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BMW 1 Series Coupe Range SPORT FOR ONE

BMW’s smallest sportscar still packs a hefty punch. Steve Walker reports

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It’s the outstanding engines, particularly the diesel ones,that make BMW’s 1 Series Coupe a unique choice in the sports coupe segment. The car delivers all BMW’s best bits distilled down into a compact driver-focused package.

There’s a simple purity about much of what BMW does that helps make its cars so desirable and eminently drivable. As you drop down the range and more of the superfluity is stripped away, you draw nearer to the basics that are at the heart of all BMW products. The 1 Series Coupe looks like coming closer to the essential core of BMW than almost any of the other vehicles in the current line-up and that’s partly why it has enthusiasts teetering on the edges of their M Sport racing seats.

Thanks to the efforts of the BMW marketing department, most of us are pretty well aware of what the maintenets of BMW actually are. The hallowed 50:50 weight distribution is the obvious one, derived from the classic engine at the front, drive to the rear layout. Then you have the world-leading engine technology, the kidney grille, the unfussy interiors and the over-riding driver focus. BMW is a company that’s acutely aware of its heritage but also one that’s not afraid to break with tradition if it’s deemed to be in the interest of the products. The 1 Series Coupe has something of the old and the new about it.

The 2.0-litre diesel engine was the highlight of the 1-Series hatchback range for a long time after it’s launch so it really says something that it now sits a sorry third in terms of the want one factor in the 1 Series Coupe’s three engine line-up. At least this highly adept unit is being outshone by some absolute corkers. The range-topping model is the 135i. It’s powered by a 3.0-litre petrol engine that’s helped to its 306bhp output by a pair of turbochargers that are hardly in-keeping with BMW’s normally-aspirated heritage. Fitted with this engine, the 335i 3 Series Coupe feels like eight tenths of an M3, so you can imagine how vigorously it’s going to shift the lighter 1 Series two-door. If you can’t, 0-60mph is pegged at 5.3s and the 155mph top speed is artificially limited. Almost as impressive is the 123d. This 2.0-litre diesel is the first all aluminium oil-burner in the world to achieve a specific output of over 100bhp per litre. Another pair of turbochargers help it to 204bhp, 0-60mph in 7s dead and a 148mph top speed. Rival marques have hulking six-cylinder diesels that can’t match it.

"A formidable array of engines and those classic BMW driving dynamics, …"

BMW’s 50:50 weight distribution is intact with the 1 Series Coupe. The car rides on double-joint spring strut suspension at the front and a five-link arrangement at the rear, chosen to leave the maximum degree of adjustability available to the chassis engineers. Big power like this in a compact rear wheel drive car is a recipe for big fun but also for the odd hairy moment. With this in mind, BMW’s DSC dynamic stability control is standard and the two more gutsy engines get DSC+ which includes various additional features to help with brake performance amongst other things. The traction control component of the DSC system allows a degree of wheel slip before reining-in the throttle, which will spur on the keen driver. The 135i model gets up-rated brakes with six piston callipers to help scrub off all that speed.

Links to the 1 Series hatch are evident in this Coupe model, the nose borrows heavily from the hatchbacked car with the bumper jutting forward from the plain of the grille and headlamps. Below, the air intakes are more aggressively shaped and as you progress back down the car’s length, the differences become more pronounced. The booted outline of the car owes more to the 3 Series Saloon and Coupe than the 1 Series. The car is 133mm longer than the hatchback that spawned it and the sharply angled windscreen, along with the protruding rear,emphasise this. Beneath the boot lid, which is drawn up into a subtle spoiler, the available space is measured at 370 litres, that’s 20 litres up on the hatch and there’s a 60:40 split rear seat to add a little of the liftback’s practicality.

The interior will hold few surprises for existing BMW owners. The high quality materials and solid construction always impress and it’s this general classiness that makes it all feel special rather than any stand-out detailing. The major controls for the entertainment and ventilation system are confined to a panel ahead of the gear lever and the rest of the stuff you need is clustered on or around the steering wheel where it’s simple to access on the road.

Prices start at £21,585 (around £4,500 less than a 3 Series Coupe) and there are three trim levels to accompany the three engines and make up the 1 Series Coupe range. The 120d is available in ES, SE or M Sport form, the 123d can be ordered as an SE or M Sport and the 135i is sold in M Sport guise only. It’s the M Sport package that really makes the difference to the car’s appearance, and the way it drives. Buyers at this top level receive sports suspension, sports seats, an M Sport steering wheel and the M Aerodynamic package on their car. In addition there’s anthracite headlining and M branding on the door sills but although the 135i gets 18" alloys, the diesel contingent only gets 17" items as standard. Despite the electrifying performance and sportscar dynamics served-up by the 1 Series Coupe, the car is still being positioned as an entry-point to the sportier side of BMW. Targeted at younger buyers who may otherwise have gravitated towards the current crop of performance coupes or premium performance hatchbacks, the 1 Series Coupe has been designed to offer a sophisticated but highly capable alternative. Vehicles that can outperform the 135i are hard to come by at this price point but it’s the 123d that inspires most. Where else to you go for a diesel sportscar with 204bhp and economy on the frugal side of 50mpg?

BMW has built its name on the finely-honed driving dynamics of its products but the marque is rapidly fashioning a second major string to its bow in the area of engine efficiency. Where competitors have turned to all kinds of weird and wonderful hybrid or alternative fuel technologies to meet the environmental challenge, BMW’s short term efforts have concentrated on developing its conventional petrol and diesel engines. The result is EfficientDynamics, a collection of measures that when implemented together, have a startling effect of fuel economy and emissions without harming performance. Different models in the 1 Series coupe line-up utilise different aspects of the EfficientDynamics programme but you can’t argue with the results. The 120d is capable of 58.9mpg on the combined cycle and 128g/km CO2 emissions, you’ll get 54.3 and 138g/km from the 123d while even the 135i can deliver 30.7mpg and 220g/km. Insurance groups for the 1 Series Coupe will reflect its performance but these costs are tempered somewhat by the strong residual values that we can safely expect the car to retain on the used market.

With a formidable array of engines and those classic BMW driving dynamics, the 1-Series Coupe looks like a winner every way up. Buyers in the sports coupe sector may not be particularly enamoured by the scaled down saloon car styling but it’s likely that the 1 Series Coupe will more than make up for that when you’re at the wheel.

The 120d Coupe’s economy is superior to most superminis, never mind compact sportscars while the 135i Coupe packs a punch that puts it in that same bracket as some serious performance models. Better still, though, is the 123d Coupe’s heady mix of economy and performance. With this model, BMW pulls of its most impressive feat,proving that clean and green can be fun.