Dinan S3-R BMW 1M: The Jalopnik Review

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My best guess is that Dinan is actually part of some radical environmental group dedicated to eliminating all private car ownership. That's the only reason I can think of to explain why they keep making these amazing machines designed to remove your legal ability to drive, like this Dinan-ized 1M.

I've driven a DINAN-modified BMW before, a 5-Series, and while that was plenty bonkers, it at least pretended to be a civilized being in public. That's not the case with the little 1-series. Dinan's made a diminutive monster, little and crazy and wild. It's like a squirrel born and raised in a meth lab — don't let the little bastard out of your sight.

(FULL DISCLOSURE: DINAN wanted me to lose my license so badly, they came by my house and gave me a machine designed to do just that. They let me have it for three days, which is good, because I'd be writing from jail if I had it any longer. My camera's settings were off, so sorry for the slightly overblown photos)

I'm not exactly sure just how DINAN is really planning to make money selling these 1M upgrade kits, since there's just not that many 1Ms around, period. For US-spec cars, only 983 seem to have been made, all in 2011. That's not exactly a huge pool of customers to pick from. Really, I don't think they're looking to sell many of these kits at all, and this one-of-a-kind DINAN 1M is a sort of halo car to show off how bonkers DINAN is willing to be.

Plus, at $20,832 for all the upgrades in the car I tested, that's a pretty big commitment that I'm sure not everyone who bought a 1M is willing to make.

In some ways, what the car really made me realize is just how much I like the 1-series, period. It's a shame BMW's not bringing these to the US anymore, because in terms of size, handling, and overall character, this is my favorite recent BMW in memory. It's tight, nimble, plucky, practical, and honest. The 2-series isn't bad at all, but after driving both I realize that it's really not the same.

Alright. Let's review this tiny monster before it comes back to find me.

Exterior: 7/10

First off, I really like the regular 1-series coupé's look. I think the overall proportions are fantastic, I like the somewhat taller-than-current-fashion greenhouse that evokes the old 2002's tall glassiness, and I think the front face manages to look purposeful and determined without becoming some rage-charicature like so many modern cars.

That said, I think all the DINAN body and styling "upgrades" just push the car into a near-douchebaggy territory. It's black on black on black with black trim, the wheel flares are clearly needed for those insanely wide rubber steamroller rollers at the rear (Pilot Super Sports), and it's pretty well covered with DINAN stickers. It all feels like a bit too much, and taking itself a bit too seriously.

The big D I N A N on the windshield especially. Plus, you can hear the wipers making funny noises as they drag over the decals, suggesting that someday they'll just peel them off, leaving you driving a DAN. The little DINAN D's on the B-pillars were already peeling, so I'm not too confident about Dinian's sticker work.

I do like the subtle black-on-black racing flag decals on the fenders and quarter panels, though.

Some people will likely love the hyper-agressive look, and this is one case where the car can certainly back it up. But it also stands out in ways you don't want, and attracts cops like walking around with a faceful of cocaine, a gun in your hand, and a stack of mail-fraud under your arm would.

Seriously, every time I drove, cops just seemed to appear. This is a pic my stunt driver friend took of me as we went to try the car out on the Angeles Crest — I wasn't even doing anything remotely questionable at that point, and the cop eventually just drove away, but he sure as hell came by to check things out.

So, if you get one, I suggest a more sleeper look.

Interior: 6/10

The interior suffers from the usual ailment of being an unending sea of black, like being on a ninja ship in the middle of the ocean at midnight in a black hole, but it's also pleasingly no-bullshit.

The gauge cluster is easy to read at attractive in a Germanic/Bauhaus form-follows-function way, even if it lacks the full-color LCDs that are becoming more and more the norm. In fact, this car lacks any full-color LCDs, which is becoming almost novel.

The interior is actually cozy — small, but not exactly cramped, and I found it pretty comfortable, though I'm not a big guy. I can see tall people maybe having a little trouble getting totally comfortable in there, but I think it's possible, at the sacrifice of rear seat legroom.

The visibility is terrific, with large windows all around, and the relatively narrow width of the car gives it a feeling of a close-fitting mecha speed suit, which I always like. The pedal location feels natural and good, and there's a very useful left foot rest for all the bracing you'll end up doing when your foot's not on the clutch.

The rear is tight, but usable for adults on short trips or long trips if you really think they suck, and, yes, it will baby. I'll go into that in more detail soon. The trunk is a usable size, too, and the rear seats drop down to allow bigger stuff — I know someone who shoves a surfboard in his 1 series, so that'll work for that or your ironing board or taxidermied marlin.

Acceleration: 8/10

This seems to be the whole point of the extra $20K the hypothetical DINAN customer shelled out. And it worked: this little brute is fast. DINAN's modifications make the 3L straight 6 grind out 444 HP @ 6350 RPM and 450 lb-ft of torque at 3300 RPM.

That's a good Fiat 500's worth of power more than the stock 1M's 340 HP, and it sure as hell shows.

DINAN has said that this will get you from stationary to a mile-a-minute in the 4 second range — I've seen and heard numbers ranging from 3.8 to 4.2. I'm not entirely sure what the exact number is, but it feels really, really quick.

Second gear, especially. Taking off is fast, but for me the car really comes alive in second, when the acceleration just keeps coming and coming and coming long after you'd think things would have flattened out. It's actually intoxicating, and I'm pretty sure that if I owned this car, when they fished it out of the lake or orphanage or decorative outdoor mall fountain, second would be the gear they found the car jammed in.

Braking: 7/10

The DINAN 1M I was loaned — the only one that exists anywhere, period — didn't come with the larger Brembo brake option, so I made do with the BMW factory bits. And they generally work quite well, at least for street use. The brake pedal has a good feel that manages to feed back some input about how the brakes are working.

I suspect for real, hardcore track use you'd want to upgrade these as well, since I suspect stopping would be an eventual end goal of most people's track experience.

Ride: 4/10

This is where the compromises come in. Dinan does a lot to the stock suspension setup — proprietary springs, bump stops, adjustable coil-over collars, mono ball front bearing kits, adjustable camber plates, and more — and the end result is a car that handles remarkably well. It's also a really stiff car, and not a particularly comfortable one.

Feeling the road through the wheel is fantastic, and this Dinan 1M does have that, but you also feel the road through your ass pretty vividly. rough surfaces, cobblestones, potholes, bumps, and pavement panel joints all have loud, important messages to send to your ass, and they all come through loud and clear.

It's not terrible, and there's a damn good reason for why it's this way, but a passenger not intending to be part of a sporting excursion will likely find cause for complaint.

Handling 8/10

It would have been nice to take the car to a track, but I just didn't have time. Or permission. I made up for that with some late-night driving on empty back streets in the light-industrial Frogtown area of LA, near a Hostess bakery. There I learned that, again, this car lives up to its somewhat absurd exterior. It handles remarkably well.

It's very neutral, and the tight overall dimensions and (relatively) light weight means that the whole thing becomes this nimble, tossable package that happens to have enough straight-line speed to cure your myopia.

The road feel through the wheel is one of the best I've felt anywhere in quite a while, and unless I was having tactile hallucinations, I'm pretty sure I could feel the difference in a gritty road and a smooth road through the wheel easily. Same goes for patches of road paint, and, in nicer areas of LA, thick pile carpet.

Turning off the traction controls really reveal the car to be the brute it is. It's like yanking the tie off the Hulk and then slapping him a few times. Traction control robots off, and stepping on the throttle can make the back end dance around like it's trying to convince the Passat behind it that it's car mating season. I'd suggest that if anyone has one of these, leave the traction control on until you've really spent a bit of time in the car.

Gearbox 8/10

The six-speed was a real pleasure, with a nice short-throw, notch shifter and gear ratios that are well-selected, even with the massive engine power increase. Like I mentioned before, second gear is absolutely the finest place to be — I'm looking for some retirement property there.

The overdrive 6th gear provides for relatively calm high-speed touring, and the ratios from that on down seem well-chosen, even if I don't believe DINAN modified them from the original car. So, "chosen" may not be the right word, but chance at least has made sure they're still effective.

Toys: 7/10

There's plenty of toys in this car — over $20 grand worth — but they're not really the sort of toys we normally think of. For example, the stereo is pretty rudimentary, there's no nav system, and the interior is pretty back-to-basics. In a very good way.

All the toys are the DINAN mods, so let's run down that list really quickly: engine software upgrades (boost pressure increase, ignition timing, retuned fuel mixtures, etc) bigger turbo compressor wheel, stainless steel free-flow exhaust system, high-performance intercooler, carbon fiber cold air intake (they say this adds 14HP!), high capacity oil cooler, front suspension system, rear toe links, pedal pads, wheels, tires, mirror caps, spoiler.

That's a lot of toys. And since those toys combine to give the car about 1/3 more HP (104 added HP), I'd say that's a pretty nice collection of toys, if pretty damn expensive.

Audio: 7/10

The modified exhaust especially helps the sound of the engine here, and it sounds pretty great. It's not overpowering or too attention-starved, but it's a good straight-6 rumble that increases intensity nicely the higher that tach needle points, and the blurrier the world gets outside those side windows.

The best sound it makes is the burble and spit as you let off the throttle — it's hard to get sick of that. The worst sound it potentially makes is cop sirens blooping from behind you, and an amplified voice telling you to stay in your car.

Value: 5/10

This is where grim reality has to step in and glower at this crazy toy. Is over $20 grand really worth the — admittedly non-trivial — upgrades to the car? That's hard to tell. I benchmarked the DINAN 1M against my friend's recent-model M3, and while that car was impressive as well, that DINAN M1 was more fun to drive, if significantly less refined.

Plus, there's the issue of actually getting a donor 1M to start all this with, and that'n not exactly a trivial prospect.

But, I realized a lot of what I like about the DINAN 1M has to do with the 1 part of its name more than anything. I like this small, taut, nimble little car, it's plucky character and its combination of usability and fun. And I think I could like it about as much and with a much greater chance of living the rest of my life in freedom even if it had half the horsepower.

So, for me, I don't think the value proposition quite makes sense. I think personally I could be about as happy with a well-sorted 1 series, though a lot of that has to do with my own lack of two key things: self-control and money. If you've got the cash to burn and the sort of personal restraint that puts you on lists for future canonization, the DINAN 1M could be a really fun way to blow some money.


Engine: 3.0-liter turbocharged inline-6
Power: 444 HP at 6350 RPM/ 450 LB-FT at 3300 RPM
Transmission: Six-Speed manual
0-60 Time: 3.8 -4.1 seconds (have fun arguing)
Top Speed: Not listed, but now ungoverned; you'll probably end up dead first
Drivetrain: Rear-Wheel Drive
Curb Weight: 3,208 pounds for donor car, DINAN likely pretty close
Seating: 4 people
MPG: 17 City/27 Highway (estimated)
MSRP: Whatever you can get a donor BMW 1M for, plus $20,832 (as tested)