BMW 1 Series M Coupe: PH Heroes

From such humble origins - namely BMW's dumpy 1 Series coupe plus a big box of M3 and Z4 bits - it's hard to believe BMW M created a car already elevated to a legend in its own lifetime.

In fact, it's just four years since we first saw the 1 Series M Coupe and since then it's lost none of its impact. That cartoonish silhouette is hardly subtle. Even non-PHers can spot that this 1 Series is nothing like its more prosaic brethren. But few would be able to comprehend the sheer pace and pleasure offered by this pint sized hot rod.

Because it's fast. No quantifying statements needed here. We're not talking about "in class", or "compared to the base model". We're simply talking FAST. As in pull up next to anything this side of a supercar and look 'em dead in the eye fast.

That N54 turbocharged straight-six, tweaked to 340hp in a sub-1,500kg car, was never going to be found wanting. But even those figures don't do the 1 M justice. First there's the delivery of that maximum 369lb ft of torque. While it might be momentarily hesitant on big throttle openings with few revs, hold the loud pedal open for anything more than a few seconds on most British roads and speed limits are breached very easily.

Two turbos give the straight six huge torque
Two turbos give the straight six huge torque
Aural pleasure
That noise is pure bliss for BMW fans too; a grumbly six-cylinder idle right through to a top-end howl. Although the two teeny turbochargers do sap a fair bit of the character and provide some interestingly harsh overtones, we'll let them off the hook because they do such a sterling job of keeping the 265-section rear rubber warm.

The fact that this kind of power and response is hooked-up to one of BMW's best ever gearboxes (hat tip to the Z4) just adds to the endless pleasure of driving this car. The stubby shifter slides Teflon-smooth from gear to gear and the ratios are perfectly matched to the engine. Feed it lower gears for ridiculous neck-snapping sprints, or higher ratios for belly-rumbling turbo torque.

And although the hateful SMG had thankfully met its demise by 2010, there was always the chance that some bright spark could have suggested a DCT or even automatic as an option. So whoever said "manual only" for the 1 M deserves a small PistonHeads medal for keeping this car so pure.

And it's pure alright. Pure hooligan. Don't ever be deceived by the generous cockpit and hand-finished Alcantara dash. Yes, those superbly plush seats might lull you into believing this car is comfortable. And yes, when cruising from point to point with kids on the back seats, only the shock of a cats eye passing under the wheels might remind you how focused it really is.

1 M light on tech by modern fast car standards
1 M light on tech by modern fast car standards
Dial M for murder
BMW's latest M3 and M4 offer a multitude of buttons to switch from back lane thrasher to Monday morning commuter. There are three settings for steering, three gearbox speeds and three powertrain modes just as a starter. Is that really easier than the old days?

While tempting to harp on about the purity of old cars that lack even the simplest driver aids, that's just not a wise idea for most drivers in everyday use, especially with this much power. So the 1 M has just two buttons to worry about; the stability control on the center of the dash (on, M Dynamic Mode, off) and the M button on the wheel (off, on). With ESP on and the M button left alone, power is cut before you slide and a full range of active braking will control understeer and oversteer situations. In MDM the car will poke its bum out with heartwarming regularity, but will steadfastly refuse to spin without some sort of outside influence (oil, grass, hitting other cars...). And off is off. See the first comment of this paragraph.

And the M button? Half real, half placebo, the magic button on the steering wheel immediately causes the car to surge as the throttle position you're cruising at suddenly delivers a few more ponies. And when you punch it? Overboost. A little page from Porsche's book on excitement yields extravagant grins when driving a little BMW. But that's it, really.

Certainly no mistaking it for a regular 1 Series
Certainly no mistaking it for a regular 1 Series
The chassis, of course, handles all of this drama without the slightest grumble. This is a PH Hero, after all. So without providing the Crown Prosecution Service material for a gift-wrapped conviction let's just say that it's communicative. It's responsive and it's fun. Whether it's committing to your favourite bends just a bit quicker, or navigating a slippery roundabout in a manner that would cause a traffic officer to regurgitate his fried dough confectionary into his lap, the 1 M delivers with style and aplomb.

We could moan a little about the brakes, which aren't quite up to the task of holding the car in check on the fastest of track days, or about the system which adds more pressure to the calipers for the same given 'feel' at your foot when they inevitably overheat, but these are definitely minor problems.

Committed M purists might baulk at the backward model naming or none-S drivetrain (the 1 M has a breathed-on N45 motor shared with regular BMWs, whereas most M cars get a bespoke engine like the S14, S50 and S62) and turbocharging (less of an argument about that these days), there's one other trait the 1 Series nails. Desirability.

At peak there were just over 400 1 Ms registered in the UK, and they started at close to £40,000 without options. Add in the thoroughly modern media package with smartphone hook-ups, Bluetooth and internet enabled gubbins and you were closer to 45 than 40.

Everyday usable with a hooligan streak - winner!
Everyday usable with a hooligan streak - winner!
Supply and demand ... lots of demand
One look at the PH classifieds will amaze... as this article goes live the cheapest car is offered at a smidge under £35,000 and the most expensive at over £45,000! See here. With only 381 cars still on the road, supply can't increase. What about demand?

The current F22-shaped M235i, even launching with a manual box at £35,000 earlier this year, utterly failed to make an impression on 1 M values. And that's still a great car. Only the as-yet unconfirmed BMW M2 Coupe even comes close to denting the appeal of the already legendary 1 M.

So if ever there was a car that could offer you the headiest mix of modern technology with downright anti-social driving dynamics, and the tantalising possibility of negligible depreciation, the E82 1 M Coupe is it. Hero status guaranteed.

2,979cc 6-cyl, twin-turbocharged
Transmission: 6-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 340@5,900rpm
Torque (lb ft): 332@1500-4,500rpm (369lb ft with overboost)
0-62mph: 4.9 seconds
Top speed: 155mph (limited)
Weight: 1,570kg (EU, inc. 75kg driver)
MPG: 29.4mpg (claimed)
CO2: 224g/km
Price: £39,995 new, currently £35,000 upwards

[Sources: HowManyLeft]


Additional photography: Ben Lowden, Hertford Photos]

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Comments (156) Join the discussion on the forum

  • PPPPPP 18 Dec 2014

    Impressed it has attracted so much attention..... turbo charged can work in the right package it seems. BMW got that right.

    The E92 M3 would be my choice at that kind of money -£35k+.

  • Dave Hedgehog 18 Dec 2014

    i still regret not getting one, but commuting is so much easier with duel clutch

  • Triumph Man 18 Dec 2014

    Dave Hedgehog said:
    i still regret not getting one, but commuting is so much easier with duel clutch
    I'm sure there are some who would fight you for saying that...

  • GroundEffect 18 Dec 2014

    I have a 335i with the N54 and it's a lovely engine. OK I'm down 30PS on the 1M but since I'm only 50-60kg heavier it still goes pretty damn well. And the noises it makes are childishly brilliant.

  • The Donster 18 Dec 2014

    The owners of the nursery I take my daughter to own a white one and I'm forever telling the wife not to drive it daily and that they're sitting on a great investment.

    I hope, one day, they'll thank me for that piece of advice and let me spank it down the A41. Pwetty pwease!

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