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BMW superbaby takes off in Cape

2011-07-22 18:33

BROAD CANVAS: BMW SA set up camp at an old airfield in the Western Cape for the launch of the 1 Series M Coupe. Picture gallery.

Vehicle Specs
Manufacturer BMW
Model 2011 1 Series M Coupe
Engine 2979cc straight-six, twin-turbo
Power 250kW at 5900rpm
Torque 450Nm (+50Nm on overboost) 1500-4500rpm
Transmission Six-speed manual
Zero To Hundred 4.9sec, 0-200km/h 17.3sec
Top Speed 250km/h (limited)
Fuel Tank 53 litres
Fuel Consumption 9.6 litres/100km; 224g CO2/km
Boot Size 370 litres
Steering Hydraulically assisted rack-and-pinion
Airbags Yes
Tyres 245/35 R19 front, 265/35 R R19 rear
Front Suspension Aluminium double pivot spring-strut front axle with trailing link; small positive kingpin offset: lateral force compensation; brake dive reduction
Rear Suspension Five-link axle in lightweight construction with drive-off and brake dive compensation
Price R546 392

Les Stephenson

Is BMW’s new superbaby, the 1 Series M Coupe, the most fun power package on the SA auto market? It’s got my vote – even if the launch didn’t include any time on the mountain passes of the Western Cape.

For which one can’t blame BMW SA – after all, only 71 have been allocated to South Africa (at least for now!) – because they were all sold even before they arrived in the country at R546 392 a pop... including the three lined up for the launch “track” event on the old Fisantekraal airstrip near Stellenbosch.

Which is the big problem we mentioned in the Wheels24 daily newsletter. You can read, but you can’t buy, which is good for corporate exposure but does nothing to move product – at least not the product we journos were driving.


The production run went to only 2542 units during November and December 2010 of which the US, UK and Germany got the lion’s share; Germany took the first deliveries in May, 2011. However, if you didn’t part with your half-bar this time around, there might be another chance in January 2012.

Consider yourself warned...

The launch event this week was tied with the first local exposure of a midlife revision of the 1 Series Coupe (the original hatch was launched back in 2004) and Convertible with which we had to make do for a couple of hundred kays through said mountain passes before parking at the dusty, gravelly and comfortably spacious Fisantekraal airstrip near Stellenbosch to switch to the 1 M Coupes.


The cars, including the M version, have been given new head and tail light clusters (the front ones with a daylight running light bar), new front bumpers and two new colours. The second generation of the original hatchback is also about to launch but for now the cars will continue with essentially the same engines – 120d, 120i, 125i and the happily brutish 135i.

More than a million 1 Series have been sold since 2004 – 25 320 of them in SA. So those of you who managed to grab an M version before the automotive shelves became bare should be feeling pretty smug... and, in case you’re wondering why the car wasn’t dubbed M1 in the same way as the M3, M5, M6 etc were named, it was to honour the legacy/memory of the iconic M1 sports car of the early 1980’s.

Sentimental lot, they are, over there in Munich Towers.

If you’re keen on the Big Daddy M Fives, by the way, hang on until January 2012 when the next version is due for launch; the M6 will be here soonish, too.

But it’s the 1 M we’re talking about for now, a serious piece of motoring kit ( Watch the ‘Walls’ 1 Series M Coupe video.) that the brave souls at BMW SA gave us amateur racing drivers to chuck about on a slippery couple of acres of dilapidated disused runway.

For starters, its twin-turbo, three-litre, straight-six belts out the same torque as the third-generation M3 – 450Nm.

FLYING ON THE AIRSTRIP: it's orange but it ain't clockwork... the black 1M was just on display but the unit in the background took a pasting on the gravel and worn tar of Fisantekraal aerodrome.

The 1 Coupe gets to 100km/h in 4.9sec (only a tenth slower than the M3) thanks to the engine management system calling on 50Nm of over-boost to shift the twist to a magical 500Nm. The same huge urge will take the car to 200km/h in 17.3sec, helped of course by its 250kW.

Many of the 1 M’s key components were conceived for the M3 and are now in this compact high-performance coupe in modified forms. In creating the vehicle set-up, which included test runs on the Nürburgring Nordschleife, the interactions of the engine, chassis and body were optimised to create a characteristic, consistent overall set of properties taking into account the One’s low vehicle weight of 1495kg.

Power, of course, goes to the rear wheels which are governed by a variable M differential lock that can switch all torque to either wheel if necessary. The double-pivot front axle and the five-link rear axle of the 1 Series M Coupe are almost entirely aluminium.

Tubular stabilisers and axle links are forged aluminium, aluminium shock-absorbers complete the lightweight construction concept and the driver can take advantage of the car’s stability control to get really wild in dynamic mode.

None of which prevented some of the more adventurous souls (me included) from losing it big-time on the tight and twisting bits of the traffic-cone delineated course. A 360-and-a-bit, thanks to an over-enthusiastic right foot coming out of the first vicious left-hander, left the car covered in dust and my cheeks an unbecoming shade of red.


A smoother, better, faster lap earned a “so you CAN drive!” touch of praise from Capetonian former track ace Deon Joubert. Cheeky sod!

Now I’ve driven every M3 since the first version arrived in SA in the middle 1980’s; I had a blast driving the current M5, unslowed by nanny chicanes or cones, when it was launched at Phakisa in the Free State and loved them all but none so much as this baby of the bunch.

The 1 M, for me, is the perfect car. It’s the lowest and widest (thanks to its flared wheel-arches) 1 Series yet at 1.42 and 1.8m (55mm wider than the standard coupe) respectively, and the shortest at 4.38m; it rides on truly magnificent multi-spoked 9Jx19” alloys up front and 10Jx19 rear and serious rubber (see specs table), it has four sculpted, hugging seats clad in black leather with orange stitching and the fat steering-wheel feels just right.

In fact the whole darn car feels just right and in due course I’ll get one to use on the open road and those mountain passes. Probably sleep in it, too. The only other car I’ve enjoyed so much this year was VW’s Polo GTI – also because it is a compact powerhouse of a small car.


In fact, it’s about time the moneyed lot out realised that big isn’t better, that you don’t need a Porsche to get your automotive rocks off, and that going to work and back can actually be fun again.

The 1M also claims to be the first series production car to use air curtains over its front wheels: inducted are is compressed and directed past the outer sides of the wheels to reduced power-sapping turbulence over the spokes.

The cars come in only three colours: white, black and orange. They also come with magnificent brakes: cast iron and 360mm diameter up front and 350mm at the rear.

Though the 1M is a “compact” in wheels terms, is still luxurious and well fitted and the cabin is deliberately dark – BMW insists that’s to keep the driver’s focus where it should be... on the road. In fact it’s a bargain at the price. Auto aircon, cruise control, superior sound with six speakers under the BMW Radio Business badge with MP3 compatibility and CD player, speedo reading to 300km/h (always nice to point that out to a passenger), power seats, windows and external mirrors.


Options include two-zone auto aircon, “comfort” access, auto wipers, auto anti-dazzle interior and exterior mirrors, and Harman Kardon Surround Sound with satnav with hard-drive storage. In conjunction with the navigation system the BMW 1 Series M Coupe is fitted with the operating system iDrive which enables control of infotainment, navigation and communication functions using the controller and an 8.8” colour display.

BMW Connected Drive adds adaptive lights and auto high/low beam lights and parking distance sensors. It also loves iPhones, iPods and BlackBerrys to display emails.

Traction assistance comes in the form of anti-lock brakes, wheelspin control (worked brilliantly on Fisantekraal’s loose surface), dynamic brake control and cornering brake control. Turn it off (if you dare) and enter drifting competitions...

Then there’s one other big benefit: I’ll wager that the rarity of the 1M will mean that, when (if?) you tire of your 1M you’re not going to take the financial pasting that usually comes with high-performance road machines.

Ya gotta love it!

Get more info about the 1 Series Coupe and Convertible and the 1 Series M Coupe from the BMW SA website.

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