When the M2 debuted in 2016, it was heralded as a return to form for the M division. After a decade of producing progressively larger, more complex performance machines, the M2 built upon the strengths of the 1M before it, recapturing the well-tuned simplicity and outright fun that had been noticeably absent from recent M cars. Personally, I loved it.
So when I learned that the Competition model—which has traditionally been more or less a nip and tuck refresh to a standard M car—would be a more comprehensive overhaul in the case of the M2, I was a bit concerned. Sure, more power and more brake are usually welcome, but it was the balance of the package that made the original iteration of the M2 such a joy to drive. Eager, yet forgiving, quick, but not overwhelmingly so. It seemed ready to hit the autocross straight out of the showroom.
Time marches on though, and things inevitably change. In the case of the M2, looming emissions standards left BMW engineers with two choices: significantly revise the turbocharged N55 inline-six or ditch it for another power plant altogether. They chose the latter.
While the engine certainly wasn't the sole attraction of the M2, it was an important piece of the puzzle, and making big tweaks under the hood inevitably leads to changes elsewhere in the car. So some trepidation is justified.
Did BMW go and ruin the best thing to come out of the M division in more than a decade? I grabbed the keys to this three-pedal example and headed to the Angeles National Forest to find out.
MESSIN' WITH A GOOD THING
First, it should be noted that the M2's fun-loving nature is more about the wheelbase and overall length of the car than its curb weight. Its E46-like dimensions are damn near ideal for a usable sports coupe, and they lend a lot to that sense of light-weight playfulness. Truth be told, the original M2's curb weight was actually within 50 pounds of its M4 counterpart. But behind the wheel, it felt hundreds of pounds more svelte than its bigger brother.
So although the M2 Competition gains about a hundred pounds over the model it now supplants, the good news is that the weight penalty largely comes by way of upgraded performance hardware. Under the hood now is a slightly detuned version of the M4's twin-turbocharged S55 inline six cylinder engine, here making 405 horsepower and 406 pound-feet of torque. That equates to gains of 40 hp and 37 lb-ft over the N55-powered M2, and the S55 sings through a new, quad-tipped active dual exhaust system in the M2 Competition. A carbon fiber strut brace—also borrowed from the M4—adds some eye candy to the engine bay, along with additional structural rigidity.
The other significant contributor to the added poundage is the brake system, which gets a massive upgrade for Competition duty. Up front are beefy 15.7-inch rotors with six-piston calipers, while four-piston units clamp down on 15-inch rotors in the rear. They're nestled behind a new set of 19-inch forged wheels that are wrapped in a staggered set of Michelin Pilot Super Sport rubber that measure 245/35ZR19 up front and 265/35ZR19 in the rear. The result is an M2 that has indeed put on a little bulk, but it comes by way of the gym rather than the couch.
INSIDE AND OUT
As is customary with Competition models, the M2 gets some aesthetic tweaks as well, with blacked out kidney grilles and badging, new side mirrors, and a reworked front fascia helping to visually distinguish the M2 Competition from its predecessor.
Inside, the M2 Competition offers a greater sense of occasion than the outgoing car as well, with M-striped seatbelts, M2 logos on the door sills as well as the new M Sport seats, and a new pair of programmable drive mode buttons on the steering wheel, among other subtle updates.
While it's visually busier than the outgoing car, the Competition's cabin quickly reminds me of all the things BMW got right with the M2. Unlike most M cars there's very little to adjust here to get the car ready for a spirited session of driving—just fire up the car and go. And then there's all the little things that BMW got right, like the fact that the automatic stop/start feature persistently remembers its last state—if you disable it once, it stays disabled until you press the button again, even if you turn off the car and turn it back on. That's nice.
The iDrive infotainment system is nice, too. Though not without its random quirks—like allowing Apple CarPlay to only utilize half of the 8.8-inch display, for some reason—BMW's infotainment system has come a long way in the past few years. Fast response, a well-organized menu system and the inclusion of touchscreen functionality (along with the customary rotary knob and hard button controls on the center console), are all welcome upgrades from the iDrive experience found in the original M2.
BEHIND THE WHEEL
Not long after settling in at the helm and firing up that S55, I was reminded of all the things that BMW got right with the M2 mechanically, as well. While the shifter still has a rubbery feel to it while rowing through the gears, the throws are fairly short and the gates are well defined. And although the clutch is a bit light for my taste, the engagement point is easily identified, making it effortless to quickly acclimate to the car and drive with some purpose.
Around town, the driving experience isn't a dramatic departure from the original M2. The static suspension setup more or less carries over from the outgoing car, a well-balanced tune that somehow manages to offer both commendable ride compliance as well as admirable body motion control. It would be nice to see an adaptive suspension option on the menu, though, especially when you consider that adaptive dampers are now available on new cars costing half as much.
Still, it's not a deal-breaker. Even on the worst pockmarked roads in Los Angeles, the M2 Competition never feels abusive. It's actually out in the hills where I find myself wishing for a bit more aggression—mid-corner bumps encountered at speed illustrate the unavoidable compromise of a static setup—but the M2 Competition feels sure-footed anyway, shrugging off my ham-fisted inputs and the less-than-ideal road conditions with a level of confidence that few cars in this price range can muster.
It probably comes as little surprise that the most evident changes originate under the hood. In Competition spec, the M2 is a legitimately fast machine. BMW claims this manually-shifted model will hit 60 mph from a standstill in 4.2 seconds. I'd wager that's a conservative estimate, and I wouldn't be surprised if factory-stock examples are able to crack into the 3s. It sounds good while being put through its paces, too, though I often found myself wondering if the inline six soundtrack I was enjoying was coming from the new exhaust or the audio system. It's probably a little of both.
While the S55 gives the M2 a significant shot in the arm, there are a few caveats. The work of the turbocharger was nearly undetectable in the N55-powered M2, but the onset of boost is more evident here. While not an on/off switch like turbo cars of yore, at wide open throttle there are often two distinct amounts of urgency felt—one at the moment the hammer is dropped, and another once the RPMs hit the sweet spot in the power band. Although it's not quite as seamless as the N55, the additional power on tap more than makes up for it, and it's reassuring to have those huge brakes at the ready when it comes time to reign the speed back in.
While the additional power does change the car's character a bit, M2 remains riotous fun on a good road and eminently capable of comfortably dispatching the daily commute. But that additional capability on hand is going to cost you. This M2 Competition tester rang up $64,145 with destination—nearly ten grand more than the M2 I reviewed in 2016—and that changes the value proposition offered by the model to a tangible degree.
With an M2 CS rumored to be on the way, the best of the M2 may be yet to come. But even with the additional coin involved versus its predecessor, there are few options at this price range that offer this car's level of driving enjoyment without requiring a significant compromise in everyday use. With the M2 Competition, BMW simply made a great car even better.