We’re nearing a historic moment in automotive history. As a new BMW 3 Series platform looms on the horizon, and with it a new M3—which, it’s speculated, will be powered by a turbocharged version of the BMW inline six-cylinder engine—the naturally aspirated BMW M car as we knew it will have ceased to exist.
Nothing’s official of course and BMW communications representatives have got their lips officially sealed in typical stoic Germanic fashion. But it seems the writing is on the wall.
As it happened, I was just bitching about this seemingly inevitable progression of events when a screaming Valencia Orange 1 Series M Coupe showed up in the office parking lot. And after a single squirt around the block in this car, I was inoculated with a much-needed injection of hope.
I have to speculate that the forthcoming M3 will be propelled by a power unit fairly similar to that in the 1 M. Here, it’s a 3.0-liter, all-aluminum inline-six with BMW TwinPower Turbo technology—two small turbochargers that spool up quickly enough to offer maximum torque output of 332 lb-ft (450 Nm) at just 1500 rpm. That’s more or less just 1000 rpm off idle, so torque delivery is more or less immediate when you stomp on the gas. At full throttle the engine jumps into an overboost mode that offers up another 37 lb-ft—for a maximum of almost 370 lb-ft. To put it in perspective, that’s about 75 lb-ft more at peak than the current M3’s V8 (295 lb-ft).
In practice, this burst of power in the diminutive 1 Series makes it, well, fast as hell. On full throttle the rearend struggles to deploy the power, in fact, and the rear wheels will more or less skip through an intersection before really hooking up. It’s enough to make you grin from ear to ear.
The 1 M loves a mountain road. With its abbreviated wheelbase, it’s much pointier, “dartier” as one colleague put it, than the longer and heavier M3. The steering feel is fantastic; the manual shifter positive and deliberate, recalling that of the previous M Coupe, that of Z4 body, which is one of my all-time favorites.
Speaking of bodies—well, the 1 Series still doesn’t quite do it for me. Even clad in M Technik finery, with in-your-face fender flares and an array of vents and scoops, it’s still just too… cute, I guess. It does wear the same running gear (wheels and tires) as the M3 Competition Package, 19s with 265mm treads in back, which is awesome. But I still feel like I should be chewing gum and blowing bubbles while I’m driving it.
Of course, that’s a subjective opinion. And even so, it’s hard to deny: This car flat-out hauls ass, and is an absolute riot to drive.
2011 BMW 1 Series M Coupe
Longitudinal front engine, rear-wheel drive
3.0-liter I6, dohc, 24-valve, turbocharged
(Price as Tested: $50,460)
Peak Power: 335 hp @ 5900 rpm
Peak Torque*: 369 lb-ft @ 1500 rpm
0-60 mph: 4.7 sec.
Top Speed: 155 mph (limited) Fuel Economy: 19 city / 26 hwy
*with overboost function