2011 BMW 1-Series M: Review
By Kirk Bell of MSN Autos
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.
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 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
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.
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