BMW’s last-remaining manual-equipped M car doesn’t disappoint on UK roads

A high general rate of inflation seems like a handy smokescreen for car makers looking to make extra profit out of every new performance model, doesn’t it? And yet here we are. The original BMW M2 that arrived in the UK in 2016 came with an opening showroom sticker price of less than £45k – and, over the full course of its lifecycle, it outsold every other M car on the books.

Correcting that price for seven years of UK inflation, it might be reasonable to expect this new second-gen M2’s price to start well below £60,000. But because it’s a more powerful, more mature and more technical M car than any of its predecessors, it actually opens for business at a whisker under £65,000. More still if you want that mechanical highlight denied on any other current M car: a manual gearbox to go with your ‘standard’ rear-wheel drive.

Can it be worth that? You know what? When a six-cylinder Porsche 718 Cayman GTS with three pedals and a stick costs north of £70k, perhaps. An opening blast on UK roads has given us plenty of very promising signs.

Bmw m2 gearbox

Now closely related to the M3 and M4, and having swollen quite a bit on overall length and kerb weight, this car was at risk of losing its dynamic identity. But BMW M appears to have managed and mitigated that risk very well - with the M2’s chassis tuning, at least, if not quite so well with the car’s more divisive styling. 

A bit of the threadable compactness and spring-heeled handling agility of the first-gen BMW M2 seems to have been given up, along with some of its slightly bouncy, terrierish charm. But more sophisticated B-road body control comes by way of the trade - with no shortage of tautness and bite about the car’s primary ride when you dial up the new adaptive dampers. 

Moreover, this car still manages to make its own impression - to conjure its own shtick. It’s significantly shorter of wheelbase than an M4 and, thanks to the M division’s special suspension, steering and active diff tuning, it does have an accessible handling vivacity that an M4 Coupé, as good as it undoubtedly is, narrowly misses. 

It doesn’t quite goad you into chucking it around. There’s more of the maturity and precision of the modern M car here than that. It doesn’t quite dart into bends, either. But nonetheless, the M2 wants to rotate and move around underneath you that little bit more than an M4 would - to take a second directional bite at a corner as you feed power to its rear axle. Thuggish it isn’t, but fun it most definitely is.

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Bmw m2 rear corner

The straight six’s wonderfully even supply of torque, its excellent response and outright range, and its tuneful, rasping audible character make it a big draw in itself. £65k certainly isn’t over the top for it, not by today’s standards.

But in order to really drink in all that engine offers, to tap synaptically into the chassis’s indulgently balanced throttle-on handling, and to have the most meaningful relationship you can with its driven rear axle, the M2’s manual gearbox is a transformative factor. You’ve simply got to have it – for the way it draws you into the driving experience both physically and mentally, if not for the M2’s slightly springy shift quality and very marginally squeezed-feeling three-pedal footwell layout.

With the manual, the M2’s driving experience is fully absorbing. It gets your brain going in thinking your way down the road ahead, where an auto might invite you to switch off. Having picked the gear for the bend you're approaching in advance yourself, you're also given supreme confidence over how much torque is going to hit that outside rear wheel - and precisely when. Because that's precisely what a manual driveline that you're fully in control of yourself does.

The M2’s manual gearbox costs £454 on its own, but because it nudges the car's CO2 emissions up slightly, you get clobbered for nearly £700 of extra first-year UK VED showroom tax. Even so, I absolutely would.

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There’s an affecting blend of the old and the new in the make-up of this latest compact M car, as well as of usability, wieldiness, performance and value. It's pricey, sure - but it offers plenty more than old compact M cars used to, and in numerous ways.

If BMW intended to make an entry-level sports car with an evocative flavour of what has made its performance icons so special over the decades, as well as a greater helping of what’s exceptional about them today, I'd say it’s done a bang-up job.

Bmw m2 kickplate


Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

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wusshallowed 21 June 2023

 This automobile is mainly about demonstrating that you can sell a car with a manual transmission for a lot more money these days since it has become the exception and is perceived as somewhat of a luxury.

405line 8 June 2023

This car is really about explioiting the fact tha you can sell a car with a manual gearbox for a lot more cash these days now that it has become the exception and seen as something of a premium, especially on the S/H market where manual versions fetch something of a premium these days. This has not gone unoticed by certain manufacturers, so expect to see more of this.

sadjad_ahmadi 7 June 2023

Car looks much better in person than in photos.

0-60 in 4 .3 sec would have been fast a fe years ago but now is nothing to shout about!

stinhambo 8 June 2023

4.3 seconds is still quick and only matters to Top Trumps players and drag racers. Most drivers want to drive and the 1,700kg is getting a bit portly for a baby M3.