What is it?
The BMW M2 is the indirect successor to the much admired but short-lived 1-Series M Coupé which ceased production after a limited run of just 6309 cars back in 2011.
The M2 also happens to be one of the most eagerly awaited performance cars in years. So it is with rather high expectations that we head to the Laguna Seca circuit and surrounding roads in California to drive the new 365bhp coupé, whose impending introduction opens a whole new chapter for BMW’s M division.
Read our full UK review of the BMW M2 here
Unlike the earlier 1-series M Coupé, which acted as a forerunner to today’s line-up of BMW M Performance models, the M2 is acknowledged as a fully fledged M-car.
When it reaches UK showrooms in April, the muscular two-door will carry a price tag of £44,070, positioning the it £12,520 below the four-door M3, up until now the most keenly priced of all BMW M models.
With this sort of pricing, the new junior M-car will inevitably be compared with the £39,995 Mercedes-AMG A45 4Matic and £39,950 Audi RS3 Sportback.
Unlike its highly rated four-wheel-drive hatchback rivals, though, the new BMW is rear-wheel drive, maintaining a rich tradition at BMW M that harks all the way back to the original M3 from 1986, a car the firm is quick to point out possesses close parallels to the M2.
Given the decision to continue down the rear-wheel drive route, BMW M division boss Frank Van Meel expects to see stiff competition from the recently facelifted four-cylinder Porsche Cayman S, which starts at £48,783 in the UK.
The starting point for the new junior M-car was the M235i, alongside which the M2 will be produced without the volume restrictions of the 1-series M Coupé at BMW’s Leipzig factory in Germany. Such are the extent of the changes, though, that it could be considered an all-new model in its own right.
It is clearly the smallest of all current BMW M division models. With a length of 4468mm, a width of 1854mm and height of 1410mm, the M2 is 202mm shorter, 21mm narrower and 10mm lower than the M3. It also boasts a wheelbase that is 117mm shorter than that of its larger sibling at 2693mm .
At the M2's heart is a heavily modified version of BMW’s six-year-old N55 petrol engine that employs developments first used on the more powerful S55 unit used by the M3 and M4.
The two powerplants share the same cooling system, pistons, crankshaft bearings, elements of their exhaust system, Valvetronic variable valve control and Double-Vanos variable camshaft control.
Unlike the twin turbocharged S55 unit found in the M3, though, the reworked N55 engine relies on a single turbocharger that uses a twin-scroll process to boost induction.
The result is a solid if not particularly spectacular 365bhp at 6500rpm, giving the M2 60bhp less than the M3 but 30bhp more than the old 1-Series M Coupé. In combination with a claimed kerb weight of 1495kg, some 40kg more than the M235i, this provides the new BMW with a power-to-weight ratio of 244bhp per tonne.
To put this in perspective, the 425bhp M3 boasts 277bhp per tonne, while the 335bhp 1-Series M Coupé served up 225bhp per tonne.
The 343lb ft the engine develops between 1400 and 5560rpm is 62lb ft less than that of the M3 and 26lb ft lower than the 1-Series M Coupé. Still, an overboost function, which is activated during kickdown to liberate a full 2.1bar of boost pressure, temporarily raise the engine’s peak torque loading to 369lb ft between 1450 and 4750rpm for 30sec bursts of full-throttle action.
The M2 comes with the choice of either a standard six-speed manual gearbox with an automatic throttle blip function for downshifts or an optional seven-speed DCT dual-clutch automatic gearbox offering the choice of both manual and automatic modes, three distinct driving modes (Comfort, Sport and Sport +), launch control and even a so-called Smoky Burnout function, which allows the driver to indulge in wheelspin off the line. With the DCT gearbox, the kerb weight increases by 25kg to 1520kg.
As on all existing BMW M division models, an electronic limited slip M-differential offering a fully variable locking effect comes as standard.
With the standard manual gearbox fitted, BMW says the M2 accelerates from 0-62mph in 4.5sec. A lower first gear ratio and the effectiveness of the launch control feature of the DCT transmission shaves 0.2sec off this time, reducing it to 4.3sec.
The M2 rides on a largely bespoke chassis boasting tracks that are increased in width by 64mm at the front and 71mm at the rear over the M235i, at 1579mm and 1601mm respectively. They’re essentially the same tracks used by the M3 and its two-door sibling, the M4.
Additional bracing between the suspension towers helps to boost the high-strength steel bodyshell's rigidity, and M division has also dispensed with rear bushings, with the M2’s rear axle subframe bolted directly to the structure without any use of rubber to dampen road shock.
In a bid to pare weight, some 10kg of sound deadening material has been taken out of the bodyshell.
The suspension, featuring MacPherson struts up front and a five-link arrangement at the rear, also receives a number of new lightweight components, including forged aluminium control arms and wheel carriers, which help to lower the unsprung weight by a claimed 3.0kg.
The M2 rides on standard 9.0Jx19in front and 10.0Jx19in rear wheels shod with 245/35 and 265/35 profile tyres respectively. The wheels house standard 380mm front and 370mm rear steel disc brakes, four-pot front and two-pot rear calipers.
What's it like?
In a word, brilliant. It may represent the new entry level to the M-car line-up, but the M2 is also a wonderfully absorbing sports car. There may be more powerful and faster accelerating rivals at similar money, but few, if any, manage to deliver such engaging performance and handling traits while offering a similar ease of driveability and everyday practicality.
The attraction begins with the styling, which provides considerable visual impact both at a standstill and on the move. The brawny looking exterior endows the M2 with a brutish appearance that tells you it means business.
Among the unique touches is a heavily structured front bumper boasting integral winglets used to channel cooling air to enlarged ducts and so-called air curtains that exit in the front wheelhouses to reduce pressure build up.
There's also a shiny new kidney grille featuring a subtle BMW M logo and a chrome highlight housing the repeater lights ahead of the doors.
Further back there are wider sills, a small boot lip spoiler and a prominent rear bumper housing an integral diffuser with a quad exhaust treatment. Together the exterior design changes are claimed to have reduced drag by 5% as well as reducing lift by up to 35% over the standard 2-Series coupé.
M division has retained an all-steel body for the M2, which is one of the reasons why it weighs just 25kg less than the carbonfibre-roofed M3.
Inside, changes over the M235i include unique instrument graphics, a leather-bound M-sport steering wheel, M-sport seats in black leather with adjustable side bolsters, an aluminium foot rest and a kneepad on the centre console for the driver.
The driving environment is sound; the low-set driver’s seat provides a genuinely sporting feel while the multi-function steering wheel, boasting a thinner rim than has become the M Division norm, is adjustable for rake and reach. There’s sufficient space up front for larger drivers and passengers, and while access to the rear is restricted, there’s acceptable accommodation for two.
At this money, though, the overall quality of the interior is disappointing. The brittle back plastic adorning the dashboard and centre console looks cheap, as do other items, including certain controls and trims adorning the doors. For a car wearing the M badge you expect more sophisticated materials and a greater sense of occasion.
Doubts about quality dissolve the moment you hit the starter to fire the M2’s engine, though. The turbocharged six-pot delivers wonderfully smooth tractability and an extremely linear delivery without any discernible impediments from its forced induction. There is an enthralling mechanical richness to its operation that is not evident in the latest generation of similarly powerful turbocharged fours. Its flexibility at low-to-middling revs is also quite striking.
Nowhere is this more evident than when heading hard out of corners in second, third and fourth gears on a wide open throttle, relying on the power-apportioning qualities of the M differential to deliver just the right amount of drive to each of the rear wheels. Equally as impressive is its ability to accept higher ratios at low revs, easily accepting sixth gear at 1000rpm and pulling cleanly and with enthusiasm on a pegged throttle.
The optional six-speed DCT gearbox is excellent. The sheer effectiveness with which it changes ratios allows you to unlock the full potential of the engine with no more than a reflex flick of your fingers.
It’s well in the hunt on sheer straight line speed, and we can believe BMW's claim that the official 0-62mph time of 4.3sec time of the DCT-equipped M2 is a little on the conservative side. The nominal top speed is limited to 155mph. However, buyers can specify an optional driver’s package which includes altered engine management software, raising its maximum potential to 168mph.
More than the engine, though, it is the dynamic integrity that marks the M2 out as something special. Its handling is crisp, responsive and, when you’re prepared to go looking for it, adjustable, too. It’s a genuinely fun car to drive thanks to its deep ability and wonderfully neutral cornering qualities.
Sensible calibration of the traction and stability control systems and an electronic M-differential boasting its own unique mapping ensure you’re able to edge up to the limits of adhesion with great confidence, without too much premature intervention when running in the most dynamic of the three driving modes, Sport Plus.
The uniquely tuned electro-mechanical steering is reasonably light at lower speeds, imbuing the M2 with a likable ease of manouverability and responsive nature around town. However, the speed-sensitive system weights up markedly as speeds increase, providing a genuinely meaty feel when pushing along more challenging roads.
There is an immediate sharpness and a good deal of feedback just off centre, allowing you to place the compact two door with great precision, but despite the alertness, it never feels darty. Rather, there’s satisfying clarity to the way this latest M-car changes direction.
The way it can be made to string together a series of tricky bends with such remarkable dexterity is at the root of its appeal and one of the reasons why M division is able to claim a Nürburgring lap time of just 7min 58sec – a figure that is just 12sec shy of the latest M3.
Crucially, the M2 is more tied down than the M235i – a car we already rate very highly. This allows you to push the M2 deeper into corners with greater conviction than you’d feel comfortable doing with some rivals. The balance is magnificent, thanks in part to the claimed 51% front, 49% rear weight distribution.
On smooth surfaces the M2 cornered with tremendous authority. There is some initial roll but it is quickly reined in and the body settles well when faced with increasing lateral force, providing it with outstanding poise up to the apex.
The sheer progressiveness delivered by the largely bespoke suspension makes it highly engaging. The front end provides plenty of purchase when you lean on it out of corners, being biased ever so slightly towards understeer if you begin to tap into reserves of the engine too early.
The great thing is that it is adjustable on the throttle, too. The M2 provides the driver with a sense of reliable precision and instinctive controllability, allowing you to entertain some lurid tail-out action when the conditions allow. Tapping into this agility is an immensely pleasurable experience.
The suspension serves the M2 quite well, although we’ll have to wait until we drive it in the UK to give a binding conclusion on its ride. Overall compliance is nicely judged, although it does suffer from some annoying surface sensitivity and bump-thump due to aggressive rebound properties.
Should I buy one?
If you want the best small four-seat sports car this side of £45,000, then, yes. But you’ll want to get to your local BMW dealership fast. The M2 is a rare bargain and right-hand drive supplies are likely to be snapped up quickly.
On the road the new BMW is marvelous; on the track it is utterly addictive. The truly great thing is that while it dazzles with the sort of performance and dynamic ability to challenge the likes of the A45 4Matic, RS3 and Cayman, it is also capable of accommodating up to four adults and a limited amount of luggage.
BMW M2 M DCT
Location Monterey, USA; On sale April 2016; Price £46,575; Engine 6 cyls, 2979cc, turbocharged, petrol; Power 365bhp at 6500rpm; Torque 369lb ft at 1450-4750rpm; Gearbox 7-spd dual-clutch auto; Kerb weight 1495kg; 0-62mph 4.3sec; Top speed 155mph (limited); Economy 35.8mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 185g/km, 32%