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Retro drive: BMW 1 Series M Coupé. Image by BMW.

Retro drive: BMW 1 Series M Coupé
With the M2 on the way in 2016, we indulge in five days with its glorious predecessor.


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BMW 1 Series M Coupé

5 5 5 5 5

Good points: despite everything, possibly one of the best M cars ever built

Not so good: rarity makes them hard to get hold of

Key Facts

Model tested: BMW 1 Series M Coupé
Price: when new in 2011, £45,340 as tested; value today from around £38,000
Engine: 3.0-litre twin-turbocharged straight-six petrol
Transmission: rear-wheel drive, six-speed manual
Body style: two-door, four-seat coupé
CO2 emissions: 224g/km (Band K, £640 first 12 months, £290 annually thereafter)
Combined economy: 29.4mpg
Top speed: 155mph (limited)
0-62mph: 4.9 seconds
Power: 340hp at 5,900rpm
Torque 450Nm at 1,500- to 4,500rpm (500Nm on overboost)

Our view:

If you're a die-hard BMW M Power aficionado, then you probably think the turbocharged cars are anathema to the history of this evocative performance house. OK, there's no doubt the current M5 and M6, and also the M3 and M4, are quicker, objectively more capable and easier to live with than their predecessors, but where's the soul? Where's that spine-tingling V10 soundtrack you used to get in the E60 M5, or the comprehensive feeling of perfectly balanced brilliance that infused the E30, E46 and E92 variants of the M3? Normal aspiration might have its downsides, but it feels like something has been lost during M Division's inevitable number-chasing shift to forced induction - a nagging doubt surely crystallised in the cynical, cash-gathering horrors that are the X5 and X6 M pair.

Set amongst this backdrop of feeble fanboy moaning, to which BMW's head honchos could not give one jot, the 1 Series M Coupé should be the easiest target of the lot for NA M Power zealots because it was the model that precipitated the transition to turbocharging. It was also - unlike other, bespoke-developed M cars - cobbled together from Garching's spare parts bin, although that's probably a box of bits into which any other manufacturer would love to delve. Nevertheless, this is an M Power oddball. A car that really shouldn't have worked in an era when BMW was, depressingly, beginning to explore every market niche possible.

However, read any contemporary road test review of the 1M (we'll refer to it as this from now on, for reasons of laziness) and the adjective 'glowing' would be the most apposite way of describing the prose automotive journalists heaped upon it. On a personal note, I must confess the 1M sadly passed me by first time around. I never managed to get behind the wheel and just had to take my peers' word that it was as good as the articles attested.

This year, of course, we're getting a follow-up to the 1M, in the form of the M2. And given the M4 has evolved away from the classic M3 heartland - that of being usable, compact and reasonably secure when driving quickly on-road (the vicious M4 feels like a track-day only brute, thanks to gigantic torque and its rear sub-frame being bolted directly to its chassis) then the £44,070 M2 could be the spiritual successor to the E46 M3, all M3s before that and even right the way back to the 2002 Turbo. Although the M2 is also going to have a fixed rear sub-frame, so we're hoping it's not as spiky as the M4 as a result.

Nevertheless, the M2 is the encapsulation of everything a semi-affordable, compact M Coupé should be. But the missing link between the E46 and the M2 is clearly the 1M. And these two are not hugely different on paper, either. The new car is only 30hp and 15Nm up on the 1M's data of 340hp and 450Nm, although both have a time-limited overboost that hikes the torque up to 500Nm; the same figure as that possessed by the old 4.9-litre V8 M5 built between 1999 and 2003. On paper, there's more than half a second in the 0-62mph sprint in favour of the M2, although that 4.3-second launch is dependent on having the DCT automatic gearbox; the manual M2 manages 4.5 seconds, 0.4s up on the manual-only 1M. They even both weigh roughly the same, BMW targeting 'less than 1,500kg' for the M2 when the 1M clocks in at 1,495kg.

Still, enough of the comparisons. We've got five days with BMW's heritage example of the 1M, wearing the eye-catching number plate of MC10 UPE. But it's not the two bits of plastic affixed front and rear that make the 1M appealing; rather, it's some of the most distended, in-your-face bodywork we've ever seen on a road car. The 1M remains a fabulous piece of styling five years after it burst onto the scene, courtesy of its hugely flared wings, colossal wheel arches bulging out at all corners and the sort of pugnacious stance that tells anyone and everyone that it means serious business. The sublime M3 CSL-inspired wheels with gargantuan-width tyres on them help matters, although the rims stand well proud of the rubber and therefore look perilously vulnerable to kerbing. Overall, while no one thought the original 1 Series - coupé or otherwise - was pretty, the 1M proves to be one of the most instantly desirable performance cars going.

The interior's a funny one, because it's modern enough that there are the familiar accoutrements of 21st century motoring - infotainment control in the form of a decent version of iDrive, Bluetooth connectivity and so on - but the actual architecture is remarkably plain. There are some attractive but simple analogue dials in the binnacle, the dash top is finished in a humdrum grey plastic and the centre console, with its minimal media and climate control panels, is starting to look a little dated. Yet the cabin is a winner, because ergonomically it's bang on the money. The driving position is as sweet as a nut, the steering wheel and stubby M gear lever are the perfect size and shape, visibility is good in all quarters... yes, it's fine in here. There are a few aesthetic details, such as the contrast orange stitching, Alcantara panels and 'One of 450' plaque, which ensure it is a special place to be.

Its rarity, superb looks and pleasant interior are all well and good, yet of course it's the drive that's key to this car's success. In many ways, the 1M is refreshingly honest and straightforward. There are no adjustable dampers, no flappy-paddle gearbox settings, no buttons that add power or make the exhaust noisier and so on. There's an M Dynamic Mode (MDM) button on the wheel that sharpens the throttle response a touch in Sport mode, but otherwise the driver is simply provided with a muscular straight-six turbo, the H-pattern manual and drive to the rear wheels.

The net result is one of the most stunning, sweetly balanced vehicles you could wish to encounter. Sure, the bare on-paper stats might convince you that this M car is somehow lacking punch in an era when hot hatchbacks can strip off 0-62mph quicker, but the first few times you summon up the 1M's maximum output should leave you convinced that this is an incredibly rapid machine. The near-lag free power delivery of the twin turbo engine is a lovely blend of low-revs torque mated to high-end ferocity and, best of all, it sounds delicious when going about its business. There's a hard-edged gargle to the 3.0-litre even when you're doing nothing more than ambling around town, but wind it up and the typical M Power 'roar' makes itself known.

Better even than the sensational engine is the calibration of all the major controls. The steering weight and feel, the pedal modulation and bite of the brakes, the action of the clutch pedal and the heft of the gearbox - they are all as near perfect as it is possible to be. The hydraulic steering in particular is a highlight, as its range of feedback and consistency of solid weighting is utterly wonderful. The transmission has a lovely, mechanical feel to the way it selects each and every ratio and with a sharp throttle, heel-and-toe downshifts are an absolute doddle to enact.

All of which means the 1M is brutally quick no matter what the road ahead throws at you. Sure, we've all seen the pics of it holding unearthly angles of opposite lock with smoke pluming off its rear tyres, and that's fine - if you've got access to a race track with lots of run-off, or you're just supremely talented on road, you can make the 1 Series oversteer at your behest. But actually, the greater rewards are to be had just nudging up to the edges of the dynamic limits, the car coaxing you to push a little harder in each bend, to test it just a little more through that big sweeping curve you know so well. And when you do, you'll revel in the innate balance the chassis has, the feeling of rear-drive ever present but not dominating the experience; you never fight with the One because it's always working with you. The 1M is a glorious machine, which rewards you whether you're travelling at a reasonable pace and relying on its mid-range, or stoking it round to the redline and giving it the full work-out. It's even perfectly fine and comfortable enough to be considered as a day-to-day hack, because the ride, while firm, benefits from some of the best damping you'll ever experience.

OK, so we saw 22.4mpg during our 120 miles with it at an average of just 39.1mph. And yes, tracking down a good one now isn't going to be easy, although of course BMW UK has this car on its heritage fleet, if you feel like pestering the company to sell it. But the running costs and rarity be damned - if you're a keen driver you should search out a 1M of your very own. Because, despite its 'Frankenstein's monster' creation, and despite it ushering in the current turbocharged era of M Division, this 1 Series is everything a BMW M car should be. It's compact, it's useable, it's bonkers quick in a straight line and it's sublime to drive hard along a challenging road. We were looking forward to the M2 anyway, but even if it's only half as good as the 1M it'll be a belter - as the BMW 1 Series M Coupé is surely one of the very finest M Power products, and therefore one of the very finest performance cars, of all time.

Matt Robinson - 16 Jan 2016    - BMW road tests
- BMW news
- 1 Series images

2011 BMW 1 Series M Coupe. Image by BMW.2011 BMW 1 Series M Coupe. Image by BMW.2011 BMW 1 Series M Coupe. Image by BMW.2011 BMW 1 Series M Coupe. Image by BMW.2011 BMW 1 Series M Coupe. Image by BMW.

2011 BMW 1 Series M Coupe. Image by BMW.2011 BMW 1 Series M Coupe. Image by BMW.2011 BMW 1 Series M Coupe. Image by BMW.2011 BMW 1 Series M Coupe. Image by BMW.2011 BMW 1 Series M Coupe. Image by BMW.

2011 BMW 1 Series M Coupe. Image by BMW.

2011 BMW 1 Series M Coupe. Image by BMW.

2011 BMW 1 Series M Coupe. Image by BMW.

2011 BMW 1 Series M Coupe. Image by BMW.

2011 BMW 1 Series M Coupe. Image by BMW.

2011 BMW 1 Series M Coupe. Image by BMW.

2011 BMW 1 Series M Coupe. Image by BMW.

2011 BMW 1 Series M Coupe. Image by BMW.

2011 BMW 1 Series M Coupe. Image by BMW.


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