InsideLine - 2012 BMW 1 Series M Coupe Prototype First Drive

by Tim Jones on October 13, 2010, 6:33 pm
e82 1m 1 series m 1 series  
We've always been a fan of the BMW 135i coupe. How could you not when it packs such a terrific engine, delivers such enthralling rear-wheel-drive handling and boasts the sort of quality expected of a car wearing the sought-after blue-and-white propeller badge?

But at the same time we've always felt the compact two-door, introduced in the North American market in 2007, could offer a little bit more on the performance front. We partially took this into our hands when we chipped our long-term 135i. Now, after taking a long time to carefully think it over, BMW's board of management has apparently come to the very same conclusion. The result? The harder, faster and more focused 2012 BMW 1 Series M Coupe, driven here in prototype form for the very first time.

Set to debut at the Detroit auto show in January, BMW M division's new entry-level model has been conceived to broaden its reach and appeal among a younger group of customers than the existing M3, X5 M and X6 M as well as the upcoming M5 and M6 - the latter two due out in 2011 and 2012, respectively.

The company's boss, Kay Segler, is quick to talk up the similarities between the 2012 BMW 1 Series M Coupe and the original M3 - the classic E30 model used to homologate BMW's 1987 World Touring Car Championship contender. Truth is, though, there is little other than compact dimensions linking the two. If it has to be compared, the 135i coupe is clearly the only real yardstick.

Huggy Bear
One fleeting glimpse is all it takes to tell you this is no ordinary 135i coupe. With a deep new front bumper carrying sizable engine cooling ducts, bulging wheel arches front and rear, widened sills and a re-profiled rear bumper incorporating BMW M division's signature quad chrome tailpipes, the 1 Series M Coupe looks fast and capable before it's even turned a wheel.

The styling changes are complemented by a fantastic ground-hugging stance created through a combination of lowered ride height and significantly widened tracks. The wheels? We can't imagine there was much argument over the M3 CSL-style 19-inch alloys worn by the prototype we drove. Shod with 245/35 (front) and 265/35 (rear) Michelin Pilot Sport tires, they properly fill out the arches, serving to heighten the 1 Series M Coupe's muscular appearance while helping to further separate it visually from its standard sibling.

There's not too much to report about the interior just yet. The prototype we drove used a basic 135i coupe dashboard that had clearly seen better days. Production versions will get the same fascia design together with all the usual M division accouterments: unique instruments, thick-rim three-spoke steering wheel, leather-bound gearlever, polished pedals, more firmly padded seats and a series of upmarket trims.

Never mind the interior, though. It's the mechanical package, and in particular the driveline, that will be the real focus when the 1 Series M Coupe reaches North American showrooms next year. Based closely around that already used by the 135i coupe, it runs a heavily tuned version of BMW's N54 engine mounted longitudinally up front and delivering drive to the rear wheels. Details pertaining to the twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder direct-injection gasoline unit haven't been made official. However, Inside Line understands it develops close to 350 horsepower - or 44 hp more than the standard engine in the 135i and some 57 hp less than the naturally aspirated 4.0-liter V8-powered M3.

First impressions once you've slotted the key into the ignition and hit the starter button are more than encouraging. The reworked engine is extraordinarily strong within the lower end of the rev range thanks to its solid reserves of torque. Again, BMW is not prepared to divulge too much prior to its official unveiling, but there are whispers that the 1 Series M Coupe has as much as 350 pound-feet of torque, or significantly more than both the 135i coupe and M3's 294 lb-ft. As the torque is delivered at just 1,400 rpm, the new BMW requires little commitment from the driver to appreciate the added performance.

But while its part-throttle properties are truly impressive, it is under boost, when its two turbochargers are spooling up, where the 1 Series M Coupe really comes alive. Planting your right foot at middling revs unleashes a heady rush of acceleration fully befitting its billing as the spiritual successor to BMW M division's original M3. The reworked engine doesn't mind being worked hard, either; the delivery remains strong all the way to the 7,000-rpm cutout point.

The noise it makes is a little bit naughtier than the standard unit in the 135i coupe, too. There's less induction blare and a raspier exhaust, both under load and on the overrun. It's fitting for a car possessing such stirring performance but it's nowhere near as memorable as the bass-driven wail you get from BMW M division's existing naturally aspirated 4.0-liter V8 and recently discontinued 5.0-liter V10 engines.

Don't Throw Away That Left Foot Just Yet
Despite speculation suggesting the new BMW would receive a seven-speed double-clutch gearbox like that now available as an option in the M3, the 2012 BMW 1 Series M Coupe will come standard with a six-speed manual. It's a strange decision given the younger customers M division is aiming at. But with a crisp action and firm springing, working the Getrag-engineered unit is no hardship. As we're used to, though, the clutch action is long on travel.

As part of efforts to sustain the suspense surrounding the impending introduction of the 1 Series M Coupe, BMW's M division has not revealed any official performance claims just yet. But with a curb weight around 3,300 pounds, a 0-62-mph time of around 5.0 seconds seems well within reach. Of course, it all depends on the gearing. But if the prototype we drove is any indication, it's going to be every bit as quick as the M3 up the strip. Nor will it lack for top-end speed. Inside Line can already confirm top speed will be limited to 155 mph.

It's not only the straight-line performance that serves to set this car apart. The 2012 BMW 1 Series M Coupe also operates on a higher dynamic plane than the 135i coupe. From the outset it feels more willing, and as you begin to make demands it becomes clear the heavily reworked chassis is not only more responsive, but capable of handling higher cornering speeds and delivering added levels of grip.

Wide-Track BMW
Central to the changes is the adoption of a wider front track and the rear axle assembly from the M3, complete with its so-called M differential. The electronically operated device provides 100 percent lockup, ensuring a more harmonious transfer of drive to the blacktop and more neutral cornering. On top of this, it has allowed BMW M division engineers to dial back the threshold of the 1 Series M Coupe's standard stability and traction control system, giving the driver greater scope to exploit its added reserves. The front end can be leaned on more reliably and you can get power down earlier without nasty interruption from the electronic safety net lurking in the background.

Changes to the steering make it more direct and imbue it with a slight increase in weight. They add to the overall sense of purpose engineered into the 1 Series M Coupe, particularly its turn-in properties, which are much improved over the 135i. It's just a pity the newly engineered electromechanical system is so short on feel. There's an inherent firmness to the ride, the result of stiffer springs and dampers as well as those uncompromising tires. But there's sufficient compliance and travel to ensure rapid progress on less-than-smooth roads.

Still, it's going to take more wheel time than a brief spin up the road in a durability prototype that has over 10,000 miles on the clock to fully appreciate the changes BMW has made to the 135i to create the 2012 BMW 1 Series M Coupe. At the moment the signs are extremely positive. It's the sort of car you get out of wishing you could have more time with. On the strength of what we've seen so far, it fully deserves the M-car billing, even if BMW made the wrong decision by not calling it the M1.

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7 responses to InsideLine - 2012 BMW 1 Series M Coupe Prototype First Drive

SilverX3 commented:
October 13, 2010, 7:16 pm

stylinexpat commented:
October 15, 2010, 8:58 am

That would have to be the ultimate driver's car. I would love one of those here in Taipei. Small,nimble and quick
Chris90 commented:
October 15, 2010, 2:18 pm

I'd have a hard time paying $60k for that when a nice E46 M3 CS is like half that.
serge_ua commented:
October 18, 2010, 4:05 pm

It's more like $45,000. 60 grand is M3 territory
ewc commented:
October 18, 2010, 6:19 pm

This looks really nice. But what are the chances that the M Division has solved the HPFP issues?
brkf commented:
October 18, 2010, 7:11 pm

Seems totally half-assed.
jtm964 commented:
October 24, 2010, 10:58 am

So the steering is "electromechanical" ? Can someone please explain what it is?
What's the major difference between this and a "tuned" 135i ? The reason I ask is that like a tuned 335i, no matter how nice it is, its still not an M3 because the engine is totally different. But the 135 and the 1 M are basically using the same engine, correct? kind of like the E36 M3 here and the 328i of the same era.