- Precious Metal. This year’s hottest property is going to be the M2 – the best M car that #BMW currently makes? Here’s how the entry-level #BMW-M car eclipses every other model in the line-up… Words: Shane O’ Donoghue. Photography: BMW.
Forget what you know about the frisky BMW 1 Series M Coupé and forget everything we’ve ever said about the F80 M3 Saloon and F82 M4 Coupé. It’s true that the new M2 shares its wide-tracked, short wheelbase proportions with its predecessor and uses a 3.0-litre turbocharged six-cylinder engine too. It’s also true that the M3/M4’s rear axle, wheels and choice engine components have been drafted in to create the M2. But you need to put all that out of your head from the start, as it takes only a few minutes at the wheel to realise that this is a completely different proposition. One we think you’ll like. A lot.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Our first chance to clap eyes on the new M2 in daylight came just minutes before we got behind the wheel at the Laguna Seca race track in the States. A bright sun helped the aptly named Long Beach blue metallic paint sparkle, but even on a grey day in Slough we reckon the M2 will brighten things up. It manages that BMW M trick of looking unquestionably muscular without any glaringly obvious body add-ons. After all, we’re already fans of the M235i’s styling, but put this next to it and that car looks, well, weedy. The stunning 19-inch forged alloys set the tone, even if they result in a high-up looking car at times. They’re complemented by the expected quartet of suggestive tailpipes (dip into the M Performance Parts catalogue and you can enlarge these further, trim them in carbon and alter the sound using Bluetooth) at the rear, as part of the aerodynamic diffuser.
While there you’ll notice the most obvious styling departure from the standard 2 Series Coupé, the significantly wider track. The rear wheels are some 80mm further apart in the M2 due to the use of the M3/M4’s axle and Active M differential, and the bodywork has been suitably stretched and remodelled to suit. The result is aggressive, brawny and downright appealing to anyone that has half an interest in cars. It gives the M2 Coupé a real squareset stance, which may allay fears some may have of all that power in such a short package.
More hints at what lies beneath can be found up front, where a deep and sculpted bumper is as much air vent as it is plastic. The vertical slats on the extremities are what BMW calls Air Curtains and they form part of an extensive (though nearly invisible) aero package that reduces lift by a useful 35 per cent, while making the car more stable at high speed, yet BMW also quotes a five per cent reduction in drag.
That’s in spite of the M2’s wider tyres and bigger need for cooling, as evidenced by those large air intakes in the front bumper. The M DCT cars feature an oil cooler fed by one of these vents, while all versions get an extra water cooler for the engine itself.
And what a powerplant it is, sort of a mix between the N55 unit in the M235i and the S55 engine used in the M3/M4. Unsurprisingly, it’s a turbocharged 3.0-litre inline six-cylinder design, keeping the twin scroll, single-turbo induction of the N55, but it uses the S55’s pistons, high-performance spark plugs and crankshaft main bearing shells. The result is 370hp at 6500rpm (just 500rpm shy of the rather smooth rev limiter) and a useful 343lb ft of torque. Not only does the latter come on stream from 1400rpm and hang around until 5560rpm, it actually spikes to 369lb ft during ECU-regulated ‘overboost’ periods. In reality, on cut-and-thrust British B-roads, at any time other than a heatwave, the likelihood is that the full beans will be at the driver’s disposal constantly. Even in the Californian heat we never managed to catch the engine out, even if, ultimately, it’s never as uncomfortably fast as the M3/M4 can be. Still, a 0-62mph time of 4.5 seconds isn’t to be sniffed at.
That’s the official figure when the six-speed manual gearbox is fitted; the M DCT is 0.2 seconds faster. But this car is more about feedback and driving enjoyment than lap times and for that reason we’d recommend the manual transmission. It has a more satisfying and mechanical feeling change than the springy manual gearbox in the M3/M4 (but not bought by anyone), with small wrist movements only required to bolt through the gears. What’s more, the clutch is well-weighted, again without the springiness of BMW M cars past. Our only gripe with the manual option is that the only way to turn off the automatic rev-matching feature is to toggle the Driving Experience Control switch into Sport+. We suspect that most buyers that stick with a manual gearbox in a car like the M2 would like to partake in some heel and toeing. Saying that, if you blip the throttle yourself on the down-shift before the electronics do, it leaves you to it, so it’s well-programmed at least.
Those familiar with BMW M’s seven-speed dualclutch transmission (DCT) can expect more of the same here, but it’ll surprise anyone that hasn’t experienced it. In its softest setting, the car burbles along at low revs, conserving its fuel, while the gearbox smoothly changes up and down, making it a doddle to pootle through traffic or cruise along the motorway. But there are effectively six different modes taking into account automatic or manual operation and the three driving settings – Comfort, Sport and Sport+. At its most extreme, under full-bore acceleration, the transmission bangs in the next gear in a manner that’ll cause your passengers to wince and, at times, the rear tyres to chirrup. Back down through the gears it summons up evocative throttle blips too, which is certain to have owners changing up and down for no other reason.
This is all augmented by the bespoke exhaust system with its electronically controlled flap system. It reverberates purposefully at idle and from the outside it sounds mean and aggressive at full throttle, but within it’s quite composed until you trouble the upper reaches of the rev counter – or you select one of the Sport driving modes. It’s so refined inside that BMW felt the need to pipe engine noise through the stereo system. Not that you’d notice, as it sounds real, though as much as we like the hard-edged blare, we can’t help but hanker after the melodic naturally aspirated units of old.
The interior is a good place to be and all the usual M signifiers are present and correct. There aren’t many options so the standard specification is generous, including black Dakota leather sports seats with subtle blue stitching and the M logo embossed into the backrests. There’s electronic adjustment of the side bolsters for the front seats too, to cater for all shapes and sizes and hold you in place firmly.
Tellingly, there’s also a new leather trimmed and bluestitched knee pad on the side of the centre console for the driver. In front is a tactile three-spoke leatherwrapped (stitched in the M colours) sports steering wheel that is smaller and more slender than that in the M3/M4. In the M DCT car there are sharp, nononsense gear change paddles behind this. All cars get an unusual open pore carbon fibre trim material throughout the cabin that’s rough and textured to the touch. But that’s the only sign of weight reduction, as the equipment count includes niceties such as Professional Navigation, dual-zone climate control and the Professional Media Package.
Take a closer look at the centre console of the M2 and you’ll note the distinct lack of drive system settings buttons, as you’d normally see on all of the larger M cars. That’s because BMW M decided to keep the M2 simple. So there’s no adaptive damping, not even on the options list. Same for variable ratio steering and carbon ceramic brakes. Instead, the Driving Experience Control toggle button groups everything together, from the two-mode electric power steering to the throttle map and exhaust settings, plus the rear differential and, if fitted, the M DCT gearbox. Though the Sport+ setting, by default, switches the Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) system into M Dynamic Mode (MDM), the DSC’s three settings (on, MDM and off) can be chosen individually by the driver.
In Comfort mode, the M2 is quite civilised, though never quiet, which we like. It’s as easy to drive as any other 2 Series, easier even thanks to the tractability of the engine. We’d only bother with that when on a long motorway cruise though, as things get more interesting in Sport and Sport+. The noise and response levels ramp up considerably and it’s difficult not to get carried away. On track, we were advised to use Sport+ and it does indeed seem ideal for smooth, fast lapping. The MDM setting allows enough slip at the rear axle to help with maintaining momentum out of the corners without the DSC cutting in at the merest hint of a slide. Once you’re au fait with the car, however, there’s no fear in switching off the DSC completely, in the dry at least, as there’s loads of traction to be found.
Do that and you’ll uncover the true personality of this car, as it turns out to be a far friendlier and more forgiving chassis than the M3 and M4’s. With the space and freedom of a track at our disposal we were able to push beyond the limits of traction. Purely in the interests of research you understand… After six or so fast laps of Laguna Seca, it was clear that the Michelin road tyres were getting hot, but even so, the front axle remained completely true, tucking in the nose and precisely going where you want it to, with never a hint of understeer. And yet, there’s no scary unpredictable oversteer to deal with either. The M2’s natural stance is neutral and you can really feel the nigh-on 50:50 weight distribution and balance at work mid-corner, where the car is utterly stable.
But it’s far from inert and it doesn’t take too much provocation to unstick the rear tyres’ purchase on the Tarmac and lock the rear differential. Despite the short wheelbase and quick initiation into a drift, the M2 is incredibly easy to hold a long power slide with the rear tyres smoking gratuitously for the camera. It’s much more controllable in this situation than its big brothers and the power delivery seems smoother too. Now, we know that few drivers can or want to drive in such a manner, but the experiment did reveal how approachable the M2 is.
Performing in such a manner on a wide, smooth, warm race circuit is one thing, but the M2 needs to excel on tight and twisty B-roads for it to be a success in our eyes. And we found a good approximation of such a thing at the launch, though again it was warm and dry. Nonetheless, the M2 was astoundingly good on a 20-mile stretch of bucking, weaving and often bumpy American back road. It can be flung into tight corners with impunity, forgiving ham-fisted inputs, mid-corner adjustments and late braking nonchalantly.
That’s not to say it does everything for you though; it’s just so composed, so planted and capable that it soaks up abuse and continues to put its power down and maintain its pace almost regardless of the state of the road. Its compact size and wide track undoubtedly help here. Sure, the fixed damping is firm, but we never found it particularly uncomfortable. It’s worth noting that, through all this, the driver is thoroughly engaged, with strong brakes, communicative and ultra-direct steering and the sense that the active diff is completely on your side at all times. You don’t even need to be troubling the speed limit to enjoy the M2. That’s perhaps one of the biggest differences between it and the M3/M4.
Now, we accept that we came away from the M3/M4 launch wowed too and then when it arrived on wet and slippery British roads realised its limitations, so we’ll reserve final judgement on the M2 until it has proven its mettle in all conditions. But we have high hopes that this will be one of the most unforgettable new cars of the year.
The M2 is pleasingly simple – no adaptive dampers or variable rate steering buttons to adorn the centre console – and the car’s all the better for it; the main decision potential owners face is whether to opt for the manual or #DCT gearbox.
TECHNICAL DATA #BMW-F87 / #BMW-M2 / #BMW-M2-F87 / #2016 / #BMW-M2-M-DCT-F87 / #BMW-M2-M-DCT
TRACK (FRONT/REAR): 1579/1601mm
WEIGHT (EU): 1570kg (1595)
ENGINE: Straight-six, twin-scroll turbo
MAX POWER: 370hp at 6500rpm
MAX TORQUE: 343lb ft @ 1400-5560rpm, 369lb ft on overboost from 1450-4750rpm
0-62MPH: 4.5 seconds (4.3)
50-75MPH (5TH GEAR): 4.4 seconds
TOP SPEED: 155mph (168mph with M Driver’s Package – not available in UK)
ECONOMY: 33.2mpg (35.8)
C0² EMISSIONS: 199g/km (185)
SUSPENSION: Aluminium double-joint spring strut with M-specific elastokinematics (front), aluminium five-link axle with M-specific elastokinematics (rear)
BRAKES: Four-piston floating-callipers with 380mm vented discs (front), double-piston floating-callipers with 370mm vented discs (rear)
STEERING: Electric Power Steering (EPS) with M-specific Servotronic function
TRANSMISSION: Six-speed manual (seven-speed M DCT optional), Active M differential
WHEELS: 9x19-inch (front) and 10x19-inch (rear) Forged M double-spoke alloys
TYRES: 245/35 ZR19 (front) and 265/35 ZR19 (rear) Michelin Pilot Super Sport
PRICE (OTR): £44,070
Figures in brackets refer to seven-speed #M-DCT / #BMW-2-Series / #BMW-2-Series-Coupe
From the outside it sounds mean and aggressive at full throttle, but within it’s quite composed