17 December 2004

Plans for a scorching M version of the BMW 1-series are back on track, after its production was put in jeopardy amid concerns about high development costs and its positioning within the German car maker’s line-up. According to Munich bosses, the new car, depicted here in our exclusive computer-generated image, has been brought back into BMW’s forward model line-up following a resurgence in Europe’s hot-hatch ranks with cars such as the Volkswagen Golf R32, Alfa Romeo 147 GTA and Ford Focus RS.

‘The market for high-performance small cars has evolved greatly in recent years. Pricing is not so sensitive and buyers appear prepared to pay more than has been the case up until now,’ a BMW source said.

Seen as a spiritual successor to the original M3 of 1986, the new junior M car was originally conceived with four-cylinder power. But with the standards raised by rival car makers in recent years, BMW is now looking at an all-new 3.0-litre in-line six-cylinder engine. It is tipped to use the same bore-centre measurements and individual cylinder capacity as the potent new 5.0-litre V10 engine and is part of an expanded M-engine line-up.

Further details remain scarce, although Autocar understands BMW is aiming for a red line of 8500rpm and an output around 310bhp — 160bhp more than today’s petrol range-topper, the 150bhp 2.0-litre four-cylinder 120i. With power going to the rear wheels through a seven-speed SMG (Sequential Manual Gearbox) and a likely kerbweight of 1500kg, the baby M-car promises class-leading performance. Estimates put its 0-60mph capability at 5.8sec, with its top speed likely to be limited to 155mph.

Autocar sources say the lightweight engine, running BMW’s latest dual-Vanos variable valve timing system and individual throttle butterflies for each cylinder, forms part of a whole range of new high-revving M-division engines. This includes a 400bhp 4.0-litre V8 for the next-generation M3 due in early 2006. The next generation M3 (right) will be launched in both two-door coupe and cabrio, and four-door saloon form. That engine is also pencilled in to power a Z4M, the hot version of the two-seat roadster, although possibly in a detuned form (see gallery).

But Autocar has also unearthed plans for a secret gung-ho 6.0-litre V12 earmarked for a new M7 performance flagship. BMW has always resisted developing an M version of its luxury saloon, but the success of the Mercedes S55 AMG hasn’t gone unnoticed in Munich. The six-cylinder unit from the new 1-series is essentially half of the new V12 powerplant. Both engines will be produced at BMW’s specialist engine plant in Munich.

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