PH Blog: the best M3? It's the 1 M!

As mentioned in the original story, the amazing but expensive BMW M3 CRT driven for these pages recently was tested alongside a whole bunch of other M cars at the Nurburgring GP track. A fleeting taste perhaps but pushing cars like the CRT and GTS to their limits for a few laps was an incredible experience. But they weren't the only M3s on offer.

CSL a breath of fresh air among the V8s
CSL a breath of fresh air among the V8s
The oldest car present in that line-up was an E46 M3 CSL, a very special car indeed. The E90 and E92 generation machines were represented by standard M3s, competition packs and the specials I've already mentioned above. But nestling amongst the queue of M3s was a metallic orange interloper, a little 1 M Coupe.

Amongst the banquet of big V8s, the CSL and 1 M were beautiful palate-cleansers. Precision instruments. The CSL was, of course, awesome. The noise from the airbox, the poise of it's four-square chassis ready to grip and grip. But still sadly let down (in my personal opinion) by the standard brakes and SMG gearbox. The brakes simply don't cut it on a racetrack, and neither does the SMG.

While I grudgingly accept that systems like the DCT (with its double-clutch and instant changes) make cars better and faster, I still think the SMG of the CSL creates more problems than it solves for a competent driver. Turn it up to 'harsh' and it bangs the hell out of the diff and cooks its own fluids. Turn it down to soft and it drags on the clutch like an OAP with an overdue hip replacement.

What's that in the GTS's mirrors?
What's that in the GTS's mirrors?
So, the best 'M3' that really took the honours in this group was ... the 1 M! Back to back with the other machines it ticked all the right boxes. Small. Manual gearbox. Proper brakes.

In short, it was brilliant. Though the six-cylinder turbo noise could never compete with the naturally-aspirated war cry of the carbon-airboxed CSL, the actual power delivered was more than enough to keep up with the 450hp monsters we were on track with.

The torque at low revs was enough to freak out the electric nannies with only the smallest of throttle openings. And then the mid-range, rapidly throwing the needle into a breathless top-end, shift after shift. I'd stuck a little 10hz GPS datalogger on the windscreen of every car I drove, including the GTS and CSL. Everytime I exited Ford-kehre and accelerated towards the hairpin, I was checking my peak speed at the braking point. The GTS scored 192km/h, the little 1M? 186km/h. Only 6km/h slower for about one third of the price. And unlike the CSL it had brakes that worked lap after lap.

Loads of torque and good brakes - unlike M3s
Loads of torque and good brakes - unlike M3s
And it has a manual, six-speed 'box. Which is just essential for those of us who've invested far too much time and effort into the art of shifting on a racetrack. A button that does an instant downshift with perfect rev-matching and double declutching is scornful, not inspirational.

I'm sure the purists will disagree, but I reckon the 1 Series M Coupe might just have been the best M3 there. Judging by the way they hold their value , the market at large just might agree with the cheapest one in the PH classifieds commanding a smidge over £35K. What do you think?




Comments (263) Join the discussion on the forum

  • Pookster 29 Jan 2013

    Dale, we're going to have words you and me. Tut tut.

  • Itsallicanafford 29 Jan 2013

    ...the CSL is nearly 10 years older than the others on test, but still on the pace (SMG issues aside)...when are these going to be £50K upwards for a good one?

  • tomwoodis 29 Jan 2013

    I think you're right. Proof if ever it was needed that smaller, lighter cars with a decent wedge of power is clearly the way we'd like all the manufacturers to go!

  • Lazygraduate 29 Jan 2013

    Wasn't there a sort of CSL-lite version called the CS, with three pedals but retaining most of the suspension and engine mods of the CSL?

    Love the looks of the 1M though- so agressive!

  • Jamesp24 29 Jan 2013

    CSL without CSL wheels = criminal.

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