The 2002 Turbo. The original E30 M3. The 1M Coupe. Clearly BMW has a long and distinguished history of producing some of the best performance cars on the planet. But the brand has also been guilty of producing some very… shall we say, lackluster people-carriers over the last few years.
Maybe lackluster’s too strong a word. But the company that puts out the 5 Series Gran Turismo and the X6 is clearly a very different one that stuffed racing-built engines into family sedans in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Even the latest 3 Series needed a bit of work.
Here to address your grievances is the long-awaited 2016 BMW M2, the M-ified version of the stellar 2 Series coupe. And it will do so with mighty turbocharged power and nasty track-ready sideways action.
(Full disclosure: BMW needed me to drive the new M2 so much that they flew me to Los Angeles to drive the new Mini Cooper Convertible. Then flew me to Monterey to drive the BMW X4 M40i. Finally they let me drive the M2, and all was forgiven.)
At first glance the M2 is a handsome car. At second glance, it’s still handsome. BMW got all of the proportions right on this one.
Unlike the 1M which, despite its performance potential, looked like cats would try to bury it if you parked it near a litter box, the M2 is a really sharp-looking car from all angles—especially the all important front ¾ view.
BMW has gone with the tried and true M method of Wider is Better with extended fender flares (front: 55 mm, rear: 80 mm) which house the the lightweight 19-inch forged wheels (front axle: 9 x 19, rear axle 10 x 19) and the now-ubiquitous Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires (front: 245/35ZR19, rear: 265/35ZR19.)
Capping everything off are these awesome, super aggro front and rear bumpers. When you mix all of those ingredients together you end up with one of the better-looking BMWs in the past decade.
Where the 1M looked like a bit of a parts bin special, the M2 looks like it was designed along side the 2 Series from the start—just with ass-kicking in mind.
The interior has not been completely forgotten, either, although it hasn’t received quite the makeover as the exterior. The main performance upgrade there is the addition of adjustable bolsters to the already supportive 2 Series seats.
Other than that interior tweaks are mainly limited to appearance. Porous carbon trim lines every available surface and Alcantara is wrapped around the door cards and parking brake lever boot. And to make sure you (and more importantly your passengers!) know how much money you spent, there are the infamous, ubiquitous, annoying M badges everywhere. They did not skimp on those.
So now that we know that it looks the part, how does it go?
Let me put this as simply and clearly as I can: Real Fucking Quickly.
The heart of any M car is the engine, and the numbers on this one are definitely worthy of its M status. The 3.0-liter inline six cylinder turbo puts out 370 horsepower at 6,500 rpm. Peak torque is 343 pound feet, which can be increased to as much as 369 pound feet for a short period with an overboost feature.
This is the N55 engine, the same twin-scroll single turbo engine as the M235i, not the S55 used in the M3 and M4. But the N55 is a really good motor to start with. Here it gets several notable revisions like the S55's forged steel crankshaft, crank bearings and pistons, plus an upgraded oil cooling system.
All of that gets the M2 to 62 mph (100 km/h) in a very quick claimed 4.3 seconds, with the optional seven-speed M Double Clutch Transmission. (More on that in a second.)
Electronic nannies limit top speed to 155 mph, which is still way more than enough to have fun with, as we never ran into the limiter during our time at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. BMW also claims that an M2 equipped with the M DCT transmission with get a combined 35.8 Imperial MPG on the European fuel economy cycle (that’s likely around 30 MPG U.S.)
I never saw anything close to that over the weekend so maybe that’s running downhill, with a tailwind, while being pushed by a Prius…. in a vacuum. That being said, I saw low-to-mid 20’s while under “spirited” driving on the roads around Monterey, so I wouldn’t completely discount BMW’s claims.
Showing that BMW has not forgotten us enthusiasts, the M2 comes with two gearbox offerings: the M DCT, which also pulls duty in other M cars, and a six-speed manual. And unlike the last 1M, there’s a DCT option if paddle shifting is more your deal.
Choices! We are still living in glorious times!
Our German quartermasters only let us lose on track with the M DCT so as not to risk potentially losing an engine to a missed shift over-rev while trying to chase longtime BMW factory driver Bill Auberlen around Laguna Seca. And since Bill’s driving style has always been “It’s not about winning but how much you win by”, over-driving the M2 to keep him in your sights would be forgiven (unless I blew the motor.)
Having tons of experience at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca was fortunate for me as Bill was on it straight out of the pits. The other fortunate thing was how forgiving the M2 is to drive.
It inspires huge amounts of confidence and has massive amounts of grip, but more importantly it is incredibly well-balanced and surprisingly easy to drive at the limit. I can clearly see how the car ran a (claimed) time of 7:58 at the Nürburgring.
In pushing harder, as Bill was gapping me a bit, the main characteristic of the M2 was very light understeer. And that was a bit tough to feel as the electric steering is still on the numb side. But as the car is so well balanced it was easy to control with my right foot—that is, once I went past the Sport + setting and turned all the nannies off.
Fortunately the BMW engineers trusted me enough with that tidbit of information for my second session out on track. With Sport+ engaged the electronics will give you a huge range to play with in either understeer or oversteer, but as soon as you use the throttle to balance either one of those, the computer starts pulling power to help you keep the car on track. The effect is so subtle that I wouldn’t have even realize it was happening other than when I started consistently losing ground to Bill.
Now the unfortunate reality is that very few M2s will ever see the track. So as much as it pained me to end my fun playing Catch The Factory Driver, I left Laguna Seca with a manual transmission M2 to head out to one of my favorite test roads: the Pacific Coast Highway towards Big Sur.
One of the main reasons I like this road so much, besides the fact that it is spectacularly beautiful, is that it is one of the most elementally-abused roads in the world. Between the rough pavement and the never ending corners, the PCH does more it expose a car’s flaws then any other road I know of.
It shows the level of confidence that BMW has in this car that their recommended route consisted entirely of this stretch of the PCH in a car without active suspension. Ze Germans are very brave indeed.
But the M2 handled the PCH with very high marks. Yes, without active dampers the car can ride a bit harsh, but it’s nothing that I couldn’t live with on a day-in, day-out basis. More importantly, the car maintained its balance and stability that it showed on the smooth confines of the race track while dealing with the less than smooth roads of the PCH.
The manual is definitely a big win for the M2. Now I am going to say something very heretical for those who pray at the House of Jalop. Normally, for a car that I am going to drive as a daily driver, I would take the M DCT over the manual every time. Sure, I love running through the gears as much as the next guy (maybe even more!), but for everyday practicality I don’t mind a good automatic.
However as a weekend toy, the manual would be my choice. With the M2 that choice would be far more difficult.
Not only is the M2's manual one of the best in the business with easy, short throws and a perfectly-balanced clutch, the insanely wide torque band (max torque from 1,400 RPM to 5,560 RPM) of the M2 means that you can pretty much leave the car in fourth gear and just putter around.
Whenever you need a quick burst of speed, just put foot to floor and boom! The offending Prius or gardening truck will shortly disappear in your mirrors. All without ever touching the shift lever.
Is the M2 the perfect M? It is hands down better than the M4, which has turned into more of a grand tourer than a sports car.
But it falls a bit shy of the now-mythical 1M. That car was a far more focused machine that rewarded the best drivers who had the guts to extract the most from it. The M2 is very fast and very good, but it’s also a bit more mainstream. The M2 has a much broader target audience, and hence it is a little watered down.
That being said I think a much wider range of drivers will get way more enjoyment out of the M2 than the 1M. It’s easier to drive harder without the downside of scaring the bejesus out of you at random intervals.
Plus, as the 1Ms haven’t depreciated in the slightest, you’d likely spend as much or more on a several-year-old car.
At a base price of $51,700 there are very few cars (if any) in this segment that can match it. Even better would be to take BMW’s Euro Delivery Option with pick up at the BMW factory in Munich. This option saves you almost $2,600 off the price of the car and you get to spend a week or two playing around in Europe with your new car.
The new BMW M2 will definitely show the world that BMW has not forgotten how to make “Ultimate Driving Machines” when it arrives at dealerships everywhere this April.
It may not be as maniacal as the 1M was, but it’s going to make a lot drivers very happy—and no one will accuse it of being soft.
Robb Holland races in the British Touring Car Championship for Rotek Racing. He’s a Jalopnik contributor who basically lives at the Nürburgring most of the year and is also the tallest man in Germany.