THE PROS & CONS
- What’s Good: Fantastic engine plucked from the M3/M4, unflappable handling, perfectly sized.
- What’s Bad: Dual-clutch transmission is a $3900 option and is best skipped over, cramped rear seating area.
It’s hard to keep track of all the new M cars, and M-sport cars that BMW keeps pumping out, and customers keep buying. The X3 and X4 are next in line to get trained in the school of M, and you can be sure that there are buyers already lining up for it.
What was once a focused, motorsport-inspired product perfect for track-day junkies that didn’t own a trailer has now turned into a rolling status symbol and an exercise in brilliant ///M-arketing.
95 percent of new M-cars sold will never see a track day and in the case of cars like the X5 M, that’s ok because as capable as it is for an SUV, there’s no getting around the fact that it’s, well, an SUV. And they don’t really belong on a track.
Even something like the new M5—with enough power to launch itself into hyperspace, and enough grip to make even the most ham-fisted wannabe racecar driver look like Bruno Spengler—weighs over 2 tons and is so coddling and so isolating that it has to play a synthesized exhaust note through the speakers.
None of these newer cars have managed to capture the spirit of the original M3 and M5. Even the current M3 feels huge. Does all this mean that BMW has lost its way? No. To find true M-ness all you have to do is look lower down in the product lineup until you end up at the littlest M car. The M2.
Arriving in 2016 as a successor to the much-loved 1M, BMW’s M2 stole the hearts of the automotive press probably even before any of them got their hands on it. The tidy proportions, short wheelbase and comparatively lower weight made this the driver’s BMW everyone was pining for.
And now, 3 years later the M2 gets a Competition badge and an update. But this one is a bit more involved than your typical mid-cycle cosmetic refresh.
This update comes with a new engine. And it’s not just any engine. BMW decided to go big and went with a real “S” branded M motor, known internally as the S55, taken directly from the M3/M4’s production line.
Slightly detuned to deliver 405 hp and 406 lb-ft of torque, this engine has the same displacement as the outgoing one (N55) but it’s a completely different animal, with twin mono-scroll turbos instead of the single twin-scroll unit, a lighter forged crankshaft and lightweight spray-on cylinder liners. It revs higher, faster, and has way more character. That familiar gravely rasp from the quad-exhaust sounds angrier here, more aggressive, and better than it ever did in the M3.
Also borrowed from its bigger brother is the sweet-looking carbon-fibre strut brace and higher capacity cooling system that sports three radiators, an engine oil cooler, and a transmission cooler on my DCT-equipped car (cars with manuals don’t get the trans cooler). Slightly larger kidney grilles and bigger bumper openings further increase airflow and help keep everything cool for more lapping fun.
The new M2 also gets the front and rear axles from the M3/M4 which utilize lots of aluminum in their construction. The rear sub frame forgoes bushings and is mounted directly to the body for a more rigid connection. Another nod to its motorsport-derived heritage.
There are fabulous new seats with illuminated M2 logos on the backrest, and green-blue tinted perforations running down the centre. There’s also a red engine start button, a sharp set of analog gauges, and the M-colours stitched into the seatbelts, a neat touch. More importantly, the M2 finally gets mode selector switches for the engine, steering, and transmission shift speed as well as M1 and M2 buttons on the steering wheel to quickly load an individual user-created setup.
Driving this pint-size M—just a mere 5-inches longer than the E30 M3 from the late 80s—is a course in how well BMW can make a car perform dynamically. Even though it shares much of its mechanicals with the M3 this is a different car, a better car.
The M2 Competition’s handling behaviour is twitchy and slightly nervous, like it just gulped back a couple of espressos. Ride quality is stiff like you’d expect, but it doesn’t beat you up.
Cold temps and wheels shod with winter tires meant that any hooligan type antics had to kept to a minimum. On the other hand, if you want winter tires that actually grip the cold pavement you want Michelin Pilot Alpin 4s. They provide a remarkable amount of grip and still work when it snows.
An Active M rear differential that can go from open to full lock in just 150 milliseconds is always working to give you the most traction possible under all conditions. You can feel it doing its thing, opening up through a corner and then quickly tightening when you exit as if by magic. It also works well in slippery conditions, and with those tires, you’ll never miss all-wheel drive.
The cabin is standard 2-series fare, typically austere, but there are some nice touches like those seats, the blue-green stitching and open-pore carbon fibre trim that helps make it a bit more special. The rear seats are best reserved for small kids or child seats, but it’s not easy stuffing them back there. But then you don’t buy a small sports coupe to transport the family around anyways. You buy them to have fun.
M cars always default to an “Efficient” drive mode setting when you first get in. Pressing the engine drive mode selector button by the gearshift allows you to switch to Sport or Sport plus. Both of these modes open up the flaps in the dual exhaust for the full cochlea-tingling experience complete with the pop-pop-pops that never gets old.
The M2 Competition comes factory equipped with a 6-speed manual transmission but my tester didn’t have it. Instead, I got the 7-speed M-DCT dual clutch, and it’s somewhat of a miss for me. Shifts are smooth and quick when you let it do its thing but pull a paddle for a manual upshift and there’s a half second delay. Which is a bit disappointing because you have to time your shift a few hundred rpm before the 7600 rpm redline to avoid banging of the limiter, and it’s nowhere near as rewarding as a true three pedal transmission where you have to use both hands and both feet to drive.
The M2 Competition is still enormous fun though. It has so much torque, that any more than 50 percent throttle has the rear end doing the hokey-pokey as it fights for grip.
There is launch control that I didn’t try and it’s good for a 0-100 km/h run in just 4.2 seconds. I bet that factory time is a touch conservative, and I suspect on a perfect day, this car can easily break into the 3s.
The front end feels light and nimble; chuck it into a bend and the rear follows instantly. Steering is nicely weighted, but like many electric racks there isn’t much feedback. Does it take anything away from the driving experience? Not at all, because the car as a whole is so damn good. One quick touch of the traction control button puts you into MDM (M dynamic mode) that loosens the reigns on the driving nannies and recalibrates the e-diff for tail-out antics on demand, but with a safety net that you can rely on to stop things from getting too hairy
Gigantic brake rotors clamped by silver-painted calipers are bigger and more powerful than last year’s blue-caliper pieces. Grabby at first, but perfect once you get used to them. The stopping power on hand is prodigious.
At just over $71,000–$6000 more than the 2018–the M2 Competition is somewhat of a bargain. The M-DCT transmission, a $3900 option should be left at the factory, ditto for the $1500 sunroof that my test car had. I’d keep the Hockenheim Silver paint that’s more of a pastel gray than a silver but looks brilliant nonetheless.
With so many M cars and M SUVs to choose from, the original formula has been diluted to the point that the true essence of M seems like a distant memory. Fortunately, cars like the M2 Competition keep the flame burning brighter than ever.
The M2 Competition is the best M-car you can get right now. It’s also the cheapest, the best looking, and the most fun. Get one with the manual and it’s just about the perfect sports car on the market.