Driving BMW’s 1-Series M Coupe recently, I was reminded of my Ducati 695 Monster and a biking buddy’s comment that any time you throw a leg over one of these high-strung Italian bikes you have to be prepared to make a total commitment to what comes next, or why bother.
There are no half measures with a Ducati, laid-back cruisers they most definitely are not. But if you are prepared to make every shift an orchestrated interplay of clutch lever, throttle and gear-change pedal; every turn-in to a corner a deliberate and well-judged act; each shift of weight smooth and balanced, then, even when swinging through bends at an easy but interesting summer evening back road pace, the reward is a sublime interaction of man and machine.
An addictively fizzy cocktail of dopamine and adrenaline that makes you feel very, very good.
I say reminded because the 1-Series M Coupe, being a car, can’t quite replicate a bike’s level of intensity and involvement, but it’s close.
The limited-edition 2011 Series M Coupe arrived earlier this year and marks the first time the M-for-mean-machine logo – which has been worn by a succession of seriously-souped-up BMWs since the 1970s – has been attached to a 1-Series model.
To create it, BMW’s M division engineers had one of the greatest selections of stuff on shelves to root through available to any collection of officially sanctioned car company hot-rodders and one of the world’s great tracks, the Nurburgring, to develop it on.
To make it go fast, they sensibly selected the smooth-revving, 3.0-litre, twin-turbo engine from the 3-Series, and tweaked it to make 335 hp and 332 lb-ft of torque under normal conditions. It delivers 369 lb-ft in “overboost” mode, which kicks in for a limited time under full load conditions. As when you feel the need to accelerate to 100 km/h in 4.9 seconds.
To make it handle, they borrowed aluminum-intensive suspension pieces from the M3, widened the track front and back, and fitted 245/35 R19 front and 265/35R19 in low-profile tires on sexy cross-spoked alloy rims. The brakes are also from the M3.
Fitting all this underneath resulted in bulgy fenders that extend the width 53 millimetres and give the car a squatter, more aggressive look. The unique front fascia’s side ducts are part of an Air Curtain system that flows air over the wheels to reduce turbulence and improve aerodynamics.
Inside, orange stitching adds a neat touch to door panels and pulls, dash, gear-change and handbrake boots and the body-gripping Boston leather sports seats. The wheel is a multi-function M style unit with, of course, the M button being its most fun feature.
Most of the Canadian allocation has been snapped up, but I’m told you can still order one of these $53,600 mini-super cars.
Why would you want to?
Fire this latest of BMW’s M-cars up on a cool rainy morning and the twin-turbocharged inline six steps up to a busy, whirring and eager idle. Grip the wheel, press the M button that quickens the accelerator mapping and engage M Dynamic Mode, which raises the intervention level of the electronic control systems. Then depress the clutch, which takes a noticeable degree of effort. Slide the gear lever into first – sensing the oily mechanical bits in the linkage and box.
Toe the throttle pedal against spring tension you can feel through the sole of your sneakers and bring up the revs. You’ll love the sound from those four exhaust outlets.
Let the clutch, which bites progressively, out affirmatively and the car launches hard and the motor winds on 7,000 or so revs in a religious-experience-rush. Snatch second and you get more of the same. Grab third and – well, if you’re on the road lift your right foot, right now.
At the first bend, the quick ratio steering, which feels almost artificially heavy at lower speeds, still requires some forearm flexing effort but now its weight is just right. And as you to feed the front wheels into the turn the response really is almost as sensitive and immediate as a sport bike’s.
The suspension, which is uncompromisingly hard at low speeds, changes when you’re going quicker, too. Like the taut strings on a tennis racquet that pop the ball when you’re just batting it around, yet direct it accurately to its target when you’re playing for real. Brake pedal feel is “right there,” requiring a little deftness around town, but its immediate response would be appreciated if you were carrying a serious head of steam towards a tight corner.
I’ve had some wonderfully fast, and in some cases flat-out, drives in M-cars over the years, the most recent in the M3 at Laguna Seca. What I’ve just described though was experienced on Ontario back roads at less than licence-losing speeds – and it was still a delight.
But BMW doesn’t equip the 1-Series M Coupe with a sunroof for a reason. The extra headspace makes more room for a helmet, which everyone who buys one should acquire, along with a list of local track days to really experience how neat this little coupe is.
2011 BMW 1-Series M Coupe
Type: Sports coupe
Base price: $53,600; as tested, $63,595
Engine: 3.0-litre, DOHC, inline-six
Horsepower/torque: 335 hp/332 lb-ft
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 11.1 city/8.3 highway; premium fuel
Alternatives: Audi TTS Coupe, Infiniti IPL G Coupe, Lotus Evora, Porsche Cayman, Mercedes C-Class Coupe, Cadillac CTS-V Coupe