After painfully watching for years as the automaker's beloved M lineup ballooned in both size and weight – even adding sport utility vehicles – the German's have delivered us a new little jewel. It's not another derivative of the race-bred M3, the highly anticipated next-generation M5 or a sneak preview of the future M6. Instead, this little shot of driving ecstasy comes in the guise of the lowly 1 Series – the entry-level BMW.
BMW invited us to its headquarters in New Jersey for our first driving impressions. Instead of death-by-PowerPoint, the traditional manner of new vehicle introduction, they immediately handed us the key fob to a brand-new 1 Series M Coupe along with a paper map. Our assignment was to drive the back roads for the next two hours to Monticello Motorsports Park, the private racing circuit outside New York City. After extended hot laps followed by lunch, we'd polish the marbles off the tire treads with a drive back to Montvale before a six-hour flight back home.
It reportedly took BMW M GmbH engineers two years to develop the new 1 Series M Coupe. While the basic platform is an E82 1 Series, the 1M Coupe boasts a full complement of tuned E92 M3 componentry, including major suspension components, brake rotors, brake calipers, alloy wheels, tire size, exterior mirrors and the M Variable Differential Lock. The borrowed underpinnings from the slightly larger M3 didn't exactly fit within the constraints of the compact 1 Series body, so the engineers flared the fenders on all four corners (the 1M Coupe is 2.1 inches wider than the standard 135i Coupe). Those fat flares look plenty aggressive, but they also kill the vehicle's aerodynamic signature (bringing it up to .37 Cd.). To help reduce drag, BMW has fitted its Air Curtain System to the lower front fascia to channel smooth air around the front wheels. It helps only slightly.
The cockpit is configured with M Sport Seats (with adjustable side and thigh bolsters), a meaty M3 leather steering wheel, Boston leather upholstery and Alcantara trim with contrasting orange stitching and an anthracite headliner. There is no moonroof offered – the sliding glass was replaced with a solid steel roof to save weight (a reported 35 pounds) and lower the center of gravity with the added benefit of offering front seat occupants more head/helmet room.
BMW is keeping things simple by only offering black leather upholstery inside one of three exterior colors: Valencia Orange Metallic, Black Sapphire Metallic and Alpine White. There are just two option packages. The optional Convenience Package adds alarm, comfort access, parking sensors and navigation. The Premium Package adds auto-dimming mirrors, power front seats, lumbar support, ambiance lighting, BMW Assist, Bluetooth phone connectivity and iPod/USB adaptor. Stand-alone options include heated front seats, satellite radio and an upgraded Harmon Kardon audio package.