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?
Gallery: BMW 1M (2,000 Mile Review) →
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.