The Appendage Factor

M cars have had what I call a high appendage factor Ч the feeling that the car is an extension of the driver. It's typically experienced in cars whose various systems and characteristics are well-matched to each other and provide the driver with ample feedback. In my opinion, the steering feedback is lacking in the 1M, even when the car is pushed to its limits. For the record, a couple of our other editors were less critical.

During my first several miles, the 1M thrilled me. I flung it about and reveled in its general M-ness. But over time I began to find fault with it, starting with the steering and continuing once I sat down with the specs and prices.

At a base price of $46,135, the 1M is a healthy $9,785 above the 135i's starting price. What does that premium get you? According to BMW, the 1M does zero-to-60 mph in 4.7 seconds. The manual 135i does it in 5.1 seconds Ч more than respectable Ч and its low-rev grunt makes it plenty fun to drive in its own right on regular roads. Are you willing to pay almost $10,000 for four-tenths of a second? For more lateral grip? Leather seats?

Now let's do the same exercise with the M3 sedan: Starting at $55,900, it's priced a substantial $9,765 higher than the 1M (or add another $3,000 for the coupe), but look at what you get: The M3's zero-to-60 time is also 4.7 seconds with the manual transmission. Unlike the 1 Series, it has a usable backseat and a slightly larger trunk. If you care to spend more, you can get the optional adaptive suspension, which provides an impressively comfortable ride compared with the 1M's firmness. In terms of livability and versatility, the M3 has the edge.

It also has a better interior than the 1M, whose entry-level roots show. Though the 1M comes with leather instead of the M3's standard vinyl upholstery, the overall materials quality matches the more affordable model. Additional M badges and signature black faux-suede highlights aren't enough to elevate it. Make no mistake: You're paying for performance upgrades and little else.

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