Comparison: 2011 BMW 1 Series M vs 2011 BMW M3
Is There a new Bavarian Ruler?
The two-lane on this early weekday morning -- the famed Angeles Crest Highway -- is empty, save for a few commuters forgoing the freeway in favor of a midmorning rush. It's the perfect time for a friendly dogfight, which is exactly what Motor Trend senior editor Jonny Lieberman and I are doing. I'm at the wheel of the new BMW 1 Series M Coupe, chasing his white M3 up through the miles of asphalt that curve gloriously through Los Angeles' northern mountains.
To the M badge faithful, this 1 Series M Coupe signals a return to form. It's the smallest and lightest M on sale. There's no sunroof, fancy multiclutch transmission, or adaptive suspension available, even if you want 'em. It would appear to be the car for the no-frills purist, the antithesis to the 5000-pound-plus X5/6 M absurdity. But is it? The M Coupe's development, at two years, is the quickest of any M car. Its underpinnings are borrowed from the M3 and modified to fit. Even its name looks to be the product of compromise: M1 is a reserved, hallowed thing at BMW. The only badge this car wears is a lonely "M" on its trunk.
Benchmarking the 1M (isn't that better?) against an M3, a car that's gotten no shortage of praise in these pages, would seem the perfect way to find out.
We keep a moderate pace on the climb up, familiarizing ourselves with each car's arsenal. But even at modest speeds, the 1M's stability light blinks relentlessly, necessitating M Dynamic Mode, which raises the intervention threshold. Despite this annoyance, it's clear the 1M is a superb driver's car, one with ample mechanical grip, precise steering, and excellent pedal feel. It's unfortunate that, as of this writing, the 1M is slated just for one year of production and around 1000 U.S.-bound units.
Lieberman's enjoying himself in the M3 coupe, yanking on those solid metal paddles to fire off perfect downshifts. Each rifle shot resonates against the mountain walls, emitted from an upgraded exhaust that constitutes nearly half of the $9500 worth of M Performance Accessory parts this car's wearing. None of these upgrades affects performance; the carbon-fiber pieces and black trim ($2460) are appliqués; the wheels ($2667) are matte black Competition-spec rolling stock; and BMW claims no power gain from the exhaust ($4375), though it's 20 pounds lighter (and, rumor has it, adds about 5 ponies).
Admittedly this is an awkward pairing -- forgetting the $34,367 price difference -- because the 1M leans heavily on the M3 for parts, taking its differential, rear suspension, brakes, wheels, and tires. With the same shoes, its dance moves are unsurprisingly similar. Around our figure eight, the two produce identical lap times. The M3 edges the 1M out slightly on average lateral g and acceleration while the 1M's lighter, more compact package lets it catch up in braking and turn-in (stops from 60 mph took 105 feet). But what's most interesting about these two is the change in the philosophy under the hood.
The M Division is in a transitional period. This M3 is the last of the high-revving, naturally aspirated engines that for decades have defined M cars. The future holds torque-focused turbocharging in the next M5, and, in a few years, the M3, and the 1M is a harbinger of this change. On the positive side of the ledger, the 1M's twin-turbo straight-six delivers thrust like a diesel: early and eagerly. At 332 pound-feet of torque -- 370 pound-feet for short bursts when the computer deems appropriate -- the 1M reaches 60 mph in 4.2 seconds, identical to the M3. And though the M3 carries an extra 237 pounds, that extra 79 horsepower and rapid-fire DCT twin-clutch give it the edge at the quarter mile, which this older, bigger car passes 0.2 second quicker and 3.8 mph faster.
Testing shows that any difference in lap times between these two depends on the driver. Back roads, however, tell a different story. The unpredictable nature inherent in varying road conditions, traffic, and turns demands confidence from enthusiast cars.
Enlisting two California Highway Patrol officers to shut down traffic in both directions allows photography editor Julia LaPalme to capture the pictures surrounding these words. And, as a welcome consequence, gives us carte blanche to play with two M cars on one of the world's best driving roads. This duo lined up, the officers holding the road with flashing lights, we ask, "What speeds are you okay with?" The cops reply, "Whatever's comfortable." Noted.
Lieberman leads with the 1M, blasting pebbles and dirt from the rear tires as he exits the turnout in a fury of torque. I lug out with the M3 in second gear and play catch-up. The increasingly sonorous character contained within the tach's never-ending swing to 8400 rpm is worth savoring. The 1M may pull strongly when its computer allows the torque boost, but while it's figuring that out, the M3 simply revs. And how it revs! This exhaust note should be weaponized; anyone within earshot is rendered a quivering mess.
We meet in the first corner, and I watch as the 1M's rear wiggles along the pavement. Both cars are adept at these speeds, but Lieberman is working harder. The M3 requires little effort; every steering input feels faultless, as if you aren't controlling the car by a wheel but instead willing it along a preordained path. The extra degree of flexibility afforded by the twin-clutch trans assists this sensation, allowing you to adjust mid-corner to the changing road. I regularly go flat with eagerness, and M Dynamic Mode offers a pinch of rotation before straightening out. Disable the ESC, and the M3 transitions beautifully into oversteer with steering input, the throttle becomes a mitt to catch it with.
When we pull over, Lieberman is stupefied about the 1M's torque supply, asking, "370 pound-feet? On what planet? This feels like so much more." While he goes on about BMW's penchant for underrating its engines' output, I try to make sense of the 1M's exterior. The vent-laden snout is the result of incorporating extended fender flares, but there is function: The slats on each side of the fascia push air out over the wheels, minimizing the car's rather high drag coefficient to 0.37. Lieberman says the 1M should be attractive, how it has the right elements, but agrees with me it simply isn't. We blame the droop of the side sill and the sense that it's missing a few crucial inches of length from...somewhere.
Catching ourselves in a petty aesthetical discussion -- cops are letting us blast triple-digit speeds with impunity -- we opt for more driving. Back in the 1M, it's instantly obvious that development focus was spent elsewhere. A few touches of Alcantara attempt to dress up the base gear, but the black leather and orange stitching suggests it's the San Francisco Giants special edition. Nevertheless, the functional changes work excellently. The shift knob fits my palm agreeably and returns neat and tidy throws (Lieberman, for the record, expresses wanton distaste for the feel of the stick as well as all BMW manuals), while the gray-faced gauges clearly indicate redline. The clutch feel is the best of any BMW currently available.
The 1M's steering feels distinctly quicker and lighter, and while entertaining, it's a tick less communicative than the M3's telepathy. And though these two share track and width, the 1M's wheelbase is 4 inches shorter. As a result, it can feel darty along these imperfect roads, exhibiting noticeable chop when the asphalt degrades. The 1M's ride is busier, sometimes playfully so, sometimes in a way that makes you second-guess your speed.
Still, the 1M never feels like it will bite back. The balance is admirable, with subtle understeer during steady-state, limit cornering. Still, it invites sideways mischief enthusiastically. A quick throttle jab pitches the rear outward, and there it will stay until the 1M runs out of turn or you run out of guts.
And the torque! Its delivery in high gear is stunning, making downshifting simply not worth it. Fourth is just as capable at 40 mph as it is at 100 mph, and the stomach-shifting surge feels like the initial drop on a rollercoaster. The downside is that power starts falling off at 6000 rpm, which is well before redline. Short shifting is crucial, though this seems strange after wringing out the M3, whose engine comes to life just as the 1M is running out of breath. The smaller car sounds more indistinct the harder you rev it, while the M3's growl grows sweeter as the tach's yellow amber LEDs illuminate and climb toward the red shift light. The 1M's wide torque delivery means a smoother commute during the daily grind, but the M3's race motor characteristics make it feel special.
This special sensation is what the 1M most lacks, but that's not to say it disappoints. It is perhaps one of the most entertaining cars since the Z3-based M Coupe: light, involving, and bonkers quick. It appeals to our purist mentality, the little guy in the white racing suit inside who takes pride in having nonexistent interior appointments and no extraneous options, who thinks making a car ugly to make it functional is cool, and who gains a sense a pride from having only three colors, and one interior and transmission option. The 1M signals a return to driving-focused enjoyment, not to mention it's as fast as the M3 and costs way less.
But is it better? Lieberman and I agree: No. This big, heavy, and expensive M3, with its unflappable confidence and lascivious powertrain, is the car we want, the car we'll remember as the best of the naturally aspirated Ms. It's the one we'll tell young gearheads about in a few decades with the same fondness and reverence as given its E30 ancestor. The 1M doesn't measure up to the M3's standard. Few cars do.
|2011 BMW 1 Series M||2011 BMW M3|
|DRIVETRAIN LAYOUT||Front engine, RWD||Front engine, RWD|
|ENGINE TYPE||Twin-turbo I-6, aluminum block/head||90-deg V-8, aluminum block/heads|
|VALVETRAIN||DOHC, 4 valves/cyl||DOHC, 4 valves/cyl|
|DISPLACEMENT||181.8 cu in/2979 cc||244.0 cu in/3999 cc|
|POWER (SAE NET)||335 hp @ 5800 rpm||414 hp @ 8300 rpm|
|TORQUE (SAE NET)||332 lb-ft @ 1500 rpm*||295 lb-ft @ 3900 rpm|
|REDLINE||7000 rpm||8400 rpm|
|WEIGHT TO POWER||10.0 lb/hp||8.6 lb/hp|
|TRANSMISSION||6-speed manual||7-speed twin-clutch auto|
|SUSPENSION, FRONT; REAR||Struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar; multilink, coil spring, anti-roll bar||Struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar; multilink, coil springs, anti-roll bar|
|BRAKES, F;R|| 14.2-in vented, drilled disc; |
13.8-in vented, drilled disc, ABS
| 14.2-in vented, drilled disc;|
13.8-in vented, drilled disc, ABS
|WHEELS, F;R||9.0 x 19-in; 10.0 x 19-in, cast aluminum||9.0 x 19-in; 10.0 x 19-in, cast aluminum|
|TIRES|| 245/35ZR19 93Y; 265/35ZR19 |
98Y Michelin Pilot Sport PS2
| 245/35ZR19 93Y; 265/35ZR19 |
98Y Michelin Pilot Sport PS2
|WHEELBASE||104.7 in||108.7 in|
|TRACK, F/R||60.7/60.7 in||60.7/60.7 in|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||172.2 x 71.0 x 55.9 in||181.8 x 71.0 x 55.8 in|
|TURNING CIRCLE||37.7 ft||38.4 ft|
|CURB WEIGHT||3339 lb||3576 lb|
|WEIGHT DIST, F/R||51/49%||52/48%|
|HEADROOM, F/R||37.9/37.1 in||38.2/36.8 in|
|LEGROOM, F/R||41.5/32.1 in||41.8/33.7 in|
|SHOULDER ROOM, F/R||54.0/53.4 in||55.3/51.7 in|
|CARGO VOLUME||10.0 cu ft||11.0 cu ft|
|ACCELERATION TO MPH|
|0-30||1.7 sec||1.7 sec|
|PASSING, 45-65 MPH||1.8||2.0|
|QUARTER MILE||12.8 sec @ 109.6 mph||12.6 sec @ 113.4 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||105 ft||107 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.98 g (avg)||1.00 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||24.8 sec @ 0.76 g (avg)||24.8 sec @ 0.76 g (avg)|
|TOP-GEAR REVS @ 60 MPH||2000 rpm||2450 rpm|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$49,910||$84,277|
|AIRBAGS*||Dual front, front side, f/r curtain||Dual front, front side, f/r curtain|
|BASIC WARRANTY||4 yrs/50,000 mi||4 yrs/50,000 mi|
|POWERTRAIN WARRANTY||4 yrs/50,000 mi||4 yrs/50,000 mi|
|ROADSIDE ASSISTANCE||4 yrs/unlimited||4 yrs/unlimited|
|FUEL CAPACITY||14.0 gal||16.6 gal|
|EPA CITY/HWY ECON||19/26 mpg||14/20 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||177/130 kW-hrs/100 mi||241/169 kW-hrs/100 mi|
|CO2 EMISSIONS||0.90 lb/mi||1.20 lb/mi|
|RECOMMENDED FUEL*370-LB-FT with temporary overboost||Unleaded premium||Unleaded premium|
|*370-LB-FT with temporary overboost|