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      11-21-2010, 03:35 PM   #1
Racing Teatray
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United Kingdom

Drives: BMW 440i GC
Join Date: Nov 2008
Location: Central London

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Lightbulb Leipzig 1-series M Coupe Pre-drive review (UK)

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I was one of the two UK participants. As a lawyer who took copies of everything I was required to sign, I can tell you that we are not under any contractual obligations to not make negative comments (as some have uncharitably suggested). BMW were very good hosts and went out of their way to ensure we were well looked after as you can imagine.

Personally, obviously I am not a professional road-tester and nor am I even a weekend track warrior, but I think this car is going to be great. It won’t be for that vocal minority looking for a stripped-out screamer, but the rest of us will I suspect think it is fantastic, rather as Chris Harris appears to. It feels much more different from the 135i than you’d expect and actually a bit more like an E92 M3. In fact, I’d guess that BMW had the E46 M3 in mind when developing this car. Part of this is down to the revised quad exhaust system, which provides a bassy, almost hollow, soundtrack that is noticeably more complex and potent-sounding than my 135i (which is fitted with a Performance Exhaust), even if it is perhaps a touch quieter than the racket the Performance Exhaust makes. Definitely provides plenty of aural pleasure though.

The car comes with an “M” button on the steering wheel similar to that found on the E92 M3. Personally, once I’d found it, I left it permanently on for the improved throttle response. As standard, the 1M has a sharper, more responsive feel than the 135i, but engaging the M button definitely gives the car a welcome further dose of alacrity when you brush the accelerator. And brushing the accelerator reveals that this car feels much more eager than the 135i and is genuinely rapid. It may not be very much quicker in absolute terms, but it certainly feels it – on the autobahn you are doing 120mph+ before you can bat an eyelid. And that was with three people on board and in absolutely bucketing rain. The engine is astonishingly flexible with bags of torque to spare, so even at motorway speeds, strong effortless acceleration is available without shifting down from sixth. But when shifting is this slick, that would be a pity, especially given the engine’s epic mid-range punch. The gearshift’s throw has been shortened and the box on the car I tried was largely slick and intuitive – you can lightly flick it between gears with speed and precision. Only a couple of power downshifts from third to second on the circuit session were a bit baulky and required a firm hand (but that may be me!). The clutch is perhaps heavier but not noticeably so. The steering actually feels lighter but, as ever, doesn’t provide a whole heap of feel through the typically plump steering wheel rim.

Does it rev like an M3? No, of course not – this is the N54 after all. But it nevertheless runs very vigorously to the redline – I didn’t feel the need to shift up short of 6,500 revs. And when you run out of space, the brakes are very strong – the 135i already has six-pot calipers and the 1M adds huge cross-drilled discs to the mix fore and aft which (I gathered from one of the M guys riding with me) are sourced from the M3. Despite the huge and fat 19” alloys (which look superb), the ride is also rather better than the standard cars thanks to non-runflat tyres in the true M tradition. We drove through a cobbled East German town centre at one point and the ride was noticeably more fluid and comfortable than my 135i is on my cobbled mews street at home.

However, ride comfort has not been obtained at the expense of handling. We took the cars around a handling circuit which was soaking wet and it is clear that this is a very agile, nimble-footed beast for something weighing 1500kgs. It's no Elise but you really can't feel the weight. Clearly, if you are ham-fisted, plenty of safe understeer will result, but if you work at being fluid and deft with the car, then it has lovely handling balance and, even with the DSC on, you can provoke little flicks of oversteer and really feel the LSD working. We didn’t get to drive with the DSC off, but I was taken for a short drifting session by one of the engineers with DSC switched off. And the car is clearly enormous fun in the right hands – it puts its power down cleanly and from where I was sitting it felt like it is very throttle-adjustable, which adds to the car’s general sense of eagerness.

So, apart from the driving, what gives? Appearance-wise, non-petrolheads may not notice this is much different from a 135i MSport although they are likely to notice that it has a very muscular planted stance and is clearly a performance car. Enthusiasts will have no trouble, especially in a light colour. The front and rear bumpers are quite different compared to the 135i, with bigger intakes, extra vents and a rear diffuser framing the quad pipes. There are new front and rear light graphics. The arches are flared front and rear and really improve the side view and sill line. This makes the car look infinitely better than the standard coupe, which looks a bit portly and underwheeled by comparison. There are also new M3-style wing-mirrors which look spot-on and are a big improvement on the Dumbo ears fitted to other 1 series these days. Generally, in my view this is one 1-series which finally you can actually call attractive - as a package it looks classically M without scaring the taste police.

Based on what we saw, the interior looks like it will be pretty much as per the normal M-Sport but with all stitching in orange and with liberal lashings of tactile black alcantara trim on the cars we saw. Oh and there are bespoke M dials. This doesn't sound like a whole heap of very much, but actually it does feel rather more special than the normal versions - the orange stitching is a classy touch. It’s a shame there aren’t bespoke seats but it’s not the end of the world. I gather they tried fitting the M3 seats but I think they said they found they were less comfortable.

So, overall, I can hand on heart say that I loved it. It’s going to be an expensive little thing though, and I expect that will be many people’s biggest beef with it – but then it does feel classy, well-made, well-engineered and generally expensive. And it really does seat four normal sized-people which is rare and useful in this performance and size bracket.

Any criticisms? I’m not overly fond of the new headlight design which has an illuminated eyebrow strip but that may improve with familiarity…. Oh and the limited colour palette is annoying. None of Valencia Orange, Alpine White or Sapphire Black really floats my boat. Actually, the orange is very smart but it’s also very flashy and personally I just couldn’t live with the flak it would inevitably garner from others.

Current: 440i GC - Carbon Black / Saddle / MPPSK
Previous: M135i, E60 M5, Z1, 330d, 135i, Alfa 156 GTA, Mercedes 500E, Audi S3, Audi A3 quattro, VW Golf GTI 16v
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