Barreling around Sweden's Gotland Ring racetrack in BMW AG's new 1-Series clearly demonstrates the new coupe doesn't deserve its entry-level label.

Far from it. If anything, the '08 1-Series is one of the best-performing BMWs not to wear an “M” badge.

The 135i tested is powered by the more potent of two engines available in the 1-Series — a twin-turbo 3.0L inline-6 producing 300 hp and 300 lb.-ft. (407 Nm) of torque. BMW also will offer the 128i, powered by a normally aspirated version of the 3.0L, producing a respectable 230 hp and 200 lb.-ft. (271 Nm) of torque.

The 1-Series offers either a 6-speed manual or automatic transmission. The test car featured the manual, which took no time to get cozy with, thanks to its crisp, short throws and accommodating clutch.

On paper, 300 hp is a respectable number even to the most diehard BMW enthusiast. But once rubber hits the pavement, performance surpasses expectations, reminiscent of the 3-Series before it grew up. The smaller, less-refined 1-Series is a blast to hurl around corners.

The twin-turbo setup is designed to eliminate lag, as each blower serves three cylinders, quickening spool-up times. The result is a seamless power curve, making the turbos difficult to detect. Thanks to this unique setup and some exceptional tuning, the 1-Series' 300 lb.-ft. of peak torque is available as low as 1,400 rpm.

While straight-ahead speed is exceptional, it's the phenomenal handling that maks the 1-Series special.

The slightest steering adjustment is instantly transmitted to the road. Just pick your line, aim the 1-Series and quickly glide through corners, with tires squealing.

Throttle response is topnotch, with just a tap of the accelerator translating nearly instantaneously to the rear wheels.

Up front, the coupe boasts an aluminum double-pivot suspension, while the rear features a 5-link fully independent suspension, forged out of lightweight steel. The double-pivot front suspension's track control arms and thrust rods provide a stiff-but-forgiving ride.

To keep drivers out of trouble, the 1-Series comes available with BMW's Dynamic Stability Control and Dynamic Traction Control, which intervene to prevent loss of vehicle control — but only during extreme circumstances.

Helping with cornering are BMW's Active Steering, a variable-ratio steering system and electronic rear brake management, which BMW says simulates a differential lock for stronger acceleration.

Inside, it's typical BMW, a no-nonsense, Germanic mix of wood and leather. There's nothing too flashy, but the controls are where you expect them to be in a BMW and the seats are firm, with plenty of lateral support.

The 1-Series arrives in the U.S. in spring 2008 in both coupe and convertible body styles. After driving both in a relatively short period of time, we think the 1-Series may have assumed the mantle of the “Ultimate Driving Machine.”

[+] PROS/CONS [-]
300-hp twin-turbo No M version
Edgy exterior design Controversial styling
Great handling A tad heavy

'08 BMW 1-Series

Vehicle type: front-engine, rear-drive, 4-passenger coupe

Engine: 3.0L twin-turbo V-6

Power (SAE net): 300 hp @ 5,800 rpm

Torque: 300 lb.-ft (407 Nm) @ 1,400 rpm

Compression ratio: 10.2:1

Transmission: 6-speed manual

Wheelbase: 104.7 ins. (266 cm)

Overall length: 172.2 ins. (437.4 cm)

Overall width: 68.8 (174.8 cm)

Curb Weight: 3,373 lbs./ 1,530 kg

Base price range: $29,375-$35,675

Fuel economy: 22/36 mpg (10.5/6.5 L/100 km)

Competition: Audi A3, Lexus IS 350, Infiniti G37