2011 BMW 1-Series

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2011 BMW 1-Series M: Review

This 2012 review is representative of model years 2008 to 2013.
By Kirk Bell of MSN Autos
Rating: 9.5

Bottom Line:

The 2011 BMW 1-Series M is a taut and muscular ball of controlled fury. With M3 breeding and a torquey, turbocharged inline-six, it’s one of the most fun, precise, and communicative sport coupes on the market. Get it while you can because it probably won’t be back next year.
Pros:
  • Powerful, flexible engine
  • Tenacious grip
  • Sublime handling
Cons:
  • Highway noise
  • Bumpy ride
  • Boy-racer looks

The BMW M3 holds a place of honor among enthusiasts as a precise performance machine that is an absolute joy to drive. However, the cost and technological complexity of the M3 has increased in recent years, leaving many entry-level M enthusiasts wanting BMW to create a new, more basic M model.

Enter the 2011 1-Series M, a souped-up version of the automaker's smaller 1-Series sport coupe with M3 suspension components and a turbocharged 6-cylinder engine. After driving the 1 M, we found it to be a great car. But is it worthy of BMW's "ultimate driving machine" legacy? We think so.

Model Lineup
Unlike other 1-Series models, the BMW 1 M is offered only as a coupe. The most notable standard features are the go-fast parts, many of which have been cherry-picked from the M3. The aluminum suspension components are from the M3, but are specially tuned to the 1 M. The 14.2-inch front and 13.8-inch rear vented disc brakes are also from the M3, and the M3 Competition Package provides the wheels and P245/45R19 front and P265/40R19 rear tires.

Inside, the 1 M gets the M Sport steering wheel, Boston leather upholstery with orange contrast stitching, and an anthracite headliner. Other standard equipment includes 12-way adjustable front sport seats, AM/FM/CD stereo with HD radio, auxiliary input jack, fog lights and adaptive bi-xenon headlights.

Options are limited. There are two packages and four stand-alone options. Notable options include Bluetooth connectivity, a navigation system with an 80-gigabyte media server, and a 10-speaker Harman Kardon sound system. Unfortunately, you have to order both packages to get the navigation system.

Under the Hood
The 2011 BMW 1-Series M is offered with one engine and one transmission. The twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six is shared with the Z4 sDrive 35is and the 335is. In the 1 M it makes 335 horsepower and 332 lb-ft of torque. An "overboost" mode raises the turbocharger's boost pressure from 11.6 to 14.5 psi for five to seven seconds, increasing torque to 369 lb-ft. The lone transmission is a 6-speed manual with a short-throw shifter. Environmental Protection Agency fuel-economy ratings are 19 mpg city/25 mpg highway.

Inner Space
The 1 M's cockpit isn't nearly as special as the underpinnings. Sure, there are some sporty touches, but underneath it's basically the same as other 1-Series models. The materials are generally high in quality and feature soft-touch surfaces, but there are more hard plastics than in any other BMW, especially along the lower portions of the dash. There is also less sound-deadening material, so road and engine noise are more noticeable.

The sporty features include flourishes of Alcantara trim, an anthracite headliner, a thick M Sport steering wheel, and sport bucket seats. Those seats are heavily bolstered to provide support during aggressive cornering, and 1 M owners will do a lot of that. The steering wheel feels great in the driver's hands, and it tilts and telescopes to help tailor an ideal seating position.

The 1 M's controls are fairly easy to work. The climate controls are set mid-dash and the radio rests underneath. Order the Convenience Package and you get BMW's iDrive control interface, which provides a centralized control knob to handle the entertainment, navigation and communications features. It'll complicate some controls, but the other choice is a sea of buttons.

As a small coupe, the 1 M doesn't offer much space for people or cargo. The front seat has plenty of room, but the rear seat is best left to kids, unless the front seat occupants are rather short. It's not easy to get back there, either. The trunk has a modest 10 cubic feet of cargo space, but that can be extended thanks to standard split-folding rear seats. That's unexpected, because some cars with the 1 M's sporting intentions forego a split-folding seat in the name of body rigidity.

On the Road
While the regular 1-Series offers capable but not inspired handling, the 1 M is much different. It offers handling that meets or beats the M3, which is widely considered the one of the best-handling cars in the world.

The 1 M shares the M3's steering rack, and the feel is very much the same — quick and communicative — though the 1 M may actually dive a little more willingly into, and rotate through, turns due to its shorter wheelbase and lesser weight. The big, cross-drilled brakes bring the car to a stop quickly and easily, and they held up to a full day of track driving with no fade or pulsation.

Those brakes reside under big Michelin Pilot Sport II tires that provide prodigious grip and ready feedback when they're about to reach the edge of adhesion. We were actually more comfortable carrying speed through gradual bends in the 1 M than the M3. That's probably because of the lighter weight, but the talkative tire squeal made us feel very confident in the 1 M's ultimate capability.

The downside of a tight suspension is kept to a minimum. The ride does become rough on uneven pavement and sharp bumps can pound through, but the suspension soaks up most ripples. It's certainly firm, but your kidneys should stay intact.

The torquey engine gives the 1 M a very different feel versus the higher-strung, higher-revving V8 in the M3. The M3 feels like a precision instrument that revs freely, building speed all the way up to its 8400 rpm redline. The 1 M, on the other hand, has more immediate power at lower rpm and pulls slower but willingly up to 7000 rpm. It doesn't make as much noise, but the low, burbling engine note is quite pleasing.

On the road, the inline-6 engine offers more than enough power for any situation. The hefty torque means ready power is on tap in higher gears, so a downshift isn't necessarily needed for passing. An "M" button on the steering wheel activates more aggressive throttle mapping that will be welcome during performance maneuvers, but may be too touchy while cruising.

When a shift is required, rolling through the 6-speed manual's gears is a pleasure. The throws are short, clutch engagement is communicative, and the feel is very smooth. We did have a bit of an issue finding third on a racetrack, but found we were reaching too far toward fifth.

Right for You?
If you're looking for a road-and-track toy that will be a joy to drive, the 2011 BMW 1-Series M is an ideal choice. As a likely one-year wonder, it may also become a collectible. There is a substantial $12,000 premium, though, so buyers who won't be able to appreciate the 1 M's capability may want to consider the also quick, but more affordable BMW 135i.

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BB04 - 7/25/2014 3:42:24 AM