What is it?
Although the M Coupé is based on the recently facelifted 135i Coupé, much has changed in the transformation to M-car – not least the chassis, which is largely taken from the bigger, more expensive M3. And more than anyone else, the likeable German’s reputation is riding on how well it is perceived.
What’s it like?
It’s one of the best-looking M-cars in some time. Much effort has gone into modifying the 1-series coupé’s steel body to accommodate its upgraded chassis and give the M Coupé a much more muscular appearance than the 135i. In the metal, it looks bulldog tough.
On light throttle loads it is extremely tractable and can pull taller gears at moderate speeds. It’s a big departure from the peaky delivery of past M-cars and will give the M Coupé a wider appeal than has previously been the case with BMW’s more extreme performance models. Just don’t expect the sort of heavenly throttle response you get in an M3.
Peak power is put at 335bhp, developed at a low (by M-car standards) 5900rpm. It is sufficient to provide the 1495kg M Coupé with 224bhp per tonne; that’s 38bhp per tonne shy of the 1580kg M3 coupé.
What moulds the new M-car’s solid levels of performance more than anything, though, is its torque – 332lb ft of it from 1500-4500rpm. That compares with 295lb ft at 3900rpm for its long-established normally aspirated V8 sibling.
Sending drive to the rear wheels is a conventional six-speed manual gearbox – the one and only choice offered. Operating in combination with an electronic M differential, the ’box has a typical BMW feel, with a long-winded clutch action and relatively long (if precise) throws.
To really succeed, however, the M Coupé also needs to deliver on the handling front. Initial impressions are overwhelmingly positive. Even on tricky sections of blacktop, the M Coupé is deceptively fast, possessing the sort of grip to carry big speeds through corners with true authority. And it achieves this while providing the sort of feedback you won’t find in any rival, RS3 included.
The steering is old-school heavy in its weighting and extremely direct. In combination with the altered front suspension geometry – which includes increased camber, altered offset and a greater number of aluminium components – it turns in far more eagerly than the 135i Coupé, and as lateral forces build it continues to track faithfully, allowing you to correct your line with small adjustments.
The M Coupé feels more firmly planted than the 135i, but it’s not overly fidgety. In fact, there’s a surprising amount of composure built into the suspension, most notably under compression, where it manages to soak up all but the worst bumps with authority.
And no caveats about the brakes. The M Coupé uses the same 360mm front and 350mm rear ventilated and cross-drilled steel stoppers as the M3. They’re monstrously powerful, hauling it up from big speeds with real conviction. They’re mated to a pedal with proper feel and a decent amount of travel.