‘M’ with a dash of wasabi

2011-08-13 08:42

In the 1980s BMW launched a car which started one of the best names in the automotive industry: M3.

A humdrum 3 Series sedan was turned into a fire-breathing, track-hungry super-saloon and since then, the M3 has always been the one to beat.

These days nothing has changed, and the first thing on any petrolhead’s lips is: “Is it faster than an M3?”

But this year’s M3 has evolved so far from the 80s that one has to wonder if they’re still related. Or is the now much-bigger M3 merely a supercar that shares its badge with a box from an era where big hair and bell-bottoms were the in-things?

I argue that is not the case, and BMW has just shown us why with the new 1 Series M Coupe.

Smaller, lighter and more youthful than the M3, the new 1M is far more than just a 1 Series with a bomb under the bonnet. It’s the new M3.

But why not call it the M1? Well, if you know anything about BMW’s history you’ll know that the M1 was a mid-engined supercar built for BMW by Lamborghini in the 70s, to officially confirm involvement in an up-and-coming racing series.

BMW had to build a line of road-going M1 supercars to legalise their racer, and when Lamborghini got a little careless with their wallet and went bankrupt, BMW eventually took over the project to produce less than 500 M1 road cars, making them seriously hot property in the 21st century.

In similar fashion, this new 1M comes with plenty of clout to go with its badge and should also become an icon.

These days a BMW with an “M” badge is far more than just a normal Beemer with big wheels and a loud exhaust. And this uniqueness shines through in the 1M rather well, with the original M3 like a cloak of nostalgia, draped gently over the 1M’s sexy body.

A true sports car, the 1M features a manic 3-litre straight six engine up front, which spits out 250kW of power and 450Nm of torque.

There are an additional 50Nm on tap via the overboost function too, just in case you need a bit more wasabi down your throat.

A six-speed manual gearbox sits in the middle, and with three pedals on offer, the 1M really is a driver’s car rather than a PlayStation on wheels.

At the back, power is transferred to the massive rear wheels which complete the definition of how a “real car” should be laid out. Driving it is more difficult to describe though.

Acceleration is brisk or rather insanely quick, and the gearbox provides a positive feel for slick changes.

Handling is expertly well-balanced and in true “M” character, high-grip levels and communicative steering mean you can place the car perfectly in a corner and get around it very quickly.

A dab of the throttle will kick the tail out though, but the traction control keeps everything in check and even when switched off, the 1M is delicate and easy to control.

And then you get the practicality – the 1M, which is based on the popular 1 Series Coupe, has generous bootspace and comfortable seats in a spacious interior.

And with enough space in the back for two adults, it’s almost as practical as a four-door sedan.

Which then begs the question of whether the 1M is indeed better than an M3. In some ways it is, not least of which being its price tag of R546 392.

The M3 is a whole R300 000 more than the 1M (give or take) and with such a price gap, the 1M is surely more accessible to those who are looking for a special machine but can’t afford to take out a second bond to pay for it.

That said, though, BMW South Africa sold all their 1Ms (71 in total) well before the recent launch.

Hopefully, the rumours of another production run next year will ring true because I would hate to be one of just a handful of South Africans who will ever get to drive what is simply a supercar disguised as a small-city runabout.

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