BMW has expanded its 1 Series range with the much anticipated Coupe version, featuring turbo power in both diesel and petrol guises.
With the addition of a boot, and featuring a discernibly more muscular shoulder line styling crease across the flanks, the 1 Series Coupe carries the elongated bonnet and short overhangs with greater styling aplomb than its three- and five-door hatchback cousins.
It still looks a bit odd from the rear, the tapered boot resembling a watered down 5 Series blended with some original Z Coupe.
The Coupe line-up features three engine derivatives. For swift grand touring, the 3-litre, 125i, slots in the middle of the three car range. Offering 160kW of power and 270Nm of torque, it should devour vast distances with ease.
For those more economically minded, there is the 120d. Heralding the first unrestricted BMW turbodiesel powerplant on offer in South Africa - all post-March production turbodiesels will follow suit - it produces 130kW and 350Nm of torque, whilst offering 5.5l/100km consumption.
Headlining the 1 Series Coupe act is the 135i, equipped with BMW's redoubtable twin-turbo 3-litre straight six petrol engine.
Employing two small turbo's operating at only 0.4 bar, it seeks to quell any turbo lag and produce seamless, latent power to the tune of 225kW and 400Nm.
Whilst the 1 Series is by no means a large car, and BMW makes much of its current performance engineering imperative being efficient dynamics - light, low-drag, powerful - these cars still tip the scales at around one and a half tons.
For the car's local launch, BMW mapped a test route which meandered through the North West province. Thanks to the 370-litre boot space - not exceptionally capacious, but ample enough - we bundled in our overnight gear and set out in a 135i.
The 1 Series Coupe interior, as is the case with most of BMWs current cars, is minimalistically styled to the point of sobriety. All surfaces are unidirectional and flat, lacking textures and contrast.
The seats are brilliant though, supportive, especially in the shoulder/rhomboid area, and the side bolsters keep a neat hold on you whilst cornering at speed. The new USB port means you can leave the iPod at home, and just plug in your flash drive filled with MP3s.
On the road
Dynamically though, the bloodline becomes apparent. Bar the power steering's nervous fidgetiness in the dead-centre position at high speed on surfaces anything other than Billiard table smooth, the 135i is a smashing drive.
The six-speed manual 'box shifts with a mechanical solidly encouraging one to chase the red-line, and the 3-litre twin-turbo engine is plainly one of the best - if not the best - real world, performance driving powerplant currently available anywhere.
It has the inherent smoothness and balance which can only be afforded by a straight-six configuration, and the 400Nm turbocharged punch is seamless - lag is simply a non-issue.
BMW claims sober consumption figures of below 10l/100km on the combined cycle - we averaged 25l/100km on the 337km test route, much of it the result of very spirited driving though.
Fourth gear overtaking ability in the 135i is prodigious, and when you pitch it into fast sweeps the steering comes alive as lateral forces load up the chassis. Mid-corner undulations do little to upset it - and we hit quite a few mid-corner ruts and surface imperfections - and it faithfully follows the line you set it on; even at comically irresponsible speeds.
BMW allowed us to fling the Coupe range around the impeccably neat and demanding Zwartkops raceway. I am hardly a fan of flinging road cars around a track because no matter how capable the drivetrain is, the middle pedal always fades alarmingly after two or three hot laps and you end up haplessly out braking yourself.
The 135i is guarded by formidable brakes though. Up front six-pot callipers grip 338mm ventilated discs, and even after two hours of track work I only managed to induce the ABS once, after leaving my braking very optimistically late on turn-in.
Another performance boon, and first for a BMW powered by the 3-litre twin-turbo straight-six, is the electronically aided, rear limited-slip differential.
Using softwear to engage a locking function on the differential, it tempers wheelspin on the drive wheel with less grip during dynamic cornering, shifting more torque to the drive wheel with surfeit grip.
The result is vice-free, full-throttle corner apexing behaviour. The 135i, plainly, should come with a M1 badge as standard...
Around the track the 120d was obviously hampered by its gearing and slightly more nose-heavy feel, but as a long-distance cruiser it's very refined and revs unwittingly smoothly for a diesel. The 125i was unfortunately not available during the launch.
The new 1 Series Coupe is a very important, yet peculiar, car for BMW. It will be the first 1 Series to go on sale in the US market, yet 135i seems contained in a local market vacuum without obvious rivals. .
The Alfa GT series is prettier but the BMW has far superior engines. A TT is even too impractical.
You can hardly compare the 1 Series Coupe to the gaggle of hot hatches available locally, because the BMW has rear-wheel drive dynamics although interior space is much more cramped.
If you yearn for a chunky looking, slightly cramped yet deftly balanced German 3-door Coupe with inspiring dynamics and superb long distance cruising ability, look no further than the 120D or 125i.
If you want to all the above with some seriously clandestine Q-car performance, capable of embarrassing performance cars costing twice as much, Sir, may I recommend the 135i. It's still strictly for two though.
Pricing:(auto versions in brackets)
120D R286 000 (R297 500)
125i R297 500 (R310 100)
135i R367 500 (R379 600)
Five-year/100 000km Motorplan maintenance contract with BMW On Call included in list price.