What is it?
Well, it looks the business. When you see the BMW 1-series M Coupé in the metal, it’s hard not to be impressed. Even with the taped disguise of this pre-production prototype, it is clear that this is more than just a warmed-over version of BMW’s price-leading two-door.
It’s not beautiful. But the added visual muscle and ground-hugging stance of the new entry-level M-car raises expectations of the performance lurking within. It’s a shot of attitude before you’ve even climbed into the contoured driver’s seat and hit the starter button.
The 1-series M Coupé’s new aluminium wings have been widened by 80mm over the steel panels of its standard sibling to accommodate a longer front track and trick new rear axle. Combine this with a 10mm lowering in ride height and you’ve got the basis for a purposeful-looking car whose appearance is enhanced ever further by a deep front bumper that houses cooling ducts for its twin-turbo 3.0-litre straight six engine.
What's it like?
One thing’s for sure: the new M-car doesn’t lack shove. Its engine is a development of the updated unit used in the Z4 sDrive35iS. As with so much of this car’s mechanical package, BMW is not divulging much about it at all. But with a host of typical performance-enhancing changes – including larger turbochargers, additional boost pressure and unique mapping – power and torque are said to be somewhere north of the Z4’s 335bhp and 332lb ft of torque.
The thing that grabs your attention as you pull away is its flexibility. It will accept sixth gear at 1000rpm without any unruly shunt and continue to pull hard towards the business end of the range without any dip in demeanour.
It’s under load in low gears, though, where it does its best work. Planting your foot in second induces the sort of rolling acceleration to match the 414bhp V8 M3 and it feels terrifically urgent right up to its 7000rpm limit.
Apportioning drive is a six-speed manual gearbox, the only choice for buyers. However, the car does get the same rear axle as the M3, complete with its electronically controlled M differential for more engaging driver appeal and big levels of traction. Nothing’s official, but expect a 0-62mph time of around 5.0sec and a top speed limited to 155mph.
Our prototype had clearly led a hard life and was not fully representative of the final production version of the new M-car, which makes its debut at the Detroit motor show in January before going on sale in the UK in May.
Still, there was sufficient evidence to suggest it will be stiff competition for the current crop of performance coupés. Changes to the suspension provide a noticeably more fluid feel than the standard 1-series, with more enthusiastic turn-in and added levels of grip. The electro-mechanical steering, for all its accuracy, delivers little feedback on centre but it is quite direct, at 2.4 turns lock to lock.
There’s a little initial roll, but the lightened body settles quickly to provide a flat cornering stance. And with that trick differential juggling drive between the rear wheels, you can lean on it at the exit without any premature breakaway or activation of the stability control system. The new BMW also rides acceptably, even on the 35-profile rubber fitted to our prototype. It’s firm, but not overly so.
Should I buy one?
So, for out-an-out performance and pure driving dynamics, the 1-series M Coupé is quite an improvement on the already talented 135i coupé upon which it is heavily based. The question is: will potential buyers be prepared to stump up the extra £10,000 to gain membership to the M division club? On looks alone, it will be worth it.
BMW 1-series M Coupe
Price: £40,000 (est); Top speed: 155mph (limited); 0-62mph: 4.9sec (est); Economy: 31.0mpg (est); CO2: tbc; Kerb weight: 1500kg (est); Engine: 6 cyls in line, 2979cc, twin turbos, petrol; Power: 350bhp at 5900rpm (est); Torque: 345lb ft at 1400rpm (est); Gearbox: 6-spd manual