BMWBLOG BMW 1M European Drive Review

Some things just go together - like a horse and carriage, a mouse and cheese, and sex on the beach.  We can add to that a shiny new 1M on curvy Alpine roads.  One is just not the same without the other.  Walking down a curvy Alpine road?  Go hug a tree.  The 1M locked in an underground garage?  Stop the punishment.

When BMW M went to work on what is now known as the 1M, they set the bar high.  BMWBLOG recently learned during an interview at M headquarters that like many great inventions, the 1M was born from necessity.  You see, an engineer had been involved in a private racing project and after tireless hours modifying and racing his 135i, he just couldn’t get the package to work.  He spoke with the M engineers and discussed the possibility of improving the 1 series for the racetrack.  A ’light bulb’ moment came when one engineer suggested the prolific use of M3 parts from the parts bin.  Different spring rates and dampers were used, but otherwise the suspension is identical to that of the 1M’s older brother, the M3.  With a squared off wheel base and 300 lbs less weight, the 1M does well in the physics department: it belongs on the racetrack.

What we have, then, is a love child.  This car was not born in the sterile confines of the marketing department.  Like the original M coupe, it was born from the fascination of engineers and their passion for the racetrack.  The desire to go faster and harder can only result in a scintillating experience behind the wheel (or, I suppose, in the back seat).  Enter the 1M.  While it is in fact a parts bin project, a rush job, a bastardized M car without a bespoke M engine – we can forgive it for all of that because of its clarity.  It was designed and bred with and for the passion of driving.  This is the existential definition of an M car and any car that adheres to this recipe is sure to please its driver.

Our First Moments with the Machine.

Taking delivery of any M car is sure to get your heart rate up, but taking delivery of your M car at the Welt is truly special.  Spinning on its turn table in full view of its mother ship – BMW’s 4 cylindrical-tower headquarters building – the 1M sparkled and danced light across the atrium.  Anticipation mounted.  Upon opening the door, a strong leathery ‘new car’ aroma wafted through the air, pleasing our senses.  It’s the moment of truth: key fob inserted, starter button depressed… BHrrrhummmmm… Ah!  There’s the rub.  So it looks good, it smells good, it sounds good; but how does it feel?  For that sensory experience, we will need a curvy mountain road.

Heading for the snowy Alpine peaks of Garmish, sunlight pounded the asphalt around us and brightly lit the day.  The endless autobahn stretching out ahead of us seemed to beckon for higher speed.  We struck a rhythm at 120 mph, but the highway called for more.  Top gear acceleration from high speeds was torquey and immense – from triple digit speeds the 1M will throw your head back into the headrest.  Slight turbo lag is followed by strong, turbine-smooth thrust.  This little M car is a jet!  130 mph, 140 mph… heavy on the middle pedal for the Fiat Panda sitting like a pylon in the fast lane.  Exploring these speeds is child’s play; the car is stable, secure and balanced – it feels as though delimited it could accelerate forever.  All this from a tiny 3 liter twin-turbo?  Okay, so it’s not a bespoke M engine – but it was designed by the best, and tuned by the best.  Its over-boost function is felt regularly, churning out a stout 369 lb-ft of torque.  This force-fed inline 6 is a real monster: it snarls and burbles and begs for more.

Enter the Alps.

Finally exiting the autobahn, we found ourselves at the foothills of the Alps.  Shimmering grey and white peaks jutted up to the sky crowning a deep blue horizon.  It was time to test the 1M’s true metal over the challenging and twisty access roads leading to the respective summits.  With a stern look and disciplinary slap of my wrist, I was told to leave the dynamic traction control fully on due to break-in procedure.  Oh bother.  That did limit the fun and exploration – but the perfectly balanced chassis and neutral handling shone through – tail out antics aside.  Darting from hairpin to hairpin, the 1M felt confident and unflappable.  Driving smoothly at 7 tenths pace the DCT light would never flash – the mechanical grip offered up by the suspension and tire package was impressive.

Despite the mounting altitude, the engine’s power and thrust never wavered – another plus of the turbo-charged engine, which is inherently impervious to thinner air at great heights.  Second gear, spool through to redline – upshift.  Third gear, into the boost as we jet up a mountain straight – hard on the brakes as we heel and toe into second and flick the nose to the right.  Apex, spin through the revs in second, and fill the mountain side with a glorious, burbling exhaust note.  This car is sublime.

Given the fuel, tires, brake pads and time – I would still be flying around the mountain tops, dancing with my willing partner.  But alas: the 1M had a boat to catch, and I had to catch my plane.


Holy Matrimony.

For those keeping score, the only sensory faculty we didn’t explore was taste.  Stop licking the door handle – that’s not what we mean.  Besides the bulging wheel-wells’ muscular looks, the masculine “Eau de 1M” cologne smell, the roaring mechanical symphony escaping the quad exhaust pipes, and the telepathic feel fed through the chassis and steering wheel, we can imagine the taste – of molten rubber bits slipping into the cabin during prolonged, lurid drifts.  This car was built of passion and it can get a hold of your soul.  Did we sign the ownership or a marriage license?  No matter – cresting the summit in a bright orange 1M, we found a match made in heaven.

Stay tuned to BMWBLOG for long term reviews of our 1M and an on-track review of the 1M’s performance.

Special thanks to Manny Antunes at JMK BMW for facilitating the purchase of an 1M.

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