IS THE DESCENDANT OF THE INFAMOUSLY INSANE 1M COUPE – THE NEW BMW M2 – REALLY AS GOOD AS EARLY REPORTS SUGGEST?
The motoring press has been describing it as some kind of miracle on wheels, and throwing around superlatives like “incandescent”, “inimitable” and “interstellar”.
And if so, why is BMW selling it so cheaply? Buying a proper M car has always been a six-figure proposition, yet the M2 starts at just $89,900, and even the top-spec model is $98,900.
BMW has a plan, of course, and that is to attract new and younger buyers to its brand with this piece of eye and engineering candy. The fact that it comes loaded with “apps” should be enough of a hint that the M2 is aimed at successful up and comers, aged in their mid-, or even low-30s.
It turns out, however, that the M Division has made a car so good, so exciting and so pure that everyone will want one, and anyone who’s already bought an M4 for $150K may either rue their decision, or buy an M2 as well.
Vehicle style: Two-door coupe
Price: $89,900 for the manual Pure ($98,900 with DCT)
Engine/trans: 3.0-litre, twin-turbocharged straight six with 272kW and 500Nm, six-speed manual or seven-speed DCT
Fuel economy claimed: 8.5L/100km
Making a car that borrows much of its technology and driver-focused philosophy from the already impressive BMW M3 and M4, but being allowed to make it smaller, sharper, lighter and significantly cheaper must have been one hell of a design brief for the father of the BMW M2, M Division engineer Frank Isenberg.
But then he’d been given a similar job before, with the 1M Coupe, back in 2011 – a car that even he now admits was flawed, due to a limited development timeline, and borderline dangerous to drive at the limit.
(Those failings haven’t stopped it becoming something of a legend, and a collector’s item, of course.)
This time, though, Isenberg and his team have absolutely nailed the formula, creating a car that looks aggressive without being over the top, and drives the same way. It’s fast, but not intimidating, and you can wag its tail at will, but it never feels like it will snap and bite you (Isenberg says stability-control software has come a long way).
Best of all, though, is the kind of old-school purity of balance, feel and six-cylinder sound that makes this M2 feel like the classic M cars of old.
While the M3 and M4 have been criticised for being slightly soft and overly technical, the M2 is a much, much better car, for much less money.
While the seats are well-bolstered and supportive, and the steering wheel has the typical M-muscularity, the cabin doesn’t feel overly special or hugely upgraded from a regular 2 Series.
Yes, you get plenty of M badging and a few splashes of faux carbon fibre trim, but otherwise it’s typical BMW fare, which is no bad thing, of course.
On the plus side, the younger buyers this car is aimed at will love the available apps, which you can through the iDrive controller and the central screen.
Two favourites will be the lap timer, which allows you to share your data via Facebook and bore your friends rigid, and the GoPro app, which allows you to get moving selfies, or exciting external footage of your track time.
The rear seats could be endured by young children, but are really no place for adults, unless you don't like them.
ON THE ROAD
The dimensions of the M2 hark back to the days when sports cars, and human beings, were smaller, and they offer the kind of sharpness and chuckability that makes cars like this great.
The M2’s wheelbase is just 2690mm and its overall weight just 1570kg, which really allows you to make the most of its 3.0-litre twin-power turbo engine, which makes a whooping 272kW and a shove-tastic 465Nm (500Nm with overboost).
All that torque gives you huge shove off the line, thrusting you to 100km/h in just 4.3 seconds, but there’s also plenty of typical turbo mid-range grunt, and the power just keeps piling on, right up to a screaming 7000rpm.
The straight-six engine also provides an old-fashioned, almost metallic howl, with very little turbo noise to speak of. It’s not quite as sexy as a 90s-era M3, but it’s close.
The steering isn’t as muscular as the hydraulic systems of old, but the modern electronic power steering allows the M folk to offer you two settings, which they describe as Sporty and Very Sporty.
The feel and feedback are excellent and, particularly around a track like the legendary Laguna Seca in California, where the car was launched to a slavering media pack, it feels ‘point-and-go’ perfect.
The M2 has an overall sense of rightness to it that is more than the sum of its parts. It feels just the right size, just fast enough and just wild enough to put a smile on the face of any enthusiast, and in the hands of an expert it can also be a devilish drifting machine.
Its chassis feels stiff and sorted around the circuit, and even gives you the confidence to attack the crazed corner that is the Corkscrew, but it’s nowhere near as firm in the ride department as the 1M was, so you can enjoy it on public roads as well.
BMW doesn’t want to talk about whether it’s a better car to drive than the M4 (it is, just quietly, and a lot more fun than an i8, too) but Isenberg is happy to say he thinks it’s good enough to take on the likes of the Porsche Cayman S. It’s certainly good enough to give Stuttgart a blood nose, while being cheaper and more striking to look at.
It’s not unreasonable to suggest that, in driving terms, the new M2 is one of the best cars BMW has ever made, and that’s high praise indeed.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
At the very top end of its envelope, the M2 is possibly good enough to drag some buyers away from the Porsche Cayman range, and it would certainly be worth driving them back-to-back.
More realistically, though, the BMW goes up against significantly cheaper cars like the $77,900 Mercedes-AMG A45 and Audi’s RS 3 at $78,900, both of which also offer the convenience of four doors and bigger back seats.
BMW Australia claims those two can’t compare, because they are hatches, and prefers to line the M2 up against the $88,400 AMG CLA45, which is still cheaper, but not by as much.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
Anyone who is a genuine driving enthusiast but doesn’t have $90,000-odd to spare should avoid driving the M2 at all costs, because doing so will make you want one. It’s that simple.
Yes, $90K is still a lot of money (but that’s all you should spend, the six-speed manual is fantastic and unless you also have the cash to buy track time, you don’t need the DCT), but in this case it is buying you the kind of sheer driving pleasure that was previously the preserve of the super-rich.
It should come as no surprise that BMW Australia says it is already being inundated with orders and will possibly struggle to fill them all when the cars start arriving in April.
The new BMW M2 is something special, something to be celebrated. A truly great driver’s car that you only need to sell an arm for, but you can keep both legs.
MORE: BMW M News and Reviews