Tested: 1 M punches above its weight

By Jesse Adams Time of article published Oct 13, 2011

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This is what happens when BMW loosens its neck tie just a little, digs into its toybox full of M3 spares, and starts to play.

The 1 Series M Coupé is a factory-built hot rod limited to 2452 units worldwide, of which only 71 were allocated to South Africa and all are accounted for already. It started life as an ordinary and still-full-of-zest 135i coupé, but with a waving of BMW’s magic M wand was endowed with all sorts of butch components borrowed from the bigger M3.

First and foremost is the car’s stocky new stance. It’s only 55mm wider than a normal 135i but those five centimetres translate into a set of four exaggerated wheel arches that look straight from a German touring car. The control arms and other aluminium suspension pieces are also taken from the M3’s parts bin, and bring the much wider 19-inch wheels and tyres closer to the 1M’s corners. Looks like a bulldog ready to pounce.

The wider M3 suspension will inevitably afford more aggressive yanks of the wheel in corners, but having recently tested a 135i with Beemer’s Performance kit I can confirm that you’ll hardly notice the modifications in day-to-day use. The 1M is firmer over bumps but still very usable on SA’s holey streets. A proper back-to-back track test would be necessary to explore the precise differences between the two cars.

What is very noticeable is this car’s rear differential. Also borrowed from the M3 and unlike a standard 135i’s, the diff is of the limited-slip type that will lock up to 100 percent if an inside back wheel spins. This is extremely beneficial on a racetrack where when booted out of a corner, the engine’s power can be wasted through a spinning un-weighted wheel. Thing is, when there’s enough power available (and there certainly is here) a locked diff will send both wheels spinning resulting in what’s popularly known as a drift. Apply throttle while turned irresponsibly and the 1M will slide sideways, so it’s best to feather the gas in order to extract the most from this upgrade.

The compound brakes are also bigger and M3-sourced but, again, in daily usage you’ll never know. They look fantastic behind those big wheels but it would take repeated stomping around a track to really appreciate the increased braking surface area. I did pick up some squeal when driving slowly, but to be honest I enjoy this sort of thing from a track-day inspired car. Genuine racing car brakes squeal all the time.

I’m also very pleased with the drivetrain setup BMW opted for with the 1M. The Bavarian brand has some wonderful dual-clutch automatic technology in its transmission arsenal as evidenced by the M3, recently-launched new M5 and others, but someone with old-school heart decided that this car would only get a six-speed manual. True, modern automatic tech would probably mean slightly quicker 0-100km/h and laptimes, but with a car like this I like keeping my left hand busy. It’s also fun to heel-and-toe when approaching a red robot, for no other reason than it sounds cool.

I do wish that the exhausts were a little louder though. The two turbos really muffle the otherwise fantastic straight-six song.

Power: The 1M has more of it than a normal 135i, but not a heck of a lot. Like BMW’s original 35i-engined models, the 1M gets two turbos (other 35i cars now have just one) that keep the power curve nice and linear, but don’t expect the M version to completely obliterate a 135i because it won’t. In the 1M we achieved best test figures of 5.3 seconds to 100km/h and it crossed the quarter mile in 13.6. A standard 135i managed a time of 6 seconds flat.

Still, the extra 25kW and 100Nm (now 250 and 500 in total) are effective enough to get your adrenal glands pumping. The increased torque output shows little mercy for the exceptionally-wide 265/35 back tyres and you can light ‘em up with little effort. As is the case with all other BMW M models, there’s a button (on the steering wheel here) that’ll sharpen the throttle response too, which means less pedal travel delivers more power more quickly.

Another nice touch includes suede interior finishings (a must on any pure-bred trackday special) around the dashboard and gear lever boot, but other than that the 1M’s cabin is virtually identical to the R95 000 cheaper 135i with manual gearbox. You’re paying for exclusivity here mostly, but because all South African 1 Series M Coupés are sold this exclusivity is almost priceless.


The limited-edition 1M looks ferocious, and it is, but only just a little more so than the series production 135i that’s still available in showrooms for you to buy. Still this car will nestle nicely into BMW’s long history of special M vehicles. A definite future collectable. -Star Motoring

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