9

The new 454bhp M2 – entry-point to M's range of wares – is now a very serious proposition indeed

BMW has blown hot and cold with its compact M cars.

The 2002 Turbo, the firm’s very first turbocharged road car, set the tone, coming only a year after BMW Motorsport was founded in 1973. But the 2002 had a short life, and after it bigger M cars took centre stage. It wasn’t until the late 1990s, with the Z3-based M Roadster and Coupé, that anything smaller than an M3 received a Motorsport badge.

The 10-stage traction control that becomes available when you deactivate DSC is useful but not essential. I suspect most owners will either go for M Dynamic Mode, which is fairly free anyway, or turn everything off, which is also fine because the car is so predictable.

In 2011, a penny dropped when BMW squeezed a turbocharged straight six into a shrink-wrapped 1 Series Coupé, and the cultish 1M Coupé was born. The original BMW M2 (2015-2021) rekindled the 1M’s spirit in 2016 and was a commercial success. And now, in 2023, we have a second-generation M2 Coupé, ready to pick up where its predecessor – by the end of its life, the biggest-selling M car of all – left off.

After Munich switched the 1 Series hatch to a more commercially minded front-wheel-drive platform, the 2 Series Coupé could only survive by switching to a shortened 3 Series architecture, so the M2 follows suit. As we are about to explain, the car therefore becomes something larger, more powerful and more capable than any 1M or M2 before it – something more akin to an M 2.5, perhaps. 

Read on to find out what implications that has for a car that previous M division executive boards might have considered a sideshow but which certainly demands greater respect now.

Advertisement
Back to top

The range at a glance

Models Power From
M2 Coupé M Steptronic auto 453bhp £64,980
M2 Coupé manual 453bhp £66,090

BMW’s M2 showroom range is pleasingly simple. There is one bodystyle, two gearboxes and only six colours, five of which are no-cost options (Frozen Pure Grey is £1995).

The M Driver’s Pack (£2305) is a rather expensive route towards a day’s track tuition and a different speed limiter (180mph rather than 155mph); the M2 Comfort Pack (£730) adds a heated steering wheel and a wireless device charging drawer; but it’s the M Race Track Pack (£9095) that’s expected to be the sought-after one, with its carbonfibre roof panel and front seats, and its carbonfibre cabin trim.

DESIGN & STYLING
bmw m2 road test review 2023 02 panning side

The toy-like, perfectly balanced, shrink-wrapped proportions of the BMW 1M Coupé, which the last M2 inherited to a certain extent, are now gone.

From its elongated-looking bonnet to its swollen arches, burst-open front bumper and radiator grille, the new M2 has much more of the look of the modified custom hot rod or even steroidal competition car about it; it has forsaken ‘pretty’ for ‘pugnacious’. It certainly has presence, but few testers recognised as much instant visual appeal.

Our black test car really hid the impact of that aggressively cut-away front bumper. I have seen others in red and pale blue since – and can now understand why BMW ordered so many dark press cars. Grisly.

The M2 is 119mm longer than its predecessor, although still 214mm shorter than the BMW M4 Coupé with which it shares many of its mechanicals. Most of that size difference – 110mm – is within the M2’s shorter wheelbase, which should influence its agility, although even that has grown by 54mm from the old M2.

The car uses BMW’s CLAR platform, now used for all of its longways-engined models from a 2 Series Coupé all the way up to an X7. Beyond that, M division elected to use as many of the proven mechanical components of the bigger M3 and M4 as it could, accepting that there would be an associated weight penalty but embracing the will to give this car as much of the performance and technical capability of a full-sized modern M car as it could – and hoping the latter would have a greater influence on the finished product than the former.

The former factor certainly isn’t insignificant. Compared with the 2016 M2, this car weighs some 205kg more in running order – less, though, compared with the updated M2 Competition of 2018.

Like the bigger M4, the M2 uses M division’s proven axle hardware (a lightened, widened, rigid-mounted multi-link axle at the rear, with lightened, stiffened struts at the front), but unlike the bigger car, it is rear-wheel drive only and is also offered with a choice of six-speed manual or eight-speed automatic gearboxes. Both transmissions drive through an active M locking rear differential.

Power comes from a slightly detuned version of the M4’s ‘S58’ inline six-cylinder twin-turbo petrol engine, here making up to 453bhp (in the M4 it produces up to 543bhp) and 406lb ft across a very healthy rev range, from 2650-5870rpm.

The M2 rides on 19in front and 20in rear alloy wheels, here wearing the Michelin Pilot Sport 4 S tyres that come as part of BMW’s M Race Track package. 

INTERIOR
bmw m2 road test review 2023 16

That M Race Track package isn’t cheap (£9095), but it does add to the M2’s cabin the lightweight carbonfibre-shelled bucket front seats that have appeared on so many new M cars these past few years. They helped to lower our test car’s weight to 1687kg, in running order and with a three-quarter-full  tank of petrol.

But they also exacerbated an ergonomic problem for the M2, one that isn’t common to modern M cars. Go for a manual M2 – it’s the only M car UK buyers can option as such, so you may well choose to do so – and you will notice a marked pedal offset in the footwell. 

BMW evidently had its work cut out squeezing three pedals and a footrest into a space that typically only needs to accommodate two, and it has only been able to do so – in right-hand-drive cars such as ours, at least – by aligning the clutch with the centreline of the driver’s seat and offsetting the brake and accelerator by some way.

As low as those carbonfibre buckets allow you to sit (so low, in fact, that some testers struggled to lift their left elbow above the transmission tunnel for a comfortable gearshift action), their deep cushion bolsters make that offset more pronounced and put the onus on your right ankle to articulate somewhat in order to get on the pedals properly.

Thankfully, those aggressive-looking buckets are surprisingly comfortable otherwise. And the M2’s cabin is quite practical by compact car standards. The back seats are a little tricky to enter easily and really only offer room for younger children, but they provide handy storage and fold flat for a useful extension of the boot.

In terms of its control and instrument layout and pervading material quality, Munich is right to bill this car as it has. The M2 looks like a fully fitted M car in every key way, from the secondary control concept (M1 and M2 driver mode buttons? Check) to the digital instruments, satin chrome and carbonfibre decor and even the three-colour M Power ambient lighting panels in the doors.

Bmw m2 road test review 2023 21 screen 0

Multimedia system

BMW's Curved Display infotainment system looms large within the compact confines of the M2. It’s made up of a 12.3in digital instrument screen and a 14.9in central control display, the latter governed by BMW’s Operating System 8.0 software. There’s also a colour head-up display.

Unlike in the smaller 2 Series Active Tourer, the 2 Series does include BMW’s rotary input device on the transmission tunnel, which makes its multimedia system much easier to navigate and less distracting while driving. However, just as on BMW’s larger models, the car’s heating and ventilation controls are now part of the touchscreen, which makes them a little more fiddly to access and control.

The infotainment system’s top-level navigability is good, with customisable widget-style menus and user-set shortcuts as part of a quick-reference menu for fast access to driver assistance functions and the like. Navigation routing and mapping is excellent.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE
bmw m2 road test review 2023 03 cornering rear

The slightly fast, seamlessly smooth idle of the 3.0-litre straight six is straight out of M car heartland. There isn’t much turbocharger induction noise – just that rasping, metallic-velvet combustion note that sounds so unmistakably BMW.

Hook first and you will note the slightly heavy, twangy feel of the manual gearlever’s action, which is equally evocative. If its maker had wanted, it could no doubt have engineered a lighter, slicker shift for the car. But this one, needing co-ordinated timing and a medium-firm hand, and standing up to rougher treatment well, suits the M2’s character and role. 

Manual M2s, it would seem, do without electronic launch control, and the car’s 10-stage electronic traction control system, accessed with the conventional DSC stability control switched off, isn’t quite the same thing. Leave it dialled too far back and the M2’s wide rear tyres and stout torque output make for a very fine line between bogging revs and spinning drive wheels on a standing start. Dial it too far up and it will rob you of a little too much momentum, reining in power not just in first gear but also after the first-to-second change. 

After plenty of experimentation, 4.5sec to 60mph was as close as we could get to matching BMW’s official 4.3sec 0-62mph acceleration claim. Not blistering, perhaps, but quick enough to be within a whisker of the time set three years ago by Porsche’s 4.0-litre 718 Spyder, a car whose 0-100mph performance the BMW matched to the tenth and which it went on to beat over a standing quarter-mile.

There’s absolutely no sense of subordinacy about this car’s outright speed. That straight six has the remarkable breadth of operating range and wonderful linearity of power delivery that also characterises the M3 and M4. Only by selecting a higher gear early and making the motor pull from well below 3000rpm can you feel any latency in the turbo response at all. If you let it, it will spin beyond 7000rpm without ever feeling breathless.

And there is a chance you might let it because, in this manual form at any rate, this car does feel quite long-geared. Second gear will take you beyond 70mph, third to well beyond 100mph and, if you like to listen to that engine work, at least, you will rarely need higher than fourth gear during normal driving except on the motorway. 

A shorter axle drive could have made this car quicker still but, as Porsche has played to its advantage with its recent GT cars, there’s something about ripping through tall intermediate gears at high revs that makes a truly great performance engine shine even brighter. Even in its new most ‘junior’ application, the M2’s S58 six feels very compelling indeed.

Engine 1

Track notes (Hill Route, Millbrook Proving Groud)

The M2 hauled itself to rest with real tenacity over the final 10 yards of its stopping distance tests – a clue that Munich has increased the mechanical grip for this generation of the car.

Although the chassis response isn’t quite as spring-heeled as that of the old M2, the car has lots of lateral grip on turn-in and declines to nudge into steady-state understeer even with lots of speed in the mix.

That kind of grip and composure invites you to pick up the power early and put faith in both axles to remain in line and under control, which they will do most assuredly unless you go out of your way to unsettle them.

That high mechanical grip level makes on-demand oversteer less accessible, perhaps, than it has been in previous M2s. The extra weight of the car is seldom more evident than when it starts to slide, but those adjustable driver aids and that super-linear torque delivery do ultimately make it obligingly hooliganistic given a chance.

Bmw m2 2023 track notes 0

RIDE & HANDLING
bmw m2 road test review 2023 15 stering wheel

It is impossible to be sure which car a BMW M regular, who had owned both an F87-generation M2 in recent years and a current F82 M4 Coupé, would recognise first here. The new M2 has more of the dynamic versatility, instant driver-configurability and roundedness of character of the M4 – as well, inevitably, as a greater sense of bulk and heft than its direct predecessor had. It doesn’t bristle and bound along a typical British B-road with the same energy as that of the old M2, but neither does it turn in quite as crisply nor rotate under power quite as gleefully.

After taking that split second longer to take a line around a roundabout or through a tighter turn, the new M2 sticks to it more keenly than an F87 M2 would have, and it grips and goes like a much more serious performance car. It has significantly greater composure at speed over complex surfaces, too, as well as greater touring compliance, to which we will come.

Is it less characterful? Less clearly defined from bigger M cars? A little but, thanks in part to how much more involving that manual gearbox makes the car, it still carves out its own place. It’s still an M car in its own right, then, and it’s still huge fun – and it’s multi-dimensional fun, too.

Thread it into a sweeping 50mph corner and it hangs on hard, not turning in rampantly but with balanced assurance. Leave it in third gear and with the electronics active and you will have great stability and precision, unflappable composure, and massive traction on exit. Or, if you prefer, try the same bend again at higher revs in second with the DSC dialled back. Suffuse the driven wheels with high, trailing revs and negative torque as you turn in, enliven the chassis with a neutral posture at the apex and enjoy a classic, oversteering M car as you exit on the power.

This M2 has undoubtedly had to do some dynamic growing up in order to wield its new performance level, but it remains an authentic, lovable M car rogue underneath it all – one whose greater mass, grip level and supply of torque make it a little more of a handful in its wilder moments than the old M2 was, but whose greater composure and adaptability is even clearer to see.

Bmw m2 road test review 2023 02 panning side 0

Comfort & Isolation

What a difference three years make. When BMW introduced the M2 CS, it made a fuss about never before having offered adaptive dampers on an M2. The new M2 has them as standard and can adopt a more settled, comfortable cruising gait than the F87 ever could.

You adapt its suspension via the set-up menu accessed through the corresponding button on the transmission tunnel. Comfort damping mode deals with bumpier A- and B-roads with just enough suppleness to let the chassis flow along fluently while remaining reined in over bigger inputs. We rarely used any other suspension mode on the road.

The noise made by the M2’s 285-section, 30-profile rear tyres, conducted through those rigid rear axle mounts, is marginally more likely to test your appetite for miles in this car than anything else – but not seriously so. A 70mph cruising noise level of 72dBA is some way off a Porsche GT-like roar and broadly comparable with what we recorded in the current M4, but it’s still significantly noisier than most modern passenger cars.

You get quite good all-round visibility in the M2, by compact coupé class standards at least. And if the combination of bucket seat and pedal offset does bother you, it would be well worth test driving a car with BMW’s standard front seats, with their less aggressively shaped bolsters.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS
bmw m2 road test review 2023 01 tracking front

In pitching this M2 as a £65,000 car when the last one started below £45k in 2016, BMW is undoubtedly repositioning it somewhat and quite understandably opting for profit margin over volume. It’s a shame for those who like performance value, but if the £17k leap from M2 to M4 is small enough to entice some buyers into the bigger car, BMW won’t lose sleep.

Most buyers are likely to plump for an automatic M2 since it’s the cheaper of the two (the manual’s £66k starter price is inflated by the VED implications of marginally higher CO2 emissions). We hope the manual proves popular enough, though, to remain a part of the UK range, because a three-pedal layout is likely to become an ever clearer selling point. 

VERDICT
bmw m2 road test review 2023 28 static front

In replacing its famously terrier-like, footloose ‘F87’ M2 with a performance car like this new ‘G87’ version, BMW might have had one eye on bolstering profit margins – but that won’t have been its main aim.

This car now has not only the power and pace of a top-level performance model but also the handling precision, ride composure, dynamic versatility, technical sophistication and configurability of a fully fledged M car. It’s much more capable than its predecessor, both technically and dynamically – and, while it’s also larger, heavier and a little less vivacious at its best, it’s much more widely accomplished.

That it also offers relative value, marginally greater agility and all the lures of a good manual gearbox might actually tempt M4 owners down into the car, as well as other BMW drivers up. But that’s not really the point. The M2 now feels like a much better whistle-wetter for everything BMW’s M division has become in 2023 and all that it offers. And, ironically enough, you might like it best because it also has a certain old-school charm.

BMW M2 Coupe First drives