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First local drive: BMW’s junior M-car in hot demand

1 Series M Coupe going fast as buyers queue for BMW’s pocket rocket

30 Aug 2011

BMW has launched its new mighty midget, the 1 Series M Coupe, in Australia this week, but buyers placing an order will have to wait until next year to take delivery after the first batch of 125 cars were sold out sight unseen.

BMW Group Australia has secured a second batch – restricted to 100 units – of the smallest and most affordable Beemer to get the M treatment.

This shipment is due in the first half of 2012, and the company hopes it will be sufficient to sate the appetite for the new $99,900 flagship of the 1 Series Coupe range that has just been facelifted, along with the 1 Series Convertible.

Priced almost $50,000 under the legendary M3 and yet packing similar performance, the 1 Series M Coupe (or 1M as it has become known) is powered by BMW’s most powerful production six-cylinder engine – the 250kW ‘TwinPower’ twin-turbo direct-injected 3.0-litre N54 that debuted in the Z4 sportscar range topper, the sDrive35is.

BMW once said turbos would never taint its M cars, but here it is in the metal – proof that BMW has embraced forced induction with a vengeance as it balances its power goals with demands for greater fuel efficiency.

Although this engine does not have the unique M tweaks for which other M Division products are known, the familiar big-donk-in-small-car strategy delivers super performance, allowing the little 1495kg M Coupe to crunch the 0-100km/h sprint in 4.9 seconds – just one tenth of a second slower than the bigger and heavier (1580kg) M3 coupe with its 309kW 4.0-litre V8.

14 center imageThe two-door 1 Series M Coupe – BMW elected not to call it the M1 out of respect for its mid-engined sports coupe of the same name built from 1978 to 1981 – blitzes the next most powerful 1 Series Coupe, the 135i, which manages the same 0-100km/h sprint in 5.3 seconds.

No slouch itself, the 135i uses essentially the same turbocharged engine, but the M version is tuned for an extra 25kW of power – peaking at 5900rpm – and an additional 50Nm of torque at 450Nm from 1500rpm.

As well, lucky 1M drivers get an additional 50Nm of torque on demand, courtesy of an overboost function, should they need some extra velocity.

The engine is mated exclusively with a newly developed six-speed manual gearbox that weighs just 43kg, helping to cut driveline mass for improved performance while still managing the hefty torque. This manual gearbox boasts ‘dry sump’ lubrication, along with a sporty short-throw gearshift.

So far, BMW has resisted the temptation to match the engine with the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission offered in both the 135i and M3.

Combined fuel consumption is 9.6 litres per 100km – the same as the 135i – while CO2 output is 224 grams per kilometre.

The 1M’s power is transferred to the rear wheels via a variable differential lock that can vary the torque to either of the drive wheels in a fraction of a second, depending on wheel rotational speeds. This benefits traction on slippery surfaces and also in sports driving on winding roads when the driver requires maximum drive out of corners.

This differential lock comes courtesy of the M Division, which has wrought a raft of chassis changes to lift the 1 Series Coupe to a new level, with much of the hardware borrowed from the M3.

The M-tuned light-alloy double-pivot front suspension gets extra bracing from a front axle support, while the five-link rear axle – aluminium links and dampers all round – gets two additional longitudinal struts to aid rear-axle stability.

Brakes are ramped up to 360mm ventilated, cross-drilled cast iron discs on the front and 350mm on the rear with race-style pads, sitting inside 19-inch alloy wheels with the same Y-spoke design as those on the M3. The front wheels are shod with 245/35 tyres, while the rear wheels get fatter 265/35 rubber.

The wheels are housed under bulging fenders front and rear, giving the 1M a menacing, glued-to-the-road air, as well as an extra 55mm in overall width compared with the 135i.

At 4380mm long, the 1M is the shortest BMW car, and also the “flattest”, as BMW puts it, with a hunkered-down roof height of just 1420mm.

The 1M gets unique body treatment in line with its M origins, dominated by a sporty front fascia with five air openings in the lower half.

The side-most air intakes are not for cooling but for an aerodynamic aid called ‘air curtains’. A first in series production, these ducts direct air around the outer side of the front wheels, providing what BMW describes as a curtain of air to minimise turbulence down the side of the car.

Just behind the wheelarches, side ‘vents’ give the 1M some extra differentiation from the standard 1 Series, along with aerodynamic side sills and model-specific double-arm M wing mirrors.

At the rear, trademark M quad exhaust pipes dominate, along with a black air diffuser.

BMW has eschewed the trend to electric-assist steering, instead retaining its sensitive hydraulic-assisted power steering, but with BMW’s Servotronic variable steering assistance.

A wide range of electronic chassis control nannies, under the umbrella title of Dynamic Stability Control, help to keep the 1M under control, but if the driver fancies a bit of tail-out action, they can push a button to select M Dynamic Mode that backs off the traction control and ESC.

A longer push of the button will deactivate the ESC and other controls completely.

Inside, the four-seat cabin gets the black-on-black treatment, relieved by orange contrast stitching. The sports seats and steering wheel are cloaked in Boston leather, but some surfaces, including the instrument binnacle and gearstick boot, are sheathed in black alcantara. The dials themselves are grey with white figures.

The driver’s seat has electric adjustment, with front seat heating optional, while the leather-clad sports steering wheel features the famous ‘M’ button, enabling the driver to select a sports engine mapping set-up with his or her right thumb.

Standard features include dual-zone automatic climate-control, automatic wipers and headlights, auto-fold heated exterior mirrors, sat-nav, keyless entry and engine start, and a Harmon Kardon sound system with 10 speakers.

BMW’s ubiquitous iDrive operating system allows the driver to control various functions via an 8.8-inch LCD screen, where emails can be shown via Bluetooth or read aloud with an optional voice output system.

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