Laguna Seca, CA—BMW’s new M2 is the much-awaited successor to the 1 Series M Coupe, which was last sold in 2011 and ’12. It’s a slightly smaller alternative to the M4 coupe, with a wheelbase 120 mm shorter, but it uses lots of chassis and engine parts from the M3 and M4.
It’s intended as a more “pure” sports coupe than the M4, more focused on the track experience and on the lightweight driving dynamics than its bigger brothers, which is quite the claim. Its head of engineering calls it “something like a motorcycle on four wheels.”
The M2 looks like a compact BMW coupe, with its twin-kidney grill and side “swage” line that adds a horizontal crease below the windows between the front and back wheels. Paintwork is exemplary, as it should be for a $61,000 car, though the only colour available at that price is Alpine White. If you want the tester’s Long Beach Blue metallic, or Black Sapphire metallic or Mineral Grey metallic, that’ll be an extra $850.
That’s it for options, though, other than a standard or automatic transmission, and a Bluetooth choice for two phones. Literally everything else comes as standard.
According to the press bump, “the sculptural wing extensions at the front and rear axle … immediately bring to mind the image of a muscular athlete with broad shoulders in a figure-hugging race suit, and visually enhance the car’s standout dynamic abilities.” I include that statement more for the entertainment value of its hyperbole than anything else. You can look at the pictures and make up your own mind.
This is no CSL stripper, with a cardboard trunk and no air-conditioning or radio. It might be intended as a track missile, but the M2 is still comfortable and well-equipped. The seats adjust and extend at the knees, and the side bolsters can squeeze in for Canadians and out for Americans.
There’s real carbon fiber on the door trims and the centre console and dash, as well as embossed “M” designs on the black leather and signature blue stitching. It’s one of the more attractive of the otherwise Spartan BMW interiors, and all falls readily to hand.
None of this applies to the rear seats, though. Their leather is thick and accommodating, and leg room isn’t too bad if the front passengers slide their seats forward a bit, but headroom is only good for kids who still have some growing to do. I’m just under six feet tall and I had to kink my head to one side to fit in the back. Fortunately – and BMW knows this very well – most 2 Series drivers could not care less about the back seats and the people who might one day need to sit in them.
There’s full connectivity in the M2, as there should be with all cars these days, but the real tech is under the hood and between the wheels. The 3.0-litre inline-six engine now makes 365 horsepower, a 43-hp bump from the M235i Coupe. Its torque seems less dramatic, 343 lbs-ft compared to 332, but that bumps up to 369 lbs-ft on overboost.
The extra power is found by integrating the Twin Scroll Turbo into the manifold, and by borrowing performance parts from the M3 and M4, including the pistons and crankshaft main bearing shells. It has additional cooling too, to let it spend more time on the track without blowing up: an extra water cooler for the engine and a separate oil cooler for the transmission. As well, the oil sump’s been modified and fitted with a suction pump to make sure everything stays properly lubricated as the engine gets flung around through the corners.
The M2 is 95 kg lighter than the smaller M235i, despite sharing the same engine size.
It’s all about lightness for the M2. It’s heavier than the M235i, but it’s much beefier. It finds the savings through aluminum suspension and stiffening plates from the M3 and M4, as well as via aluminum wheels and lightweight steel used in the rear axle subframe.
In the end, all that really matters for an M2 owner is the driving experience. BMW engineers here called it “chuckable” for its agility and ability. I switched the Drive Mode to Sport Plus and threw it around the track for lap after lap and never once got into trouble.
Of course, I’d have got into trouble with BMW if I’d pressed the “M Dynamic” button that allows a lot more oversteer before the differential’s traction control kicks in. I watched a video that showed M2s sliding around the asphalt in clouds of impressive smoke, but then the track marshal imposed a blanket ban on drifting. They wanted to save the Michelin Super Sports, apparently, which were developed especially for the car.
The Drive Mode selector offers a choice of Comfort – which is still pretty stiff – or Sport or Sport Plus. Basically, everything tightens for the sportier drive, including the suspension, steering, gearing and brake and throttle response, and loosens for the time on the highway.
The differential is clever enough to monitor the steering angle, accelerator position, brake pressure, engine torque, wheel speed and yaw rate to know exactly what’s going on with the rear driving wheels, and can adjust them within 150 milliseconds to keep everything under control. It will even anticipate slippage in some conditions, including around “enthusiastically driven corners,” to even out the allowed traction between the wheels.
Steering is everything you could want, which is high praise for an electric steering system. It grows firmer with speed and adjusts with the drive mode setting, but feeds back lots of input to the driver without being tiring in any way. This is a considerable improvement over just five years ago.
On the track, I drove an M2 equipped with the seven-speed automatic double-clutch transmission, which was simple and effective. Blip the paddles up or down and the car punches you in the seat of the pants with each accelerating upshift, then takes care of business going down. When launch control is activated, BMW claims a 4.3-second time for the zero-to-100 km/h run.
It’s slightly slower with the six-speed manual transmission, clocking in at 4.5 seconds for the same sprint. I used a stickshift M2 to drive sedately down the Pacific Coast after my time on the track and enjoyed it immensely. It’s not too short a shift and it snicks confidently through the double-H gate. It even matches the revs to smooth out the whole process, blipping the throttle on downshifts and lowering the revs on upshifts. You can turn this off if you want, when you’re driving alone, but chances are you won’t be any better at it.
Funnily enough, BMW made a big deal of talking about the M2’s improved fuel consumption, but never once actually said what it is. North American figures have not yet been released. In its European literature, BMW claims a city consumption of 11.6 L/100 km and a highway consumption of 6.7, for a combined rating of 8.5 L/100 km. This is truly impressive, especially given the RWD M235i has an official Canadian combined consumption of 9.9 L/100 km. On my gentle drive down the coast, I saw an average consumption of 8.9 L/100 km—premium gas, of course. That’s good for an engine with such racing prowess.
Not that most owners really care about fuel consumption, though it will ease their conscience at a cocktail party and it helps BMW reach overall fleet targets. “Everyone expects for M to achieve a good fuel consumption, even though it’s an M,” says Frank Van Meel, BMW’s president of the M Division, “but I think for the typical M customer, more important is vehicle dynamics, precision, agility and track performance.”
All of which begs the question: If that’s what you want, what are your other choices?
In its size bracket, the only comparable premium performance compact coupe is the Mercedes-Benz CLA 45 AMG, which retails for $51,800. That seems a lot less expensive, but it quickly becomes a similar price once you start adding options that come as standard with the BMW. The two coupes come down to personal preference—indeed, the M2’s head of chassis development, the manager of the department where the magic happens, came to BMW two years ago from Mercedes-AMG.
You could wait another year for the Audi RS3 to come to Canada, but although it’s been unofficially confirmed, there’s no date yet for its arrival that’s even been whispered. It could be a long wait.
Or you could go down in size to the Volkswagen Golf R, but that’s a whole different beast and BMW owners tend to sneer at VWs. Other than the Benz, the only real competition is the slightly larger M3 sedan and M4 coupe. So the decision’s up to you: How much space do you really need? And how much purity do you really want?