Other than the transformative 2002tii, few BMW models have been the subject of more lore than the original, hand-built M1 sports car sold between 1978 and 1981.
So, when word got around that a new BMW M coupe was clocking blistering speeds around the Nurburgring race circuit rumors began to circulate that the legendary nameplate was coming back.
Alas, as I learned during a visit to Spain’s Ascari race track, over the summer, BMW’s surprise was really a 1-Series coupe in crafty camouflage. In the German logic, the name M1 has been permanently set aside, like the number of a baseball Hall-of-Famer. So, what we’re about to get is the new BMW 1-Series M Coupe.
Once we got past that dance with semantics our next question was simple: when can we go for a drive? We got our answer, earlier this month, in Munich, at the formal unveiling of the smallest model to emerge from the vaunted M GmbH.
(Learn about the best BMW Extended Warranty options)
Surprisingly, even at the 1-Series M Coupe’s unveiling, BMW still was holding back on a number of technical details – and the product I got to drive still wore some camo.
The full and final presentation won’t come until mid-December. But with a wee bit of seat time and a few subtle questions for spokesperson Stefan Behr and development chief Albert Biermann we were able to get a pretty solid sense of what to come.
So here are our conclusions: the new M-variant is based on the 135i and will get the face lift that is due for the 1 Series in mid 2011. It has four exhaust pipes and serious M3 brakes that are visible through the M-wheels, with fat Michelin rubber (245/35 ZR19 and 246/35 ZR19).
The new car has the engine of the Z4 35is, the 3.0-liter turbocharged I-6, which delivers 340 hp and 323 lb-ft of torque. It has a maximum turbo load of 2.0 bar. Power of the 1Series M is some 30 hp more than the 135i.
According to German ‘spies’ at the Nürburgring, the 1-Series M Coupe pulled lap times close to 8’10”. That is pretty fast, when you know that the E46 does 8’22”.
“There are hardly any parts of the suspension that are still the same,” hinted development chief Biermann. The car gets stiffer springs, shocks with less travel, stiffer bushings, a lowered body and a wider front and rear track.
From the driver’s seat, it is immediately obvious that those measures pay off. The suspension seems more than prepared for the engine’s solid power.
So, might we expect a real M1 coming up after the face lifted 1-Series is settled into the market?
Spokesman Behr’s answer was a simple, “no.” The M1-nameplate, which was fitted onto the only mass-produced BMW mid-engine model ever sold to the public, has been formally retired.
But not without some debate at the BMW board level – where the decision was ultimately approved. Is there a chance the name could be “un-retired”? Well, we saw that happen with the 328 badge. And I personally suspect it would put out something closer to 380 hp and be targeted for a new race series.
But, for now, we’ll have to get used to the formal designation, BMW 1-Series M Coupe, though we imagine folks will quickly start calling it the M1, anyway.
And whatever you prefer to call it, the newest M-model is not a bad choice at all.
Of course, it will also depend on price. In Germany, it’s been suggested that will be somewhere between 50,000 and 55,000 euro, which is at least 10,000 more than the 135i.
Considering the current, weak state of the U.S. dollar, that would work out to a hefty $70,000, but BMW hasn’t always made a direct conversion on exports knowing that such a price premium could kill a new model before it even puts down roots.
Formal pricing will be announced in ‘stage 5’ of the 1-Series M Coupe’s rollout, which will be closer to the market launch in May.
For Americans looking to get a first good look at the coupe, that’ll come in stage 4, at the BMW news conference at the 2011 Detroit Auto Show, in January.