BMW 1M Coupe

Ferocious two-door rekindles spirit of performance division’s original M3.

How do you replace a legend? This is the question that’s been facing bosses at BMW’s famous Motorsport division since the original, race-bred M3 bowed out in the Nineties.

*Watch our video review of the BMW 1M Coupe*

[video src="AE_20May11_BMW_M1" /]

While subsequent versions of the flagship 3 Series have been faster and more capable than their predecessor, they have also lost the raw appeal and fun factor that made the first-generation car one of the all-time greats.

But bosses claim the brand is back on track with its latest offering – the 1M Coupé. Based on the entry-level 1 Series, the newcomer combines a 335bhp straight-six engine, uprated suspension and compact dimensions, and promises to deliver serious driver thrills. 

So, after two decades of trying, has BMW finally created a spiritual successor to the first-ever M3? The Motorsport-developed 1 Series certainly looks the part. BMW’s designers have beefed up the two-door with hugely flared wheelarches, an aggressive bodykit and enormous 19-inch multi-spoke alloys. Elsewhere, there’s trademark quad-exit exhausts, discreet M badges and chrome-trimmed vents on the front wings. And while you’d struggle to call the end result beautiful, we think the muscular makeover gives the 1 Series Coupé plenty of kerb appeal.

Inside, the changes are less obvious. The driver gets a chunky three-spoke leather steering wheel and grey-backed dials, while the leather-trimmed seats feature distinctive orange stitching.

The rest of the cabin is standard 1 Series, which means a logically laid out dashboard, solid build quality and comfortable, low- slung driving position. It can’t match the Audi for practicality, though. Not only is it a strict four-seater, but occupants in the rear will struggle for head and legroom. At least storage space is generous – opening the tailgate reveals a useful 370-litre luggage bay. 

Of more importance, though, is the performance – and the 1M doesn’t disappoint. The twin-turbocharged 3.0-litre straight-six delivers 335bhp and a thumping 480Nm of torque, which is a healthy 30Nm more than the RS3. As a result, it served up blistering in-gear pace at the test track, demolishing the fifth gear 50-70mph sprint in only 4.1 seconds – that’s six-tenths faster than the Audi. 

On the road, this mid-range muscle translates into explosive overtaking urge, making the 1M a devastatingly rapid cross-country machine. Better still, acceleration is strong from as low as 1,500rpm, which means you rarely have to change down gears to pass slower traffic. When you do, the six-speed manual transmission has a precise action, so shifting ratios is never a chore. Only the slightly muted engine note is a disappointment. There’s a purposeful growl at high revs, but it lacks the spine-tingling soundtrack we’ve come to expect from the brand’s M cars.

Turn into a corner, and it’s immediately clear that no such mistakes have been made with the chassis. Engineers have pinched a number of suspension components from the M3, so the newcomer always feels agile and poised through bends. 

Meaty steering, strong grip and compact dimensions add to the car’s entertaining driving dynamics, while throttle response is sharpened even further when you hit the steering-mounted M button.

Switch off the stability control, and the rear-wheel-drive BMW can easily be coaxed into smoking tailslides. Even with the electronic safety net activated, it’s a far more fun and engaging companion than the RS3.

And while the 1M’s ride is firm, it’s far from uncomfortable. Unlike lesser BMWs, M versions aren’t fitted with stiff sidewalled run-flat tyres. However, the car’s long-distance refinement is compromised by an intrusive boom from the exhaust at motorway speeds.

This flaw is unlikely to deter potential buyers, though. With its head-turning looks, scorching pace and sharp chassis, the 1M is one of the most entertaining performance cars money can buy. Factor in the newcomer’s exclusivity – only 450 are coming to the UK – and it’s sure to be a showroom hit. More importantly, it successfully recaptures the spirit of the legendary Eighties M3.

Details

Chart position: 1WHY: Brassy looks and stonking powerplant tell only part of the story. Is 1M a fitting farewell to the first generation 1 Series? And has it got the measure of its Audi rival?

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