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BMW's new 1 Series M Coupe is smallest, but not slowest

June 11, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
BMW cars that wear the M badge are truly special high-performance machines. The M3 in particular is incredibly capable, but it costs around $60,000 and averages 16 MPG, if you're lucky.

Just in time for today's sensibilities, the M3 gets a new baby brother: the 1 Series M Coupe at a base price of 47,010.

"We're moving to a smaller car world," said Matt Russell of BMW's M division. "We've preserved the six-cylinder engine in this car, but I would like to point out that it's the most powerful six-cylinder we've ever put in an M car. We really did put emphasis on both efficiency and power output."

Available only as a coupe, only with a manual transmission and perhaps only available this year, the 1 M is the smallest BMW to wear the M badge, but it's by no means the slowest. In fact, in acceleration it keeps up with a manual transmission M3, even though it's packing less power with a much smaller engine.

At a race track demonstration for the automotive press, the little Bimmer gobbled up the turns and blasted down the straight-aways better than most cars.

It's also civilized enough on the road to be an everyday car and gets reasonable fuel economy with its twin turbo six-cylinder engine.

BMW names their performance cars with the letter M and then the body, like the M3, M5 and M6. So why didn't the new Bimmer get the name M1?

It's because an M1 already exists. A mid-engined exotic BMW was produced 30 years ago in limited numbers and was never officially sold in the U.S.

"There hasn't been another mid-engine super car since then so, who knows? Maybe we're leaving room for another mid-engine super car someday," Russell said.

While the 1 Series M Coupe gets a somewhat clumsy name, it's anything but clumsy in spirited driving.

It also shows a kinder, gentler side of high-performance motoring with estimated mileage of 19 to 25 MPG and a relatively low carbon output.