Drives: 2008 BMW 135i
Join Date: Jun 2008
Location: NJ, NYC, Baltimore
Edmunds Inside Line: Reader Drives 1M
Searched for a bit on here, but couldn't find it. Edmunds Inside Line lent out a 1M to a reader, enthusiast, and M3 owner. His writing is very articulate and has some good points, though I don't agree with his dismissal of the N54/N55 engines and the non-M 1-series in particular.
If you're anything like me, you've been waiting for the 1 series M for a long time. Partly to see whether it was going to be worthy of the M badge it wears, partly because you've been wishing for less from BMW: cars engineered with less mass and for less mass appeal.
So when Edmunds asked on their Twitter feed a few days ago if anyone wanted to join them to dyno and drive a 1 series M, I excitedly spat back 140 characters.
As I waited to see who they'd choose, I thought of what I wanted this car to be and what I was worried it wouldn't be: a car that would tempt me out of the 95 M3 I've had as my only car since new.
I've wanted to like every M3 that came after mine, but none of them really got under my skin and seduced me away. I used to run a BMW tuning shop where I became deeply familiar with the E36 and E46, participated in and instructed at a number of BMW CCA events where I was able to experience M3s of all generations. Coming from my 95 as a baseline, the E36 3.2s always felt a bit rubbery down below and somewhat breathless up top, the E46 felt slower to rev or go from lock to lock than I like, and the E90/92's steering felt remote and its chassis (or perhaps this driver) always a step behind that musical motor. Of all of those Ms it was the slide-it-when-and-how-you-want E46 M3 Competition that most tempted me, but something was missing (other than cruise control.)
Once I was told I'd been chosen, my thoughts turned to the 1 series, another car I'd wanted to like.
At launch, BMW had said the 1 series was the return to the 2002, but when I drove both models at that time with and without sport packages they reminded me more of the E21 3 series that some BMW historians would rather forget: vintage levels of roll, a front end that never really keyed in or offered much feel. I remember walking away from my first taste of the 1 thinking, "BMW has done with the 1 what Porsche had done with the Cayman: kept it from greatness to protect the car that best represented the brand." Now BMW is drawing parallels between the M version of that same 1 series and an equally iconic BMW to that 2002, the E30 M3. If you're like me, you've thought "How dare they! The cylinder count is wrong, the weight is too great, it's not built to homologate a race car, it's non M motor with a non M redline redline, it has a turbo..."
A turbo. Forgot to mention I'm not a fan of the N54 or N55. If you own one you're probably not a fan of me for saying this but I remember what BMW (and the inventor of the turbo) had to say about the little buggers. I like my motors normally aspirated, like my exhaust notes staccato, like my power delivery cammy and hellbent on wrapping the needle clear 'round the face. Driven an E30 with the limiter removed? Me too.
But then I heard it.
Now granted, there's something about a car on a dyno that always hooks you. The improbability of what you're witnessing perhaps, or the way the exhaust fires into the shop and ricochets off the walls, accompanied by the shrill singing of the tread hitting the rollers. But the first time Jay did a run, I stopped mid-sentence. And I was standing 30 feet away, telling Mike I don't like the way turbo motors sound.
Behind the wheel and you have to admire the minimalism of the thing. As in all 1s, the dash seems to be facing the passenger more than it should, but clear gauges, a straightforward layout, and an almost spartan feel that is very much in the BMW tradition are a welcome relief. The essentials are nailed; driving position is spot on, sightlines are generous, shifter has light but tight throws. M button on the wheel, stability control button high on the dash, between the air vents. Redline's at 7,000, yellow paint starts at 6,500. Power memory seats are the only flourish you wish had been left off the options list while touches of Alcantara in places you'll never touch - the accent strip on the dash, the top of the instrument binnacle - are curious (after)thoughts.
Turn the wheel and it hits you: the steering is hydraulic, but it's not syrupy. After years of silly heavy hydraulic or stupid light electric setups it seems BMW's remembered what steering weighting should feel like.
Slot onto first and the clutch and throttle mesh so well it would make a Honda engineer of the 90s proud. There's no real lag to speak of once the clutch is engaged, but like all turbos there is a binary feel to the delivery. You accelerate through the gears in quick bursts. Punching the M button on the wheel summons the torque quicker but is a matter of taste, as has always been the case in M cars with such a button.
Perhaps it's the lack od EDC, the lighter nose or the lower overall weight but the 1M floats like Mohammed Ali's butterfly from the moment you set off. Steve Dinan had said that the 3.0 E36 M3's feel was heavily influenced by the 235/40R17 Michelin Pilot MXX3s that seemed outrageously large and wide at the time, and the 245/35R19 F, 265/35R19 R PS2s are the front-liners on this M car as well. You can feel their overwide contact patches sniffing at the surface through the widened aluminum links. A bit like the E30 M3 that way. This also bodes well.
Mike is fairly quiet in the passenger seat, a nonplussed look on his face, thumbing his camera and phone casually. You wonder how many times he's done this before. You wonder if he's bored. Then you both spot a banked 20mph ramp ahead and both of your faces light up in unison. Reading your mind, he says "Go for it." The Nissan Z next to you does the same. 2nd gear takes you from a crawl to ludicrous speed in plenty of time for turn in, and when you bend into the corner time slows down and something magical happens. The engine, spinning in the upper midrange is wondering why you've backed off, the turbos snorting and spitting with the smallest movement of your foot - and you're not even using the sharper response the wheel mounted M button brings. That steering weights up in a big way off center - there's a lot of tire under you and a real hunger to tighten the line even when the limit's approaching. That's up front. In back, you've got that M variable differential at your disposal, and because you remembered to put the DSC in M Dynamic mode earlier you decide to dig deeper in the throttle. The tail takes the bait, stepping out slightly and waiting for further instruction. Dig deeper, it carves a little wider. You could do this all day. The rear end feels sharp and flex free but the torque of this motor really brings the rear end alive in a heartbeat -- you don't have to be carrying a ton of speed or revs as you do in the current M3. You don't have to turn around and run it again to get it just right but rather can tapdance across the pedals and get a trip's worth of interaction from that one corner. Before you know it though, that corner's over, the Michelins are laughing at your lack of resolve, and Mike's showing his approval with a simple, "Bye bye, Z..." Squinting in your mirror you see he's just now clearing the apex.
I looked for the breathlessness I remembered from other N54s and N55s on the far side of the power peak on the dyno, but on the street in 2nd and 3rd the butt dyno reports plenty of shove left as the needle passes yellow -- a power plateau of sorts -- and a swift kick in the shoulders when you finally remember to shift and repeat. It doesn't continue to crescendo as the end draws near like the S54 or even the late 330i, but it doesn't exactly hit a whole rest like the S52 did either.
If you're anything like me, right now you're kicking yourself that you didn't put a deposit on one already. With a rumored 1,000 available, I can't help but think that I won and missed an opportunity in the very same day.
What I wish were different:
-- Given that I'm 'stuck' with a turbo, I'd like something that made this a 'real' M motor, even if it's a small change like the trick manifold you can't get on an X6 or 550i but defines a X6M or M5. Then again the E36 M3 just had cams and a displacement bump and it felt just about right for our driving.
--I was hoping to see some form of torque vectoring a la X6/X6 M/X5 M. The current rear diff only wakes up when the tires start to spin and even we Inside Line readers can't drive like that very often.
-- The steering wheel is too damn thick. No one will have difficulty getting their hands around the rim, but you do wonder how much feedback is soaked up by the padding in between you and the rim.
-- Blasphemy, I know, but I wonder how the car would feel on smaller and or less grippy tires. Many agree with me that the Continentals that are also OE in this size on the M3 make that car more playful and I've experienced the same on my own car. Style and street cred aside, why is the 1 series M on standard 19s when the M3 has standard 18s? After all, part of what made an E30 great were those meaty 15s...