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TG Awards 2011: Richard's car of the year
Annoyingly, Ollie Marriage summed this car up perfectly in one word when he drove it for this magazine. He described it as ‘boisterous’. And that is as exact and precise a description as I could give of it using an unlimited number of words and a three-hour PowerPoint lecture. The BMW 1M Coupe is, yes, a small car, but that’s not the full story. A labrador puppy and a fully grown duck are both small and roughly the same size as each other, but only one of them will hump your leg, eat your trainers and chew your finger when you try to pet it. And it’s not the duck. So the baby BMW is exactly that, a baby, bringing with it all the potential of larger, fully grown cars, with none of the seriousness and restraint of adulthood. Still small, but what it’s got in huge, disproportionate spade loads is character. And it’s not a duck.
The 1-Series body has been stretched over the suspension and trick bits from an M3, so the arches are pulled tight over the 19-inch wheels like a wetsuit on a wrestler - never seen that, but you get my point. Visually, it tells you straightaway that while it might be still right now, what it wants to do more than anything is bounce up and down like a mad thing, crap on the rug and tear off with the TV remote in its teeth. Comparisons are made with the original BMW M3 every time this car is talked about, and with good reason. The M3, when it popped up in 1987, was adored for its track-derived focus, razor-sharp performance and fizzing, raucous energy. That, though, was a car built for homologation reasons: BMW wanted to race and had to build a number of road-going versions to qualify. The new 1M Coupe has been built simply because BMW felt there was a market for a modern car with all of those attributes. It could have been a cynical marketing exercise, another example of men in suits telling us what we want. Except they’re exactly right - we want it. And it’s brilliant. Nothing I have driven comes close for steerable, chuckable, laugh-out-loudable lunacy while always having a sense that this thing might just be, in the right hands, a bloody good track car.
The gearbox is available only as a six-speed manual. It’s brilliant: short and snappy. The M differential comes from the current M3 and does its bit not just to help control those big, slidey moments, but also to actively encourage them. Hit the M button on the steering wheel, and the traction control sits back in a deckchair and reads the paper while you go mental. But it’s always ready to cough disapprovingly, and rustle the paper a bit to calm things down if you balls it up too badly. The twin-turbo, straight-six sounds like a turbine as it spins out its 335bhp, but it’s the huge surge of torque it provides that gives it more grunt even than the M3’s V8. It doesn’t cosset and protect, it’s not there to wave big performance figures in your face and then deny you access. It leaves you to get on with it. Thankfully, the thing is so well thought-out and so well-designed and made that it flatters and helps you along simply by being very, very good at its job.
We filmed one for our TopGear Christmas DVD. I had to drive it though a sort of shooting range, along narrow, twisting tracks past hordes of blokes armed with paintball guns, chasing me on dirt bikes and in a modified Bowler Wildcat. There was even a helicopter carrying more potential paintball assassins. I can be honest here and confess that we had a stunt driver on standby, just in case it all got a bit much for idiot boy and someone got killed. In the event, I was able to slither the thing around with such pace and accuracy that the stunt driver stayed in his car drinking cold coffee. And my point is that if even a numpty like me can extract huge, controllable slides, turns tight enough to rearrange your face, and viscous corner-to-corner blasts out of it, the 1M Coupe has got to have something special. It’s expensive, but don’t worry if you’re feeling tempted to sell the kids and live in a cardboard box, there’s not much point because the cars are probably all gone by now. Only 450 will come to the UK. I shall pull over and applaud if ever I see one on the road. It’s magnificent and my car of the year.
Read this and much much more in our huge new Awards issue of TopGear magazine, on sale now