I had moment in the corkscrew in the brand new 2016 BMW M2. Let’s just get that out of the way. Nothing too embarrassing and from Bill Auberlen’s view (in front of me) it actually looked “pretty cool”. Yet “moments” on the track aren’t intended. Pushing hard entering the corkscrew at Laguna Seca I went slightly wide and (as I found out later) into a pretty dusty area of the corner. In a blink of an eye the rear began to come around and I found myself with two hands full of opposite lock in one of the most dangerous corners in the world.
The BMW M2 is a car designed for the track and for a moment just like this. Like its forbearers in the M range, the M2 has been nipped, tucked, stretched and massaged in every way imaginable. We knew it would be good. Folks, it’s so damn good it might just be the most engaging car in BMW’s current line-up.
The M2 of course is the follow-up to the most highly acclaimed M product of the last decade – the 1M. Released in 2011 the 1M was a bold move for BMWM and one that almost didn’t happen. Working in a skunkworks capacity engineers were intent on creating a car that felt like M cars from 20-30 years ago. To do this they took BMW’s smallest two door, squeezed an E92 M3’s suspension, brakes and subframes under it, thoroughly reworked the twin-turbo N54 and wrapped the entire thing in new metal. The results were an M car that (for many) brought some magic back not necessarily in regards to performance but in how the car felt.
The 2016 BMW M2 didn’t have such a rough road in making its case. It wasn’t rejected by the BMW board twice nor was it engineered on weekends and holidays. When comparing the two it’s this attention to detail and thoroughness of the development process along with a much more advanced chassis that define the differences between the two cars.
Lets talk about that chassis. Walking up to the M2 in the pit-lane at Laguna Seca the first thing that you notice are those sexy hips barely containing the M4’s suspension, brakes and sub-frame. It’s the same formula that the 1M made use of but (as I was about to find out) with completely new ingredients.
What we don’t get from the M4 is the trick (and incredibly expensive) carbon fiber driveshaft or other CF weight saving pieces. As we suggested last year, without those expensive components M had a tough time reducing the weight of the M235i at all. In fact it’s roughly the same weight after all the various weight savings carried out by M. BMW will point out that the M2 has much more serious hardware under it’s metal skin. Yet numbers don’t lie – the M2 isn’t not only 154 lbs heavier than the 1M but within 25 lbs of the much larger M4.
All the data points became less important as I slipped in the driver’s seat, belted up and moved the DCT lever (as all M2s at the track were equipped) into D. “This is going to be fun,” I muttered to myself.
The first thing you notice about the M2 on the track is just how much grip there is. In talking with M engineers that’s really down to two things – the ultra stiff chassis (noticeably more so than the 1M) and the M4 underpinnings. This does not feel like a modified M235i. This is a completely different car. Ultimate grip is up dramatically and the M2 is much more neutral at the limit (as I found out) than the already excellent M235i. And it benefits greatly from the M4’s brakes which had just hints of fade after 20+ hard laps.
Under the hood engineers have taken an N55 and reworked it to the point it’s got a revised code-name (N55B30T0). M took a few components from the S55 in the M4 to help with oil flow and cooling. More specifically they modified the wet oil sump and used the extraction feature from the M4. The engine also has an additional radiator and an additional oil cooler for DCT equipped models. The results are 0-60 in 4.2 seconds with the DCT and a very respectable 7:58 at the Nurburgring.
It’s worth noting that the difference between the 1M and the M2 on the track should be a sliding scale. On a track like Hockenheim or Laguna Seca the difference will likely be less than the seismic gap on tracks like the Nurburgring.
While M2 isn’t as capable as the M4 at the track due to the 60 hp power deficit. Yet that doesn’t mean you’re ever left wanting for more power or torque. With 365 hp and 343 ft lbs of torque the M2 felt more than adequately powered for a technical track like Laguna. Of course that doesn’t mean the overboost function (which takes the torque output up to 369 ft lbs) wasn’t appreciated accelerating out of the final corner and onto the front stretch.
How did it feel? Here’s where things get interesting. Famously BMWM switched the M3 and M4 over to electrically boosted power steering with the F80 and F82 that debuted two years ago. While they did an admirable job translating road feel and feedback through a synthesized system, the change did those cars no favors. And if you’re following along you’ll know what the M3 and M4 get, the M2 eventually winds up with. So here’s where I’m suppose say the M2’s steering is devoid of proper feedback and nuanced feel, drop the mic and walk off-stage.
Except I can’t. Because it’s actually not bad. It’s not on the same planet as an E30 M3 nor is it quite close to the 1M. However the M2 feels like it’s a step back in the right direction after the new M3 and M4 debuted with the system. In the M2 the system loads transmitting basic feedback from the contact patch to your hands in a way that you can actually discern. It doesn’t have all the beautiful nuances and subtleties found in the 1M (or pretty much any M3 before it) but it doesn’t feel like a joystick either.
With my track time over I grabbed the keys to a manual M2 and headed out to Highway 1 and a date with one of the best drives I’ve had in years.
My God, the manual makes this car come alive. Those were the words that I uttered while still on Laguna Seca’s ribbon of service roads. The manual is an iteration on the M3 and M4’s which itself was an iteration of the one found in the 1M. In other words it’s about perfect with excellent weighting, precision and feel. The rev matching is an excellent addition to the recipe (BMW – please take my money and put this on my 1M) that allows you more focus on gear changes, hitting apexes and trying to get the seat lower.*
Out on the road I found plenty of subtleties that I hadn’t picked up on at the track. For one the throttle mapping isn’t quite as aggressive as the 1M even with the M2 in Sport +. It’s not that the engine doesn’t rev quickly (the jury’s out if it’s as quick as the 1M) but that the throttle doesn’t feel quite as sensitive. Another thing I noticed more on the road was the subtleties of the various M settings. The steering is perfectly weighted in the Sport setting – Sport + feels one step too far in the artificial direction. Unfortunately the M2 doesn’t offer an M button or the ability to mix and match settings as other M cars do.
The big surprise in my time with the M2 on the fantastic public roads around Monterey California was the hint of turbo lag. In retrospect it makes sense I hadn’t noticed it as much on the track (where the turbos are always engaged). The natural cadence of driving on public streets offers much more opportunity for it to show up. Granted not something you’d notice in normal or even most spirited driving. That said while pushing the M2 hard through the tightest corners of Carmel Valley road there was unquestionably a moment when you notice it. The twin turbo N54 1M didn’t have this and neither does the new twin turbo M3 and M4. The result is a car that feels slightly less on edge and (dare I say it) pissed off like the 1M. The M2 has a character that is just slightly more laid back and welcoming. In my time on some of the best roads in North America I found it both easier to drive fast and to live. Where the 1M was classic punk rock, the M2 is a new, smarter and more accessible form that is destined to find a wider audience. It’s punk rock that Starbucks can get behind.
Ok, that’s probably too harsh because it’s not that the M2 feels sanitized. It’s just a little less dirty than the 1M was. The 1M was a dirty dirty car that would beg you to turn off the DSC and then wrap itself (and you) around a tree. The M2, with all of its development and longer gestation period, is a car that feels more effective at everything but can’t quite reach the levels of sheer character or tenacity that the 1M had four years ago.
However the 1M is gone. And given what’s on the market I think it’s clear that the M2 will likely rein supreme as the best small rear wheel drive car in 2016. Perhaps most importantly it doesn’t just win on paper against rivals but it will likely win in the “sheer fun” category.
Spending time in the M2 is also made easier by the well appointed interior. BMW spent quite a lot of time perfecting the 2 Series interior after being stung by criticism of the 1 Series layout and design. While there are no outright risks taken, there are also no complaints. Every touchpoint feels premium and every control is just about where your hand falls.
Elsewhere inside the M2 carries on the tradition of the 1M by offering a single interior combination of black on black with deviating stitching (in this case blue) and some Alcantara thrown in for good measure. The raw carbon fiber trim is the one notable edition to the equation that adds a interesting touch of dimensionality to what is usually just a flat glossy surface.
The M2 also benefits greatly from a simplified ordering sheet and a high degree of standard features (in the US) such as navigation, comfort access, H/K, satellite radio and even dynamic cruise control. The only option (outside of color) is a well priced option package that contains pretty much all the luxuries you’d want. The only remaining choices are exterior color and the $2,900 M4 derived M Double-clutch automatic transmission.
Driving down the epic Highway 1 is always an amazing experience. Over the years I’ve driven almost every modern M car up and down this road with GoPros hanging off multiple fenders. I have a lifetime of amazing memories on this road and in these cars. Yet even with all of those momentous drives tucked away in my memories, the M2 delivered the kind of bliss that few did. With a shorter wheelbase and slightly less weight than the M4, the M2 has the feel of a car that is perfectly sized for every occasion. With a slight increase in power to weight ratio over the 1M and that ultra stiff chassis, it feels more confident with a higher level of performance in easier reach.
And compared to the M235i? It’s harder edged in every way. Power, power delivery, grip levels, braking ability. As good as it is, there’s not a single way that the M235i comes even close to comparing favorably to the M2. They are materially different animals.
The M2 is on paper a follow-up to the 1M. Yet in a lot of ways it’s the true successor to the E46 M3. Almost identical in size and cost ($51,000) but with an enormous improvement in performance, the M2 represents a lot of what enthusiasts have been asking for. Smaller, lighter, attainable and a whole lot faster, it’s hard to imagine BMW won’t have a hit on its hands with this car. And perhaps best of all the M2 will be produced without production constraints and with all the luxuries one could ask for.
Over the course of two hours I jelled with the M2 down Carmel Valley Rd and finally down Highway 1. Windows down with the coast on my right and mountains to my left, I slithered in and out of corners with vistas of epic beauty crunching numbers and thinking about garage space. Yeah, this car is that good.
Corner after corner the M2 didn’t just perform, it delighted with a nimbleness that we haven’t seen from an M product since the 1M. It’s engaging in it’s constant feedback and rewarding the way it can effortlessly string together corner after corner. It’s not perfect in every way but it may just be as close as we can get in this age of demanding emission standards and pedestrian impact regulations.
Every seven years BMW releases a new M3 (and now M4). That year always marks a milestone for BMW and for automotive enthusiasts. A new benchmark is born and a new object of lust is invented. And every seven years we do it again. But with the M2 the cycle has been broken. It seems that we’re on a new seven year plan. Ladies and gentlemen behold the new BMW M3. It may technically be down a number but it’s up in every other way.
Automakers you can start your benchmarking. And enthusiasts, get your walls ready. The posters should be pretty good.
*No seriously why can’t BMW make a small car with an electric seat that goes lower.