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BMW 1-Series M Coupé

BMW's storming 1-series promises to be best M car in the range. We see if it delivers on track.

Overall Auto Express Rating

5.0 out of 5

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While rivals such as the Audi RS3 quattro trade involvement for traction and ground-covering ability, the 1-Series M Coupé puts driver appeal at the top of the agenda. It’s enormous fun, evoking memories of the E30 M3 – although it’s much faster and more capable than that model ever was. Not only is this the best M car in the range, it’s also the cheapest. But with a mere 450 right-hand-drive examples coming here, any interested buyers need to act fast.

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Could this be the best M car since the original E30 M3? The new 1-Series M Coupé is about as back-to-basics as BMW’s performance models get these days – it’s a simple formula of a powerful engine, a manual gearbox and rear-wheel drive.

Factor in compact dimensions and you should have a spiritual successor to one of the most-loved M cars in history. But is that the case? Auto Express took the wheel of a left-hand-drive version ahead of its official UK launch to find out.

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Lay eyes on the newcomer for the first time, and you can’t help but be impressed. With a wide front splitter featuring aggressive air intakes, quad exhaust pipes and fat tyres covered by flared wheelarches, it has the look of a lightweight boxer – small and lean, but very muscular.

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Inside, the standard 1-Series cabin is embellished with all the right M Sport extras, including a special gearknob, dials and seats, plus a chunky steering wheel, with leather and Alcantara suede throughout. There’s plenty of equipment, too, with standard climate control and Bluetooth.

As with all BMW’s M cars – with the exception of the CSL and M3 GTS – this is no stripped-out racer. Thumb the starter button and the 335bhp 3.0-litre turbocharged six-cylinder engine – an uprated version of the unit from the 135i – barks into life. And as soon as you pull away, it’s clear that this is a very agile, driver-focused machine. Throttle response is sharp and the steering, although heavy, is full of feel.

This is quite a lightweight car, weighing only 1,495kg, and pace is blistering as a result. BMW claims a 0-62mph sprint time of 4.9 seconds, and it feels every bit as fast as that, while top speed is electronically limited to 155mph.

Twin-turbochargers help to liberate 500Nm of torque under full throttle, so the M Coupé is incredibly rapid in-gear, too. Even if you plant the accelerator in sixth at motorway speeds, the car surges forward.

Extend the six-cylinder unit to the 6,500rpm red line in the lower ratios, and you’re rewarded with savage response and a zingy, metallic engine note. An M Dynamic Mode also offers a more flexible engine set-up, which can switch between relaxed and torque-oriented or tuned for maximum power at the touch of a button – but that’s as gizmo-laden as the 1-Series M Coupé gets.
 
No twin-clutch gearbox will be offered – instead, there’s a gorgeous six-speed manual with a short throw. And the handling is just as refreshingly old-school. The entire rear suspension comes from the current M3, so the car is now 80mm wider at the back, while the front track has been increased, too. Add 19-inch wheels and an M Sport differential, and there’s plenty of grip and throttle adjustability.

Turn off the ESP and you can indulge in tail slides, although firm but compliant damping means it’s easy to cover ground at pace, revelling in the meaty steering and limited body roll.

With its compact dimensions, this is a sports car that’s nimble and quick to respond to steering, brake or throttle inputs – and as a result, it’s a real pleasure to drive at any speed.

It should also be comfortable and easy to live with. The best M car for a long time? Undoubtedly.

Rival: Audi RS3
Hottest A3 is the same price and just as powerful, but uses a different approach. It has a five-door body, twin-clutch gearbox and four-wheel drive – and ultimately isn’t as much fun.

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