The '16 BMW M2 should be looked at with some historical context. But without getting into a diatribe, let's just agree right from the start the heyday of cars like the e30 M3 is long gone. If we really look at it, the e30 may have never really had a heyday. BMW struggled to sell the cars when new, and there was a time period when only hard-core enthusiasts and real track rats wanted to own a very affordably priced used example. They've come into vogue recently, but even with all the screaming of a very vocal minority, if BMW were to build something just like it again, they would still languish on showroom floors. Nostalgic cars can't be newly minted.
Enter the brand-new BMW M2 coupe, a car that is as close to an e30 M3 as the modern new car buyer will tolerate. I make that statement halfheartedly still, as the most enthusiastic voices decrying their imminent M2 purchase qualify it with, "in two years, off of lease, after some yuppie jerk has been dumb enough to absorb the initial depreciation." These guys are very closely related to the high-performance European wagon buyer.
In all likelihood, the M2 won't suffer the fate of the underappreciated e30 M3. BMW seems confident in the public acceptance of the new car. Unlike the previous-generation 1M, demand won't be artificially spurred by limiting production numbers. Also unlike the 1M, the rough edges have been ground off the M2 to make it far more appealing to the mass market while leaving a few "character marks" for the hard-core enthusiast.
BMW provided Laguna Seca and the surrounding roads of Monterey and Salinas, California, to show off the M2's abilities to the international press. The Bavarians also decided that all the cars on the track would be DCTs and all the road drive cars would be manuals. This seemed liked the obvious choice as anyone interested in lap times will undoubtedly choose the dual clutch, but maybe more importantly, you keep any ham-fisted journalists from zinging a beautifully engineered, turbocharged, 3.0L inline-six by accidently grabbing second instead of fourth.
Although I feel anyone reading ec probably knows the stats for this car backward and forward, let's go through some basics. The suspension is transplanted straight from the M3/4, but don't stop reading, it actually works on this car. While the f8X chassis might be one of the biggest dynamic-messes to ever leave an M assembly line, this car is far better sorted—more on that later. Suspension links, hub-carriers, and even the front struts are all aluminum. A stiffening plate up front and tubular steel subframe in the rear limit flex between the suspension and body. The ball joints and tie rods are uprated to also minimize deflection and maximize feedback, and about the only thing missing from the f8X setup is the active damping.
Although the wheels may be straight from the M4, the optional 437M in 19x9 and 19x10 inches, the tires were designed and sized specifically to the M2. The smaller car gets 10mm narrower tires both front and rear using 245/35-19 and 265/35-19 Michelin Pilot Super Sports. According to M engineers on site at the event, Michelin put a significant amount of time tuning the construction and compounding for this particular tire, and owners will have a tough time finding more performance with anything short of a dedicated track tire.
With the f8X cars now being roughly the size of an e53 X5—no, seriously, look it up—you might wonder how the suspension components and wheels fit underneath the 2-series. One word: flares—glorious, sculpted, bulging flares. The M2 is 2.1 inches wider in front and 3.1 inches wider in the rear. They may not be as industrial as the box flares on an e30, but they do blend perfectly into the styling language of the f22 body, yet still scream performance.
The inside of the M2 doesn't scream M-car so loudly. Everything is fairly standard 2-series fare, with some M-branding splashed around. Sadly, the M-buttons are missing from the steering wheel, the M4 seats didn't show up to the party, and maybe saddest of all (WARNING: If you're an M2 owner, skip this part because you would've never noticed if I didn't point it out), the needle on the fuel gauge is white. I know, it is the smallest detail, but it's telling. M-cars have red needles, end of story.
Some internetters are already complaining that the M2 is just barely lighter than an M4, along the lines of 100 pounds or less. Let's blame some of this on BMW not adding the same amount of lightness to the M2. No carbon-fiber driveshaft or roof is big for a start. We have to imagine the lower-end 2-series in general hasn't gleaned quite as much from BMW in terms of light weight as the slightly more upscale and certainly more mass-market f30 platform.
All these small details, however, are reflected in pricing. While an M4 bases at $66,695, the M2 comes in at a mere $52,695. This is another case where if they listened to the Internet know-it-alls and added all the M4 equipment, BMW would have created a much lighter M2, but with nearly the price of the M4.
Let's get to the most important part: Does it drive like a real M-car? It does, maybe more like a real M-car than any M-car in years. The latest M3/4s, while powerful, luxurious, and comfortable, aren't great cars on the track, or canyon roads, or anywhere you're going just to drive. Sure you can beat that Mustang GT now in a drag race, but your M4 just won't satisfy like any other six-cylinder M3 from the past. The 1M coupe, while fun, wasn't particularly well composed at the limits. "Hey, this really understeers soooo why am I going off the track backward all of sudden?" The M235, again, was a fun car and BMW was able to remove the snap oversteer transition present in the 1M, but all that understeer was still there. The M2 is fantastic, full stop. There is still understeer, but a nudge of the right foot allows you to use all 343 lb-ft, 369 lb-ft on overboost, to free up the rear end. It also helps that the M2 has been blessed with M's active differential, which uses electronically controlled clutch packs to control the degree of differential lock as needs demand.
Around Laguna Seca, the M2 is stable and feels like a big car compared to its predecessors, but that isn't to say it feels worse for it. Over the hill at Turn 1, there isn't any dancing or lateral movement you might expect. Stay flat-footed and the car will run over the top, pointing and positioned exactly where you intended when it settles going down into 2. The brakes are big and powerful, especially with the optional track-biased pads BMW equipped these cars with for the event. Brake fade was nearly imperceptible, especially when compared to the loss of overboosting from the engine after a couple of hard laps.
Turn 2 and 10 were the only corner exits that required extra attention to power delivery. These are the slowest corners on the track and being in second gear means all that torque can really roast tires, if requested. Once in third gear, a quick jab to the throttle will free up the rear end, but smooth applications translate into smooth thrust. The DCT transmission is so good on the track, I really just can't imagine buying the manual if you intend to track the car.
That manual, however, is magic on the road. Shift throws are near ideal and have enough mechanical feel to satisfy without being clunky. The clutch throw is BMW longish, but engagement is smooth and doesn't have the jerkiness of cars like the Z4 Ms. The manual transmission, in an affront to the type of people who will buy one, uses rev-matching that is only defeatable by completely disabling stability control. Having a robot do your heal-toeing, while functioning perfectly, is a bit of an oxymoron when you went out of your way to buy the manual.
The steering is good, it loads up as you'd expect, it communicates a decent amount of road surface buzzy-ness is there while it does filter out the bigger impacts and single-wheel events. The M2 doesn't give you the ability to program your M-settings, so you can't request Sport+ throttle with Comfort steering or vice versa. I found the Sport+ steering to be a bit heavy in an artificial way. I know it doesn't have a manual rack, and will never feel like a manual rack, so when you increase the heft noise, without also increasing the feel signal, your information actually drops.
Speaking of signal to noise, there is a constant battle between actual engine sounds and the engine's robo-choir that lives in the stereo system. It does sound good and not nearly as artificial as early attempts in the M5. Does it sound as good as the e46's inline-six? Probably, at least a stock e46. Will the M2 sound better with an aftermarket exhaust? Well, it'll definitely be louder.
Don't let some of the negativity fool you; this isbest M-car in a long time. This is also the first M-car in a long time that I have gotten out of and actually thought I would like to own. It's a great car, and once they hit showrooms, I will wonder about the motivation of anyone who choses an M4 instead.
A number of my compatriots in this industry, most of whom are longtime BMW fans, have wondered if the magic would ever come back to M-cars, or if the new reality was big, overpowered, under-developed luxo-cruisers. In my opinion, BMW and more specifically M is on the verge of a renaissance. For a decade, BMW pushed money and resources into the i-division, first to develop technology that would help build cleaner cars, but the upside are things like carbon-fiber driveshafts and lightweight construction. With the expansion of Alpina into building big-engine, all-wheel-drive, luxurious, high-speed cruisers, it will allow M to return to its roots.
Whether everything is on it's way back to M-normal or not, if you're looking for a $50,000 small performance car, this is a great choice. If nothing else, this is the first M-car in a while that will make you consider replacing your e36 or e46.