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.