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Road Test: AC Schnitzer ACS1 Sport Coupe
Being granted access behind the wheel of a BMW 1-Series M Coupe does not happen often enough for us. Especially considering we have a BMW 135i project car as our daily driver, the BMW 1M is the aim for our project and a clear comparison to the level of tuning we have reached with our personal project. Next up in our line of road tests is the AC Schnitzer ACS1 Sport Coupé, a beefed up version of the BMW 1M, both in terms of looks and technical achievements.
The ACS1 Sport Coupé is nothing more than a product from the specialists at AC Schnitzer who decided to enhance the highly capable BMW 1M to a sportier level. A rather intriguing thought if you think that BMW’s goal with the 1M was to recreate the feel and focused driving environment of the E30 M3. The 1-series M coupe is considered by many as the best handling BMW to debut since the 1988 M3. So BMW achieved what they set out to do, and now it is up to us to determine if AC Schnitzer achieved their goals with the ACS1.
A brand new AC Schnitzer ACS1 Sport Coupé was placed in front of us for a full day of test driving close to the Formula 1 circuit at Spa-Francorchamps. The Alpine White ACS1 did not have the complete line up of parts fitted, but still provided us with a good idea on what the tuner has to offer. The ECU upgrade for the engine and some of the exterior details were not yet fitted mainly because of the low mileage of the baby-M.
Let’s start by looking at the engine and the numbers its produces. For starters, it’s just a modified version of the same twin-turbo six-cylinder found in much of the rest of the BMW lineup. Secondly, the performance increase seems minimal. With 340hp at 5,800rpm it’s just a 38hp upgrade over the same engine in the 135i, with the torque rising to just 400Nm (or 450Nm in a sport mode). The heart of the 1-series M Coupé by AC Schnitzer is the power upgrade from a standard 340hp to 400hp. Together with the AC Schnitzer power plant and engine bay styling, this is available – like the AC Schnitzer Bonnet Vents – only for the export market outside of Germany.
The stock performance of the BMW 1M is more than sufficient for the car itself, even though more power would make it a definite M3-killer. The sport function is engaged by pressing the M button on the steering wheel. The additional 50Nm provides a gentle push in the back each time you engage the M-mode. It instructs you to push harder to fully grasp its potential. Next to the torque increase, the delivery of horsepower is remapped providing the driver with maximum performance at a higher rev range. These are the only small differences to the stock engine in the 135i.
The only transmission linked to the N54 engine is a six-speed manual with a short throw, sweet action and a third gear that copes with everything from 40km/h dawdling through to a 150km/h blast. The gearbox operates in combination with an electronic M differential to convert the power to the road. The differential is also one of the main components to thank for the excellent handling capabilities of the smallest M Power car to date.
To achieve the improved handling, the Germans widened the track at the front with 1.8 inches and with 2.8 inches at the rear and ballooned the body work. They also added the suspension, brakes, speed-sensitive steering rack, and 19 inch Competition Pack wheels from the current E9x M3. The overall package is convincing, and handles superbly. The body lean is minimal, the steering utterly precise, providing you with much higher cornering speeds than the 135i. The tires offer more than enough grip up to a point it is gone in an instant. The nearly square dimensions of the suspension setup is the main reason for this behavior.
The Germans at AC Schnitzer enhanced the stock setup by swapping the stock tires for wide, weight-optimized 19 or 20 inch wheels. Customers can choose from Type VIII and Type V forged alloy wheels in BiColor, Type VIII and Type IV wheels in BiColor and Type IV in silver with corresponding tires to transfer the power to the road. Our test car had 20 inch wheels fitted, which offered a slightly more bumpy ride than standard and a heavier steering feel due to the wider tires at the front. They also added racing suspension, which is fully height-adjustable, both in compression and rebound.
Stopping power is achieved via a new high performance brake kit for the front and rear axles. A six-piston fixed caliper on the front and a four-piston fixed caliper at the rear are combined with perforated, internally vented brake discs (front 380 x 35mm, rear 355 x 32mm) and caliper holders. The system by AC Schnitzer replaces the stock system from the 1M and saves a total of 4kg compared to the standard brakes.
The Aachen-based tuning experts also have a range of exterior components available to pimp your bimmer. A carbon front spoiler, chromed front grille, carbon rear diffuser and design elements on the front wings are available. A slight enhancement in sound production is possible via a twin sports rear silencer with chromed Racing tailpipe trims right and left, which was fitted to our test car.
Inside the cabin, the standard 1M offers a similar setup as the 135i with some alcantara trim on the dash trim, hand brake, doors and shift boot. The speedo has also changed to a 300km/h-version. The German tuner added a Black Line aluminum gear knob, handbrake handle, aluminum cover for the i-Drive system controller, aluminum foot rest and pedal set, velour foot mats and a sports steering wheel in alcantara to the interior trim.
The BMW 1-Series M Coupe is a brilliant car in so many ways, but does have its minor bugs. In essence, it is so much better than the 135i, but mostly because it shares a varied of parts from the E9x M3. Without all these extras it would just be a 135i with widened body work. Still, the handling is superb, but it can be a tricky car for beginners. Before throwing it into a corner and getting the most out of it, you need to find its balance correctly. For those experienced, the 1M is a piece of cake offering loads of fun, again and again. The downfalls are the interior which is hardly different from a stock 135i, the one-colored exterior which calls for a carbon fiber special touch and the reluctance of BMW to fully push the engine’s performance capabilities.
AC Schnitzer offers customers the option to enhance the stock trim with a large variety of parts, both technical and design. The must-haves on the list are the carbon rear spoiler, beefed up brake kit, fully adjustable suspension setup, 400hp performance upgrade and the sports steering wheel. Those parts are a definite improvement to the characteristics and looks of a great handling car, which offers any type of driver loads of fun and enjoyment.