BMW made a big mistake when it brought the 135i to the U.S. in 2007. If the company had anticipated building an M version of the 1 series, it should have brought out only the 128i at launch, reserving the twin turbo for the later M version. As it stands, the 2011 1 Series M Coupe hits the road with only 35 more horsepower than the 135i.
So the question becomes, does the 1 M Coupe really earn its M badge? The 1 M Coupe gets a wider track width, by 1.73 inches, than the 135i. Flared fenders and a different front air dam distinguish the M version from the 135i, although it could be mistaken for a custom body kit.
The M model gets some different suspension work and a variable slip differential. Robust brakes give the 1 M Coupe extra stopping power, which can be more finely applied.
Both models use BMW's N54 twin turbocharged 3-liter engine, although the M model has been tuned for more horsepower, boasting 335 hp along with its 332 pound-feet of torque. The 1 M Coupe features an M button on the steering wheel, which remaps the throttle for more aggressive response. And if you push the traction control button, the letters MDM appear on the instrument cluster.
With the 1 M Coupe you have a choice of three colors, compared with 13 for the 135i. The M3's active suspension technology is not available for the 1 M Coupe, nor is BMW's Double Clutch Transmission, which you actually can get on the 135i. But you could argue that limiting the 1 M Coupe to a six-speed manual makes it more of a pure sports car.
So the 1 M Coupe doesn't seem to have a whole lot over the 135i. Then again, it is not too much more expensive either, coming in at about seven grand more than the 135i's base $39,050.
When you push its start button, the 1 M Coupe gives a satisfying growl, but it is only a few kittens louder than the 135i. The M steering wheel is nice and thick, easy to grip while sawing through a turn, but that same wheel can be had as an option on the 135i.
The sport tuning of the 1 M Coupe's suspension is not so rigid as to make the ride uncomfortable. As with other BMW models, the car delivers very civilized comfort in the way it handles the rough spots in the road. It was a far cry from the jolting delivered by the Porsche 911 Carrera GTS.
When you activate M mode and aim for BMW's 4.9-second 0-to-62 mph time, the rear wheels give a little as the torque launches the car forward. The tachometer gives an indication of when to shift with a nice yellow zone from 6,500rpm to 7,000rpm. The shifter slots neatly through its gate, and second gear takes the car past 60 mph. The foot-down power spools up smoothly and inexorably, never seeming to let up.
On an excellent road with a ridiculous number of turns, some a series of esses, some tight hairpins going up a mountain, and some broad sweepers, the 1 M Coupe got to show its handling prowess. The brakes allowed good modulation ahead of the corners, and the car remained stable under even heavy braking. The wheel guided the car neatly into the corners.
But then the traction control light flashed like an overcoat-wearing pervert at a cheerleader parade, cutting off power to the rear wheels as the car tried to keep itself under control. With power reduced, it slogged out of the corner, destroying what might have been a sublime experience.
Through turn after turn, the traction control stepped heavily on the car. We had dutifully pushed the M button before tackling this road, and began looking everywhere around the cabin for some way of suspending traction control. And before being forced to look at the manual, we spotted it: a button with a traction control symbol next to the word off, at the top of the dashboard.
Pushing that button did not, in fact, turn the traction control off. Rather, it lit up those MDM letters on the instrument cluster, which put the car in M Dynamic Mode. After a little griping about how BMW should have caused that traction control mode to come on when we pushed the M button, it was back to road testing.