3-compatible single-CD|
|MP3 player support||iPod integration|
|Other digital audio||Onboard hard drive (with navigation), USB drive, auxiliary input, satellite radio, HD Radio|
|Audio system||Optional Harman Kardon 300-watt 10-speaker system|
|Driver aids||Park distance sensors|
|Price as tested||$50,460|