BF Review: 2,000 Miles in a BMW 1M

Over the years I ‘ve driven countless BMWs. I ‘ve put mile after mile on new, used and just plainly old BMWs in every condition imaginable. And yet I ‘ve never been more excited about one as I am with the little white car parked in my garage.

There is nothing quite like the 1M in BMW ‘s product mix. Small, relatively light (by modern standards) and stuffed full of M3 components, it ‘s a 1 Series that looks like it ‘s been in the gym for the last three years. And in some ways it has with the M division having endowed it with heavy doses huge wheels, fat tires, wide fender flares and air intakes seemingly everywhere.

Then there ‘s the engine. However as much as the twin-turbo N54-B30TO makes for a great motivator under the hood, the experience is dominated by the M3 influenced chassis, suspension and brakes. Yet it ‘s so much more and less than an M3. take away 600 lbs and shorten the wheelbase and you ‘ll understand why, in our first review of the car, we called it likely the best small M car ever. And because of it all it ‘s easily one of the most endearing BMW ‘s in recent memory. But how would it hold up to 2,000 miles? Are there cracks in the armor or is the 1M as good as we initially believed?

Full Gallery

Purchasing a 1M

Let ‘s start with how we optioned the 1M. Or better yet what we didn ‘t get. That would be nothing. What happened to the back to basics car we had intended to build and buy? Unfortunately the previous North American M Brand manager who shaped the 1M ‘s offerings in late 2010 didn ‘t allow for many a la carte selections. That meant, if you wanted the Nav (which I required), you had to get pretty much everything. So we did. With one exception; satellite radio. With BMW apps, Pandora, an internal hard drive and Bluetooth streaming, the last thing I thought the car needed was yet another audio choice.

After years waiting my 1M arrived at Knauz BMW in early August with the $53,735 sticker in the glove-box. Which unfortunately coincided with me leaving town for Monterey Speed Week. Fast forward another week I ‘m finally in front of the car I ‘ve been lusting after for a year (and in theory for much longer than that).

So with papers signed and a check written, I was out the door and off the dealer lot in a blaze of Alpine White glory.

The Break-in

It was horrible. But I followed it to the letter. What does that mean? Read our in-depth how-to on the best practices for breaking-in an M car.

Everyday Performance

The 1M is a throwback in many ways but quite modern in others. The amount of torque from the moment you press the accelerator certainly is a modern trait. It allows you to wiggle those voluptuous hips at low speeds with just a stab of throttle. In the city that means help getting in and out of traffic (aka the moving chicanes that are city cabs). In lower populated areas it means an instant drift via a flick of the wrist and a dab of right foot. And it is supremely addicting.

As we ‘ve mentioned in our previous review, engineers at M wanted the car to feel eager and more playful than any modern M product. And as expected the MDM (M Dynamic mode – available via a button the dash) feels the loosest of any M car to date with the technology. And with less wheelbase and weight, 1M also rotates more eagerly in corners than any M3 I’ve ever driven – including the E30. In speaking with the folks at M it seems structural rigidity plays a significant role in this.

While the chassis requires more finesse and skill than an M3, the engine allows an enormous amount of latitude. Where the M3 requires careful gear selection in each corner to maximize torque, the 1M is extremely forgiving due to the amount of torque on tap at all times. It allows you to concentrate more on steering inputs and keeping the car in check.

That forgiving attitude is especially appreciated in every day driving. Commuting in this car is quite easy and comfortable. If I wasn ‘t so concerned about the low volume nature of the 1M, I ‘d commute in it more often. Yet day in and day out, the ride is too harsh on Chicago streets to call comfortable. M did an admirable job creating a good ride given the short wheel-base, tight suspension and 19 ” wheels. But this is a tightly spring car on a short wheel-base – there ‘s no getting around that.

Utility

One of the best aspects of the 1M is that it can actually transport people or things with relative ease. It ‘s a tight four seater but works in a pinch without much complaint. But for me the big win is having a car that does it all and allows me to put a front-facing child seat in the back. Seeing the all black Recaro Alcantara toddler seat poking out from the back makes the dad in me smile.

As with most correctly appointed BMWs, the rear seats also fold down for home improvement duty. However I haven ‘t quite crossed that ownership bridge yet and I ‘m not sure if I want to.

Modifications

As I ‘ve written about previously, I subscribe to the OEM+ philosophy when modifying any of my cars. The idea is simple – add only BMW designed, engineered or inspired accessories that enhance the look and feel of the car.

First up was the BMW Performance Carbon Fiber spoiler. A tricky install that requires a methodical approach, the spoiler slots onto the back of the 1M to perfectly complete the lines of the deck-lid. It also harkens back to the classic E28 M5 and 535is spoilers from the 80′s (some of my personal favorites). But you can’t add one piece of CF without another.

Next was the carbon fiber mirror caps which are installed by simply (and gracefully) pulling off the existing ones before popping on the replacements. One of the easier maneuvers but again patience is required (as are the foam inserts that come with the CF mirrors).

Upfront I added the absolutely essential BMW Performance gloss black grille – exactly what the 1M should have had from the factory.

The one addition I’ve made so far to the interior is the Alcantara typically found on the BMW Performance steering wheel. It adds a touch more of the soft stuff in a perfect place for it – somewhere you don’t actually touch very often. A good thing considering Alcantara is known to disintegrate rather rapidly with repeated human contact (search for 330i ZHP steering wheel warranty claims and you’ll see what I mean). The first insert I got I ended up having to take back as the fit left a lot to be desired (you can see this in the pics above). However the second slotted in perfectly once again affirming that many of these parts are indeed made by hand.

The results of all of this is a sportier look with more contrast (outside) that better defines the car in both style and purpose. Oh and to someone who cares about the details, it looks (and in the case of the Alcantara) feels fantastic.

What ‘s Next? Unfortunately winter. But before it takes hold of Chicago and the 1M goes into hibernation, I plan on a few more days out and maybe even a road-trip up to Wisconsin. By next spring the aftermarket should have had time to catch up to the release of the car and have more than a few different tempting products. I ‘ll be specifically interested in new engine mapping and perhaps even an exhaust.

Efficiency

As with the case of any car, efficiency is directly tied to how you drive. As you might expect, driving a car that begs to be enjoyed, efficiency isn ‘t easily reached. With this in mind, I ‘ve been averaging around 18-19 mpg in the city and around 24-25 mph on the highway. It ‘s not incredible but a long way away from the abysmal numbers we saw in our last M3 long-term test.

Issues, Faults & Regrets

1M ownership hasn ‘t been without one trip to the dealer to handle a warranty issue. Within a couple days of delivery the clips inside the door near the windows began to rattle at highway speeds or with bass heavy music. The fix was to remove the doors and replace the clips at the dealer. I had this done in conjunction with the 1,200 mile service to minimize any downtime. All told it took about a day.

Is there anything we would have done differently in regards to options? The only thing that has been truly a disappointment is the electric seats which don ‘t go as low as the manual seats (and of course weigh about 10 lbs more each). The 3/4 ” difference is all too noticeable for someone over 6 ft tall.

Then there are moments when I take a good look at the interior and notice the hard plastic and more than a few odd angles of the overall design. And outside, as much as BMW designers tried to un-do the bug-eye look with the exceptional new headlights, it can re-appear in some circumstances (even on a white car). But the truth is that there is nothing that causes me to regret (even in the smallest way) in buying a 1M. It is without question the car I hoped it would be.

Conclusions

I wanted the E30 M3 of my generation. I think it ‘s safe to say I got as close as possible to it with the 1M. There is no question in my mind that it ‘s been worth the wait and cost. Put aside the performance and the scarcity of the car. I just love driving it. Like the MINI, simply running a quick errand in town is a joy. It ‘s such an immediately pleasurable experience that I find it hard to say no to it as I walk into my garage.

Even seeing the monthly payment drawn out of my bank account garners warm thoughts. I ‘ve wanted this car for so long that I ‘m almost surprised at how much I still love it. I don ‘t think I ‘ve ever been enamored with a car that has given me the same feeling of complete happiness in both ownership and driving.

In fact the only thing that can stop it is an impending snowy Chicago winter. But until then I ‘m going to work on shaving off a few more millimeters from the Michelins.

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  • JonPD

    Still gives me great hopes for ///Ms future. Hopeful they  are seeing 1M as a gateway to producing better cars in the future.

  • Dylan Bland

    Nice write-up Gabe, and some great photos. I’ve done 4,000 kms in my 1M and I agree with everything you’ve written. I wouldn’t change anything about the car – you feel great driving it daily with the overall look of the car, the fantastic seats and the awesome stereo etc, plus it’s an absolute weapon when you’re in the mood. Having all that power with such a short wheel base and low profile rubber does make it a harsh ride and difficult to drive smoothly on bumpy city roads say compared to a regular 320d or something, but that’s to be expected. 

    As Gabe touched on in this review, I think the only drawback from owning a car like this, is you do feel somewhat of a responsibility to keep the kms/miles down and preserve it for years to come…compared to say a more readily available car where it can all be about the hear and now. I expect different owners will handle that differently, but for me it’s taking a little while to get out of the habit of religiously washing it and babying it…so that I can relax and just enjoy it. I think that will just come naturally in time.

    I hope now that Dr Kay has left M, his spirit and what he’s created with the 1M doesn’t disappear along with it. From what I’ve read, he had to push hard to get it approved, and I just hope the next champion of M feels equally passionate about cars that really make no financial sense like the 1M. From a pure $ perspective I can understand how they’re a low priority for the company, but hopefully it has a positive spin off for the wider BMW brand that makes it more justifiable. 

    Here’s to many more fun miles ahead! 

  • Jobu

    Gabe, I really want to know how you compare the 1M to the Cayman R.  Have you driven it?

    • Yes… I reviewed it a couple of months ago. Look at the right column under reviews or click the reviews link on the top of this page.

  • Anonymous

    You know, I see that the interior is not at the same level as the currently designed cars, but I have to say more an more I am feeling that this kind of “bland” if you will interior in more appealing to me than the zooty ones BMW is starting to produce. Even without the leather/alcantara I’d say its fine – give me more sturdy plastic over leather or alcantara that is going to wear out. Put everything where it needs to be, and make it ergonomic. Spare me the phoney metal strips and flashy trim. What did the dash look like in the E30 M3? You ought to do a piece that tracks the development of the interiors as closely as you’ve looked at engines, or other aspects of the cars.

    • I love the higher end BMW interiors but your also right about the 1er. I love the fact that it has manual seats standard, and that theres hardly any features. ! series interior is great and simple.

      • Anonymous

        Long live the stripper! I’m there with you.

  • Sackboy

    Coming out of 3 years in a E90 V8 M3, I have a pretty good picture of both cars:  The M3 is just the Pinnacle and Standard for autos that can ACTUALLY SEAT 4 humans!  The 1 M is at the same level of achievement for a JUST COME PLAY WITH ME standard, for less $$$.  Kinda like a “used” late model 911 would serve, or 1/2 price of a new 911.  This little puppy is really hard to find fault with!   sackboy

  • rick

    Great write up Gabe. My only complaint so far in the limited miles I have driven is the power delivery of the turbo motor. Under 3K I’m feeling a lot of lag, takes a second or so for the engine to respond, and sometimes I feel the surge of power isn’t as linear as I’m used to coming from a normally aspirated E36 M3 and my current daily driver, a R53 MCS. Is it just me having to get used to the nature of the motor? Also, thanks for the color suggestion. I ultimately went with AW and i feel it’s the best choice for me. Very much a sleeper car, even in car-crazed California.

  • Mike Welker

    A solid, personal review once again, Gabe – simply put. I’m also a devoted member to the stripper club (especially wtih something like the 1M) and I’m especially pleased that I didn’t opt for those power seats after hearing some of the pet peeves. 

    I must say, with respect to the ride, that coming from an R53 MCS with H&R RSS coilovers, this thing is like an ’88 Crown Vic on the roads to me. 

    I’d expect the winter here in Toronto to be similar to that in Chicago – will you be keeping the 1M on the ground, with the odd warm up on dry days every couple of weeks? Or will you be pulling the battery and covering her up until March? I’m leaning toward the former, but the chance of it sitting idle for up to 3 weeks at a time is somewhat anxiety-inducing. 

    Cheers

    • Yeah I’m leaning that way and am having that same anxiety.

  • Love the 1M, looks like a beautiful car and a great one to drive.  I pulled into the parking lot at work the other day and there one sat, same as yours…guy who works at my facility went out of town to purchase it.  I still haven’t got the nerve to talk to him about it yet, I might be drooling too much to talk to him.  🙂

  • Jim

    Great write up and i know how you feel as I have a 2001 M5 with about 55,000 miles on it and I still feel the same way about it as you do your new M1! Love the car!!!!

  • Anonymous

    Beautiful car and a great write up.  Wish I could afford one right now.

    As it is, I guess I’ll just have to continue to “endure” my Z4M Coupe… one of the last “simple” ///M cars IMO that was severely underappreciated in its day.

  • Andre Pantic

    Had to laugh hard about your first comment regarding the break-in period. I am at 412 miles right now and it almost hurts every time I take him out! Can’t wait for the 1200 mile service! 🙂