There’s a special place in the hearts of the BMW faithful for the original M3 coupe. With flared fenders and an outsized rear wing, the petite “E30” M3, sold in the United States from 1988 to 1992, delighted drivers with a spry performance and superb handling, thanks in no small part to its feathery, 2,865-pound curb weight.
For 2011, BMW introduces an M-spec performance model that neatly captures the spirit of the original. But this is no mere nostalgia trip: The track-ready (but street-legal) 1 Series M Coupe builds on the virtues of the diminutive 135i coupe—already a pretty dynamic performer—to create one of the sprightliest M-spec models in BMW’s history.
Like its diminutive ancestor, the new 1 Series M Coupe is dimensionally concise: It’s a significant 4.8 inches wider than the original M3 but only 1.3 inches longer from bumper to bumper. And though it tips the scales at 3,296 pounds—a good deal more than the ’88 M3—the newest M-car (about 80 pounds lighter than a 135i, thanks to racy sacrifices like the elimination of a moonroof, saving 35 pounds) has a good deal more under the hood to compensate.
A 3.0-liter in-line six-cylinder engine with twin turbochargers and direct fuel injection provides the motivation: 335 horsepower and 332 foot-pounds of torque. And under full throttle, the engine-management system will allow the turbochargers to deliver a brief period of overboost—bumping torque to 369 foot-pounds for extra punch off the line. Matched to a close-ratio six-speed manual transmission (the only gearbox available), the engine delivers the sporty coupe to 60 miles per hour in a brisk 4.7 seconds, and swings the speedometer needle all the way to an electronically limited 155 mph.
BMW’s M-engineers have installed in the 1 Series M Coupe an aluminum-intensive suspension designed for the current M3. Matched to new vented and cross-drilled disk brakes and 19-inch light-alloy wheels borrowed from the M3 Competition Package and M3 GTS, the setup imparts one of the smallest M series with unprecedented agility—it’s reportedly quicker around Germany’s famed Nürburgring circuit than the recently departed, V-10-powered M5.
The 1 Series M Coupe arrives in BMW showrooms this spring, priced at $47,010—a good deal less than the V-8-powered M3’s $59,775 starting price, and (adjusted for inflation) the most affordable M-car the Munich automaker has ever offered. Now that’s nostalgia done right. (800.831.1117, www.bmwusa.com)