BMW 1M UK Test Drive

First things first, I don’t like the name, they should have swallowed their pride and called it the M1. I know there was a mid-engined supercar called the M1 about 30 years ago, which wasn’t very successful, but it would be impossible to confuse these two machines. I’ve always preferred light, small, focused cars above the big powerhouses. So you can imagine my delight when I first caught sight of the BMW 1M. The 500bhp Jaguar XKR that I tested at Thruxton last year was bags of fun but it’s a car that you have to set up and accurately guide through a fast series of corners rather than attack them. There is no escaping the physical forces at work in a big heavy powerful car and the feeling that, if it was to get out of control, the crash would go on for a very long time until something substantially solid brought proceedings to an abrupt end. So we are off to a good start because the 1M is certainly the smallest M Division car, so small in fact that the wide track rear wheels barely fit inside the stretched panels – but it looks fantastically muscular and taut. Despite its diminutive size the 1M is no lightweight. This has to be one of the most densely packed cars in existence, weighing in at 1570kg. Is this the spiritual successor to the enigmatic BMW E30 M3 from the 80’s? No. The E30 was a homologation special, it existed to win races. If you’ve sat in an E30 M3 you’ll appreciate that the 1M is a proper road car and better for it. Make no mistake, this is not a big wheels and fancy stickers marketing exercise carried out on a 135i, this is serious engineering. To create the 1M, BMW’s M Division has gone to great lengths to strip out all the standard chassis component and replace the luxury suspension, brakes / brake pads, and extremely clever M Differential from the previous M3. The bodywork of the BMW 1-series M Coupe been pulled and stretched front and rear to cope with the wider tracks which it now employs, the aggressive front bumper and quad exhausts poking out from below the black diffuser leave you in no doubt this car means business and ensures you don’t mistake it for a 135i. Unlike Porsche’s perfectly placed Boxster, Cayman, 911 range, the 1M is right up there with the current M3 and better in many respects. It looks amazing from just about every angle. The most important component of any M Car is its engine and here we find a reworked production straight six. In a significant departure for BMW’s M Division after generations of high-revving, naturally aspirated the engineers have been forced to adopt turbo charging rather than revs to produce power in the new M5 and the BMW 1-series M Coupe. The 1M uses the older and less powerful, twin-turbo 3.0L straight six, as opposed to the newer single turbo 3.0L from the 135i. Unlike the high revving normally aspirated M Cars of the past, the direct injection twin turbo delivers 250 kW (335 hp) and 500 Nm of torque with overboost function at much lower revs. It’s now time to discover if they’ve got it right or if some of the M-Car magic has been lost by turbo assisted breathing. There’s no escaping the fact that this engine is turbocharged, with noticeable turbo lag below 2000rpm and a non-linear ramp up in torque from off-boost to on-boost but the engine has decent low-down grunt, terrific mid-range and doesn’t need to be bounced off the red-line to get the very best from it. The brand new forced induction philosophy means that 80% of the time it’s much more immediate than an M3 and the muscular acceleration is very addictive. Surprisingly, it sounds good too, not as good as the high revving straight six, V8 or V10 from previous cars, but a sophisticated creamy burble for the twin-turbo straight six and plenty of forward motion to go with it. Further enhancing its credibility, is a slick six-speed manual gearbox. Do you need any more proof that this is aimed squarely at real drivers when you consider that the dual-clutch M-DCT transmission isn’t even an option? I love its feeling of compactness, the agility of the short wheelbase and the way it seems to pivot around the driver, but combined with the enormous grip offered by the 275 section rear tyres means the 1M feel nervous at the limit whereas a hard driven M3 just flows. The 1M is a very different car to the M3. The ride is slightly harsher and the engine has none of the racing DNA or charisma but its power is much more accessible. The 1M does without the M3’s adaptive EDC dampers which makes the car more lively and more demanding to drive. The 1M seems to grip and then, if the combination of camber-bumps-power and g-force conspire against you, spit you off the road. Given its dimensions the tail will step out quickly and needs to be caught quickly but that only adds to its character. Delicate is not an adjective that describes the 1M. Sadly, the stylish interior is nothing special and frankly ageing, there is a frim and chunky steering wheel, but it’s basically just a 1 series with some Alcantara (with contrasting orange stitching) here and there. The standard fit leather seats front and back are nice but overall it lacks the specialness promised by the dramatic exterior and performance. The 1M feels too closely related to the 135i, especially the light weight steering and clutch but it’s the brakes which are the biggest dynamic issue for me. As with most cars these days the 1M’s brakes are massively over-assisted. This makes it unnecessarily tricky to apply progressive braking force and makes heel-toeing quite difficult. It’s especially noticeable when swapping from a 911 (997) into the BMW. Despite some short comings, the basic foundations make the 1M is a proper M car, it’s not a modern day E30, it’s better, and in many ways it’s better than the current M3 too. This is a turbocharged machine with character. Apart from the name, the surprising kerb weight and the sensitive brakes the 1M is a fantastic addition to the M division’s line up. Starting at around £40k it is the best value car they make, or should I say, use to make. That’s right the 1M is not a series production model, only 450 were sent to the UK and they are all sold. That’s probably the biggest disappointment of all. It makes no sense to me, BMW has invested heavily in the tooling to produce the comedy exterior, flared wheel arches and shrink wrapped appearance, they developed the components and refined the character and then stopped selling them. BMW are adamant that it will not be put into series production. ‘ If they did (and they won’t) the accountants in Munich will ensure that it isn’t as extreme as this original. I suspect the lucky 450 who purchased the original 1M will have a future classic on their hands.