BMW M — that’s a term that means a lot to auto enthusiasts. It’s a term that connotes a car that is the epitome of its class, the absolute sporting pinnacle of that particular style of car.
Ever since BMW put the twin turbo, 300HP N54 engine in it’s 1 Series car, there was speculation around whether an M version of the car would be built. BMW will soon be bringing out a car with that designation, and there is a lot of buzz around it. Some of that buzz is around the question of whether this is an M car or not. (Link contains full spec sheet.)
Before we look at that question, let’s look at the car. BMW is doing an effective job of marketing its launch, including a dedicated web site at M-Power.com. These picture courtesy of that site.
Based on online reports, this sounds like one fun car. It’s got a tuned version of the N54 that puts out 335 HP and 332 foot pounds of torque. It has a M-developed differential and suspension. BMW says they want to give their customers a real driver’s car at a lower price point (relatively speaking, of course), and there are some positive signs they mean it.
There is only one transmission available – six speed manual. You can’t get a moonroof — to save weight and head room. Only three colors are available — black, white and burnt orange — whoops, Valencia Orange Metallic. The M aero package definitely makes the car look more attractive than the very stubby looking 135. On the minus side, it weighs 50 pounds more than my 1999 M3, which indicates how much heavier BMWs have gotten in the subsequent decade plus. It compensates for the weight with massively more power.
But is it a M car? That used to mean a unique, normally aspirated engine head and shoulders above what you got from the “lesser” model cars — not a relatively modest bump of 35 HP. That engine is already in two other, non-M BMW cars, the 335is and the Z4is. Someone could buy a 135 today, and use $9,000 saved to tune the engine, add some aftermarket suspension, drivetrain components and cosmetics and pretty much make their own 1 Series M.
Here’s how Edmunds.com phrased it when talking about the current M3:
“Buy a classic M car while you can.” That should be the advertising catchphrase for the 2010 BMW M3. BMW’s Motorsport division (hence “M”) has always been about the pure joy of purpose-built, high-revving, naturally aspirated engines, but that’s changing in a big way. There are now two SUVs in the M lineup, both of which are powered by a twin-turbocharged V8 that also sees duty (albeit in a less powerful form) in non-M products. That same turbo V8 is also rumored to power the next-generation M5 super-sedan. Soon enough, the current M3 will be the only traditional M car left.
And that right there is the key to understanding the 1 Series M Coupe – the current E90 series M3. There was no way BMW was going to develop a car at a lower price point that could out-perform the M3. The N54 engine also has had its reliability problems, although BMW is calling this version “second generation.” This is a really fun, performance oriented 1 Series — but not a M in the true sense.
You may be asking at this point if this is all an inside baseball, BMW-head argument. The car is the car, right — who cares about the title? I think it does affect everyone – in the wallet. Putting the “M” badge on the car lets BMW charge a larger premium than a “135is” moniker would bring.
Edmunds Inside Line reports the car will start at $45,000, meaning close to $50,00 out the door.That’s a lot of money, even for an “entry-level” M car. The Audi TT RS is around that price, and its very close to the Porsche Cayman. Or you could get a new Mustang with all the bells and whistles for a good bit less cash.
Personally, I hope there are enough BMW buyers left who want performance more than luxury to make the car a success. I think BMW may be hedging their bet — reports are the company isn’t producing a large number and is only importing 1,000 of the cars to North America. It shouldn’t be too difficult to proclaim a sell out next year with that number. A few of them should be at a dealership near you in the spring.
Who knows — if in a couple of years an original owner gets bored with his 1 Series M, I could be interested.