The 2017 BMW M2 is one of the most important cars to come from BMW in, I don’t know, forever. It’s meant to be smaller, more inexpensive and more importantly, more fun than any other BMW you can buy today with an M badge. That’s why, after five minutes into driving it, I wondered why I was so disappointed. But it turns out I was thinking the wrong way.

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Lately we’ve been inundated with reviews proclaiming the M2 as some sort of second coming of the Messiah. “A driver’s car for the ages,” blared one. “Perfect,” another. Jeremy Clarkson even put it on his list of “Star Cars” for 2016.

But as we were sitting in it, we were completely confused. Had we been driving the same car? Were we but simple peasants, failing to understand true greatness? The ride was too harsh, the gears were too short, and it sounded too fake.

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Yet, everything about it makes sense when you take it to where it’s meant to be—the track.

(Full Disclosure: BMW wanted Jalopnik to drive the 2017 BMW M2 so bad they let us take one around Lime Rock Park for a day. We told them beforehand. We promise.)

A Lot To Live Up To

All photos credit: Michael Roselli/Jalopnik

Remember when BMW made the 1M? That Frankenstein parts bin special where BMW took the best ingredients from their M division shelves and stuffed them into the smallest, fixed-roof vehicle in the lineup? It sounds insane, but things like a twin-turbo inline-six, rear-wheel drive, a six-speed manual, and an MSRP in the neighborhood of $46,000 are a rare find today—especially when offered altogether.

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As far as I can tell, the 1M is the perfect modern BMW—with just one big problem. BMW doesn’t make the 1M anymore. In fact, they barely even made it to begin with.

It was originally advertised as a limited production model set for just 2,700 units, but due to high demand, BMW built double that number. Yet less than 1000 1Ms hit U.S. soil, which means if you want one now, you’ll have to buy a used one for more than what the car cost new. And when appreciation happens, it’s indisputable proof a vehicle was worth making in the first place.

Five years ago, the 1M fell into that category for BMW, and I was sure it would never happen again. But here we are in 2016 with yet another opportunity from BMW—a small, fun, affordable performance car for the modern era part two.

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The M2.

The Look And The Tech

I’ll go ahead and say it: the M2 doesn’t look as good as the 1M. It’s likely because the 1M started with a fundamentally smaller vehicle—the 1 Series coupe—making performance bits like the gaping front bumper, flared fenders, and aggressive wheel/tire package pop to the point of being delightfully unnatural.

The 1M was a monster that almost looked sewn together, and in that there was a powerful, twisted beauty.

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And while I’m a firm believer that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, I also believe that beauty depends on where the beholder stands. Looking at the M2 from the front three-quarter angle for example, makes me want to rejoice and sing from a mountaintop, while staring at it head-on makes me wonder why BMW’s M division only touched the bottom half of the car.

Regardless, the M2 is still a good-looking car, especially when wearing a coat of Alpine White—the only color out of the available four that comes at no extra cost.

On the inside, the interior is simple—both in terms of layout, and function. All the buttons, switches, and levers are exactly where you’d expect them to be—BMW is very good at this. There are no turn signals coming out of the roof, no nostril sniffers plugged into your nose.

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If I blindfolded someone who hopped into the M2 for the first time, I’d bet they could find whatever they needed just by using intuition. Though we would prefer if they did not drive blindfolded.

And the M2 somehow manages to avoid BMW’s natural yearning to go overkill with the menu options as well. I recall a certain recent 7 Series we tested recently which was a delight, having about 3,000 settings for Comfort Mode, Comfort Plus Mode, Sport Mode, and don’t forget Sport Plus Mode, with even more options buried behind the navigation screen that could frustrate even the youngest of tech wizards. Not so in the M2.

Your options for the way the vehicle behaves are Comfort, Sport, and Sport Plus. That’s it. Which is brilliant. And to select them, just toggle a switch located next to the shifter. There’s no settings for mood lighting, or a temperature gauge for your seat, or how you take your coffee in the morning.

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BMW exercised massive restraint as well by not putting “M” or “M2” logos absolutely everywhere in the interior. It’s an M car, yes, but you wouldn’t know it just by peeking on the inside. Blue stitching, some carbon fiber, and a few embossed black “M” logos on the seatbacks are all that separate this interior from an inferior model.

The M2 employs an auto-blip feature to electronically blip the throttle to make downshifts silky smooth, which is not new technology. What is new, is that in the M2, the electronic blip feature is automatically on ALL THE TIME, and the only way you can take it off, is by disabling the electronic stability control.

There are just times where I’d like to heel-toe on my own while also having the car save my ass should I screw up in some sort of a spectacular fashion. Sometimes I just want to feel like a hero without the actual possibility of killing myself, is all.

On The Streets

Before handing the keys to NASCAR driver Parker Kligerman at Lime Rock, we had to get the car to the track, which meant driving it through New York City. Which, surprisingly, isn’t the worst place to learn about a car.

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In Manhattan, we’re lucky enough to have the overwhelming joy of cobblestone streets in a few spots. And while they’re complete nightmares for NYC snowplows, they’re a perfect place for to test the ride quality of any given car.

In some vehicles, yes, you can tell a difference between the softest, plushest ride setting and the hardest, most aggressive one. Not in the M2. The ride was stiff regardless of the suspension settings.

As we approached the West Side Highway and the road began to clear, I finally laid into the throttle and was met with a surge from the turbo and a lovely bbbffffftttttt noise from the exhaust when I got off it, which was grand. Until my colleague Michael Ballaban, who was riding shotgun and is also a total buzzkill, reminded me that the noise I enjoyed probably wasn’t from the exhaust, but the speakers instead. Ugh.

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The M2 with the six-speed manual feels like it should have another gear, too. Cruising at 75 MPH down the highway, the car turned an uncomfortably-high RPM, which resulted in a monotonous drone after long periods of time. A taller set of gears might help with better fuel economy, as well; I averaged 23 mpg over 250 miles.

Which doesn’t mean all hope is lost – the six-speed manual is a joy to row your own with in a lot of ways. Short, snappy, with great feel on the stick itself. The engine loves to be shifted, too, not strung out like a high-revving Porsche or something like that.

And if you really must insist on an extra gear – which in this case actually makes sense – BMW will sell you a seven-speed M double clutch as a $2,900 option.

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Before I could complain any longer it was time to hand the keys over to Parker, whose opinion and thoughts I waited to hear with bated breath.

But The Track Is Where It All Comes Together

One lap in, Parker yells through his helmet, “this thing is awesome.” What? Did we drive the same car? I was certain his words, which traveled through two helmets and a windy, 100+ mph cabin were misconstrued by my ears.

They weren’t.

Parker went on, and on. Unsatisfied taking his word for truth, I got behind the wheel and went out for a session myself.

Almost all of the things I had complained about on the street, made sense on the track. I learned at the Lucas Oil School Of Racing that shifting, blipping, and driving is in fact a lot to handle while trying to go fast on a track, and suddenly the always-on auto-blip made sense.

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This car is designed to not only make you faster around a track, but to make you feel like a hero at the same time. If you’re like Parker—experienced enough to go full-tilt with everything off—you can do that, too.

Where I had previously wanted a seventh gear, I no longer felt necessary because on Lime Rock’s 1.5-mile course, we were able to extract every bit of performance from the 3.0-liter, 365-horsepower, 343-pound feet of torque turbocharged mill. At the exit of every apex, the RPMs were right in the thick of the powerband—exactly where you’d want them to be.

The engine’s also right in that great little sweet spot as well, with plenty of power to have way too much fun, but not enough to feel like you can never actually use it. It’s so tempting to put 7000 horsepower into everything these days, when all you really want to do is feel like you’re going all-out whenever you want.

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Want to kick the tail out? Sure, it’ll do that easy as pie with all the nannies turned off. Want to kick the tail out without ending up a mangled mess next to the pitlane? It’ll do that as well, which you certainly can’t say for every track car.

The suspension, however unforgiving it may be on cobblestoned NYC streets, is masterful on track. I continually carried so much speed through Lime Rock’s left-hander that, according to the instructor riding along with me, I should have upset the front end and under steered into the runoff. Never once did that happen.

And the brakes, even though they were never a complaint on the street, were so outstanding on track they’re worth bringing up. M-Compound ventilated disc brakes come standard on all four corners, and since Ballaban, Parker and I all drove the same car, we put those pads to the test.

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Often the M2 would come in after a cool-down lap and go immediately back out with another driver—never once did they fade.

The Verdict

On the drive home from Lime Rock, in sixth gear with the engine noise humming through the speakers, a stiff ride, and a computer that wouldn’t let me heel-toe myself, I wondered if this car made any sense.

But back at the track an inexperienced driver like myself (compared to someone like Parker) managed to get the car up to speed, drive it on the limit, and not crash. Which is actually impressive!

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If a car makes more sense on the track than it does on the street, then it makes perfect sense to me. Maybe it will for you too, long as you’ve got the $52,695 to spare for it. There’s only a handful of options to be had here which push the M2 just past $62,000 if you want everything. Not bad at all for what you get.

Besides, if this thing has a fate like the 1M did, that might just end up being a good investment.