- First impressions of new hot M coupe
- Performance specs not far off the M4
- How does it feel on track?
The starting formation on the makeshift grid is an odd mix of almost new and ostentatiously unfinished metal. The pair of thinly disguised M2 pre-production cars – one manual and one automatic – is led by a hyperblue M4 Competition with Dirk Häcker, chief engineer of the BMW M division, at the wheel. I am right behind him in this psychedelic multi-blue, multi-pattern liveried M2.
We’re at the Salzburgrng to get our first taste of BMW’s latest hot tamale. It’s embedded in a picturesque remote valley East of – you guessed it – Salzburg. The circuit features one very long elevated straight, two reasonably fast 120deg-corners at both ends, a small infield filled with some wriggly stuff, and the extra-wide start-finish boulevard from where an afterthought chicane takes you to the third and final flat-out section. Sounds and looks pretty straightforward to us…
Before taking on the track, gimme some details on the new M2!
At 454bhp and 406lb ft, the 3.0litre twin-turbo fitted to the new M2 is 20bhp less potent than the engine installed in the base M3/M4 available in Continental Europe. The bigger M4 does however retain a 35kilo weight advantage which is largely due a mix of pricier and more exotic low-calorie materials. Although the homologation is not yet complete, the M2 will tip the scales at 1810kilos, sources say.
The version equipped with the eight-speed Steptronic matches the acceleration time recorded for the M4 with manual transmission at 4.2 seconds. The provisional number for the do-it-yourself M2 – yes, there’s still a manual option – is 4.5sec. While the M4 with the M driver’s package can top 181mph, its more compact sister model throws in the towel at 178mph.
While M3 and M4 are also available with xDrive AWD technology, the M2 is rear-wheel drive only, as the ultimate descendant of the legendary BMW 2002tii should be. This layout will also be carried over to the brawnier – did we hear someone say 490bhp? – CS derivative expected expected in 2024. Built in San Luis Potosi, Mexico, the most powerful 2-series to date shares in essence the adaptive M suspension, M compound brakes and variable rate M steering with M4, too. Thanks to an extended Efficient Dynamics package, the predicted average fuel consumption works out at 28.4mpg. Both prototypes were shod with extra wide unequal-size Michelin tyres (275/35 ZR19 up front, 285/30 ZR20 in the back), but we suspect the base model will step out of the factory on slightly less meaty 18/19inchers.
The M2 pictured here sports the optional lightweight carbon fibre roof as well as gaudy carbon-fibre racing seats, also an extra. The electric buckets may save weight over the standard comfort chairs, but their radically contoured shape does not fit everybody – and neither will the and the contrasting yellow, green, orange or blue leather upholstery options. The widescreen instrument panel features most of the specific infotainment goodies seen on other M cars, the centre tunnel accommodates again the pleasantly failsafe iDrive controller, there are enough direct-access buttons to avoid getting lost in one of many submenus, and the gear lever is of course of the old-fashioned kind – no joystick, no automated clutch, no electric reverse but anytime on-demand coasting with the transmission in neutral.
Sounds like a tasty recipe – come on then, how is it?
Chasing after Häcker in his M4, there’s no denying that changing gears manually is more of an emotional act than a tangible benefit. The automatic transmission is a fine everyday stress relaxant, but it lacks the sharp edge, the fine motor challenge and the deep involvement of doing all the interactive work by yourself. In theory, the manual car loses time to its auto counterpart because every gear change – up and down – takes that little bit longer. In reality though, one can recover much of it through intelligent timing and accordingly coordinated action.
While the M4 looks perfectly composed from behind with the R&D chief in charge, the M2 felt more playful, and it would happily accept all the acreage it could get. The secret is in the mix. Time the turn-in to perfection, get the steering angle right, synchronize the throttle input to fine-tune the momentum, and you won’t sacrifice a single tenth. But get the line wrong or misjudge the entry speed, and everything that follows will fall apart, too: braking point, weight transfer, composure, grip, exit speed and ultimately the driver’s confidence. I should know, as I’m busy watching the guy behind me in another M2 prototype almost losing it twice before finally spinning out – only confirming that the M2 can turn from Bambi to beast with DSC switched off and the driver’s right hoof cut loose from the black box inside the head.
Through the two third-gear corners, the zone between eventual understeer and early oversteer is surprisingly narrow. Not only from the vantage point of the M2 but also when watching the M4 in front going through exactly the same motions. Dirk Häcker described this handling attitude at different points in time as intriguing, delicate, malleable, fusing and interactive. We would call it deeply involving, and praise the manual transmission for its connecting talents while the easy-going auto ‘box tends to keep the car on a longer yet less precise leash.
The steering feels a little meatier than in the M240i and somewhat more strongly centered than in the M4, the muscular inner-ventilated steel brakes become a bit heavy when pushed, the ride is unperturbed on the track but knobbly and not exactly quiet on the perimeter roads.
Will we see another car like it?
Like M3 and M4, the M2 is the last of its kind. If there will be a next-generation M2 at all, it is bound to be fully electric, complete with all the related pros and cons. While the bigger sister models are an acquired taste as far as their front-end design is concerned, the smallest fish in the M pond won’t give the taste commission a reason to complain. It’s too early to quote a price, but when the first production cars arrive in late autumn, they are bound to undercut the M establishment by around £20,000
BMW M2: first impressions
It boils down to a simple question: this or an M4? The M4 is second or third car if you can stretch to the CSL or fancy a soft-top.
But the M2 gets the nod if the fun factor matters more than lap times and absolute performance. Specify the no extra cost manual gearbox, and you have a fairly-priced instant classic. A no-brainer, really.