Just after throwing the hefty gear lever backwards with as much mechanical precision as I can muster to engage second gear, the rear tyres let out a furious, extended chirp as the back end gets all loose. This car - this rare BMW 1M - is clearly not a machine for the faint of heart. It doesn’t feel like it has quite the homicidal intent of the M3/M4 pairing, but it’s clearly a car that demands your respect. Not to mention your attention.
It’s here - along with the M235i - because we’re just a few weeks away from driving the M2, and what better way to prepare ourselves than to drive the car’s two nearest relatives: the father, and the baby brother?
The thing that intrigues me most about the 1M is the fact it’s already a classic. It was launched only a few years ago, and it’s quickly become a petrolhead’s hero. And yet, it probably should have proven a little more controversial when it first arrived.
"Few cars pack so much aggression and rage into a such a small package, but that's not to say the 1M is some kind of uncontrollable maniac"
It was one of the very first turbocharged M cars - beaten only by the original X5 M - and like the M2, it doesn’t even have a proper, S-designated M Division engine. Instead, it uses the same twin-turbo ‘N54’ lump as the 135i coupe, albeit with a little fettling to bring the internally combusted anger from 306bhp to 335.
However, a reputation for being stonkingly good to drive, and with only 6342 produced (the original allocation of 2700 was extended due to massive demand), the 1M’s place as one of the greats has been cemented. And as I’m getting to grips with this example, I’m beginning to see why.
With many modern performance saloons and coupes possessing silly power figures, 335bhp doesn’t sound all that much. But this is an engine that feels a lot more pokey than it actually is, and a lot of that is down to the 332lb ft of torque (369lb ft for short periods thanks to an overboost function), the full whack of which you experience from a stupidly low 1500rpm.
That’s the root of all problems with the M3 and 4, where there’s so much coming in so low than it acts like a hammer blow that upsets the rear boots, but here it’s manageable. And in the mid-range where everything comes on song, you get enormous amounts of relentless thrust.
You do still have to be on it when driving the 1M, though: drive it like a ham-fisted idiot, and it’ll bite back. It’s a car you drive with the music off, your eyes wide and hands gently perspiring into the leather steering wheel. It’s a fierce car, this. You get the sense it felt inadequate about its size, went to the gym to develop some massive muscles, and worked on a wicked right hook to unleash upon the next fool that dared question its stature at the local watering hole. Few cars pack so much aggression and rage into a such a small package.
That’s not to say the 1M is some kind of wayward maniac. All of the controls are just so wonderfully tactile: there’s the feelsome, heavy steering, the weighty pedals and the manly - if a little imprecise - gear change. You’re not wanting for stability either, with firm damping giving you just enough body control without leaving you skipping around dodgy surfaces with abandon.
I’ve parked the 1M next to the M235i, which is doing the newer car a massive disservice in the looks department. The M235i is a pretty car, but next to the muscular 1M it looks under-wheeled, under-arched and positively outgunned in terms of aesthetics. It’s a car I’ve been behind the wheel of before and enjoyed immensely, but it’s clear after driving just a few hundred metres that testing these two in age order was a mistake, because after the fury of the 1M, the M235i feels underwhelming at first.
Up front we have an ‘N55’ 3.0-litre straight-six, this time with a single, twin-scroll turbocharger rather than a pair of blowers. With 322bhp it’s barely down on power compared to the 1M, but - on paper at least - takes half a second longer to get to 62mph than the 1M: 5sec vs 4.5sec. It certainly feels a fair bit slower: it pulls hard in the mid-range, but not quite as monstrously hard as the 1M.
It’s a lot softer too, even in sport mode: great for comfort, not so good for vigorously pitching it into a corner, where you’ll discover a lot more roll than the lairy white car. It grips well though, and while it’s undeniably less aggressive, it’s supposed to be: this is an M Performance machine remember, not a full fat M Division car: that’s the M2’s job.
And in the M235i we have a bloody good starting point: here’s a car that’s agile - despite the portly, near-1500kg weight figure - grippy, and hilarious fun to chuck about. The nicely quick steering could do with a little more feedback and the gearshift is much too rubbery (even as a manual lover I’d be tempted to option the slick eight-speed auto), but other than that, I don’t really have any complaints. I’ve thought long and hard about it, and - barring the incoming M2 - I’m struggling to think of a BMW I’d rather own.
A more hardcore version of the M235i - harnessing the spirit of the brilliantly bonkers 1M - should result in quite a car. Initial reports about the M2 are incredibly promising, and based on what we’ve found with this pair, we can’t wait for our first go. It should be something pretty damn special.