1,000 miles will tell you a lot about a car. As will 14,000. Those are the numbers I’ve put on both the new BMW M2 and 1M respectively. But over the last week the BF team and myself drove both back to back extensively in an effort to go beyond the numbers.
Over seven days, three states and in rain, snow and gorgeous sunshine we went past comparing drifts and lap times (although we still managed to turn tires into smoke as often as possible). We wanted to intimately understand both of these cars and (more importantly) how they relate to each other. And yes, we also needed to find out which of these baby M cars was better.
Note, if you’re looking for a straight review of the new M2 look no further than our first drive review. If you’re looking for a deep dive technical briefing, you can check ours out here. But if you’re looking for a M car fight, read on.
Because the 1M proved the business case so well, the M2 didn’t have to be engineered on weekends and holidays.
The M2 follows the footsteps of the most highly acclaimed M product of the last decade – the 1M. Produced in very limited numbers (741 in the US), the 1M brought back the swagger and (perhaps most importantly) the feel of vintage M cars. And if you know anything about German engineers, nothing is by accident. Working in a skunkworks capacity, M engineers were intent on creating a car that felt like M cars from 20-30 years ago. The ingredients were fairly straightforward: take BMW’s smallest two door, squeeze an E92 M3’s suspension, brakes and subframe under it, thoroughly rework the twin-turbo N54 and wrap the entire thing in new metal. The results speak for themselves. The 1M residuals have climbed since the car went on sale in 2011 and have yet to come back down to MSRP levels.
For the M2, BMW M didn’t have to have such a rough road in making its case. Especially given the 1M’s success. Therefore the M2 follows the 1M formula exactly, but with the more modern F82 M4’s components being donated to the smaller car.
Because the 1M proved the business case so well, the M2 didn’t have to be engineered on weekends and holidays. This is a car that followed standard M project protocols and normal engineering gestation times. Those two aspects of the M2 are crucial to understanding the difference between it and the 1M. The M2 is more refined and faster on paper in every way. But as we’ll find out, that doesn’t necessarily translate into better in every case.
Behind the wheel of the M2 it’s clear that this is a more refined car than the 1M. You feel it at every interaction with the car. Starting with the manual (which is how you’ll want to spec this car) BMW has created a car that is easier to drive (and drive fast) without watering down the feedback.
Until the M2 I had fully believed the 1M’s Getrag manual to be as good as it gets. I was wrong. That award now goes to the M2. BMW M was able to improve the shifting (effectively making it slightly quicker to change gear) thanks to use of new type of carbon friction lining at the synchronization units. While the clutch is lighter than the 1M it’s perfectly mated to the gear lever resistance. Like the 1M, these two critical inputs have a perfectly balanced and harmonious relationship. Yet in the M2 they’re slightly easier to engage (and push).
The M2’s steering feedback and feel is good. And that’s not meant to be faint praise. It’s truly M car good and decidedly better than the new M3 and M4.
Then there’s the rev matching which won over every one of us who drove the car. While we’re all serial heel to toe enthusiasts here at BF, there’s no question that the automated rev matching is both quicker and a hell of a lot of fun to play.
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, it’s hard to not look at that change as a step back in feedback and feel. And if you’re following along you’ll know what the M3 and M4 get, the M2 eventually winds up with. Yet here’s where the story takes an unexpected turn. The M2’s steering feedback and feel is good. And that’s not meant to be faint praise. It’s truly M car good and decidedly better than the new M3 and M4.
Great, but how does it compare to the benchmark of the 1M? As good as the M2’s EPAS system is, it simply doesn’t come close to delivering the beautiful nuances and subtleties found in the 1M. Driving both cars back to back to back it was clear to all of us that the driver of the 1M was more engaged with the road. We’ve said it before and it still holds true. The 1M is analogue in its feel and interaction. As good as the M2’s steering is, it doesn’t quite come to life like the 1M’s. It’s the digital version of the 1M’s analogue.
There are two other key differences in how these cars steer. The first is the steering rack ratio. In this instance the M2 is more of a product of the M4 than a successor to the 1M. In the data above you can clearly see how the rear track and steering ratio in particular are taken directly from the M4. This results in a car with a slightly more relaxed steering ratio and (in our opinion) one that isn’t as lively or rich with feedback. The upside of this increased ratio is that the M2 is a slightly more relaxed car at high speeds.
The last difference is the size of the wheel itself. It may sound inconsequential but it’s one of the first things we noticed driving the two back to back. The 1M’s wheel is decidedly smaller and thus has a better and quicker response. The size also suits the car much better. To the point that once you get back into the M2 after driving the 1M, it’s all you can think about for the first few miles.
An M car’s steering feel and feedback is a critical part of its success in our eyes. And as good as the M2 is here, it cannot match what the 1M delivers. The smaller wheel combined with the faster ratio and more nuanced feedback make the 1M feel alive in your hands in a way the M2 can’t match.
While numbers don’t define either of these cars, it’s worth talking about them for a moment. The 1M was powered by the twin turbo N54B30T0 that (on paper) produced 335bhp @ 5900rpm with and 369lb ft @1500-4500rpm. We say on paper because plenty of dyno runs over the years have conservatively shown figures above 350. The M2 is powered by the dual stage single turbo N55B30T0 and has a output of 365 HP and 343 ft lbs of torque. Dyno figures are still coming in but given our experience with the M2 365 feels just as conservative as the 1M’s 335.
How do the two compare? Despite the M2 having a 154 lbs weight increase over the 1M, you readily feel that 10% power and torque increase from the mid-range on. The M2 is brutally fast and feels decidedly more powerful than the 1M. Not by much mind you, but there’s no doubt that there’s at least a 10% difference in power and torque in this new baby M. Despite that 154 lbs weight increase over the 1M, the M2 car feels quicker from 0 to 30, 30 to 60 and 60 to a lot. You can’t can’t underestimate how fast this car feels.
Fast is one thing. Responsive is another. One of the things that we noticed over the week with the two was that the 1M’s N54 revved decidedly quicker. This is very likely due to the 1M’s lightened dual mass flywheel that BMW used on the N54B30T0. Speaking to the engineers at the launch it was one of the focal points in iterating on the N54. The revised N54 was the first engine in an M car that wasn’t purposely built and thus engineers went out of their way to prove it worthy. Four years on and that extra effort still feels worth it.
That doesn’t mean the M2’s N55B30T0 hasn’t been plenty fettled. While it doesn’t feature the same lightened dual mass flywheel there’s plenty to get excited about under the hood. One way the power plants are similar – M employed the same method of overboost. During the N55B30T0’s overboost torque is increased from 465 Nm/343 lb-ft to 500 Nm/369 lb-ft by a brief increase in the charging pressure of 0.1 bar above the normal charging pressure. Interestingly the N55B30T0’s blow-off valve is taken from the four cylinder N20 engine. If you’re interested in total deep-dive on the new M2 check out our full technical briefing.
Let’s get this out of the way. The M2 sounds fantastic. This is another example of that longer gestation period paying off. M engineers had plenty of time to hone the sound of the engine inside the car (via BMW’s Active Sound) as well as outside. As much as Active Sound gets a bad rap it’s hard to argue that it doesn’t make the car sound better. The system fills out the low frequency sound and gives the M2 a deeper growl all the way up to redline.
Then there’s the exhaust. The M2 gets the full treatment of gurgles and pops on throttle lift-off similar to those found on a new M3/M4 or JCW MINI. There’s no technical reason that the 1M can’t do this of course as the difference is purely software. But alas it doesn’t.
That doesn’t mean the 1M doesn’t sounds great. It’s very close to the M2 in volume and tone. But these modern measures (which ironically evoke the sounds of vintage M cars) make the M2 a little more interesting to listen to.
This isn’t a religious war. These are two cars and there should be one winner. But naming a winner means you have to know what you’re measuring. So we’ve decided to answer the question in the guise of the two scenarios we think most of you will consider.
With a wiggle of the wheel and a dab of the throttle we could effortlessly drift the 1M driving down a straight road at 20 mph. The M2 can’t do that.
Scenario #1: Maximum feedback
At first glance the difference between the cars is quite nuanced. Initially it’s about marginal degrees of difference in preference of interaction. But the more you spend with the 1M the more you began to feel a depth of communication at the wheel and in the chassis that the M2 never quite achieves.
Therefore if you’re after maximum feedback and unbridled excitement there’s a clear choice. Four years later the BMW 1M is proving just how special it was when released. We’ve always known it was a flawed character. But coming face to face with its almost pitch-perfect follow-up has exposed just how important those flaws are.
The predictability of its inability to retain control was (for lack of a better term) brilliant.
We call them flaws but what does that mean? The differential (taken from the E90 M3) isn’t predictive and doesn’t lay down grip like the M2’s. Not even close. And yet every one of us who drove the two back to back came away preferring it. The predictability of its inability to retain control was (for lack of a better term) brilliant. The shorter wheelbase (almost 2” shorter than the M2), lighter weight and the more flexible chassis (yes that’s technically not a good thing) makes the 1M more of a hooligan that requires higher levels of respect.
With a wiggle of the wheel and a dab of the throttle we could effortlessly drift the 1M driving down a straight road at 20 mph. The M2 can’t do that.
Unlike the 1M it required real shove and higher attack angles to get the same result. Which is better? On paper the M2 is quicker, faster and possesses endless grip compared to its predecessor. It’s also an absolute joy to drive hard. But the 1M has more immediacy in reactions and feedback. Less curb weight, lighter flywheel, a mechanical diff and old school steering set-up give you the sense of being in the front row of a Prince concert rather than 5 rows back. Both experiences are fantastic. But one leaves you feeling just a little more alive.
The 1M wins this round. The M2, with all of its development and longer gestation period, is a car that feels more effective at almost everything. But it simply cannot match the 1M’s depth of character and tenacity that comes along with it.
The M2 swings from comfortable daily driver to hooligan faster and better than any car M has ever produced.
Scenario #2: Daily Driver
With that out of the way let’s look at these two from the opposite angle. Which car would you rather live with daily? After a week that saw us swapping back and forth in almost every scenario possible the answer is easy. The M2 swings from comfortable daily driver to hooligan faster and better than any car M has ever produced. In it lies both the spirit of the E46 M3 and the 1M but it’s built with parts from the M4. That equation equals a car that you can get in and immediately feel comfortable pushing. There’s also real feedback coming from the steering wheel – unlike the new M3 and M4 which use the same steering rack but feel decidedly more numb.
In short the M2 delivers almost all of the 1M’s benefits while being more approachable and easier to drive both slowly or quickly.
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.
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 a splash of Alcantara on the doors. The raw carbon fiber trim (actually molded plastic) is the one notable edition to the equation that adds a interesting touch of dimensionality to what is usually just a flat glossy surface. In some ways it doesn’t feel quite as special as the 1M with its use of Alacantara throughout the cabin but in total it’s a more modern and frankly livable interior.
The M2 also benefits greatly from 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 groups 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 (which is excellent, but doesn’t suit the car as well as the manual).
Finally the M2 is something you can actually get. The 1M was almost impossible to buy (especially in the US) without being on dealer lists many months (if not years) in advance. All 741 were spoken for almost immediately. The M2 on the other hand will be built for four more years and in numbers designed to satisfy the market. In other words BMW has made a slightly a faster and more modern (if not slightly sanitized) 1M you can actually get.
Which would we choose? Out of the three of us that participated in the majority of the testing, two of us are in the market for a car like the M2 and one of owns a 1M. All three of us came away loving both but preferring one. “After the 1M, the M2 feels almost benign” was the quote from Matt that neatly summed up a lot of what we were feeling. But the M2 was so good and these two were so close that even calling the 1M a winner was hard. Put simply it was the one we all prefer to have in the garage.
While neither car could really be called a loser in this comparison, that doesn’t mean there isn’t one. The 1M exposed the E90 M3 for what it was. An excellent car that was more of a modern take on an M5. But that also meant that it simply wasn’t as thrilling to drive as the 1M. The M2 has done the same thing but perhaps even more acutely. The M3 and M4 have lost weight but also the immediacy and feedback M cars were known for. The M2 hasn’t. While it’s not quite at the level of the 1M (or previous M cars), it’s a much closer link to the past than the current generation M3 and M4 are. Like the 1M was before it, the M2 is now the unexpected but completely deserving halo of the brand. In other words, the cheapest M car is once again the best.
We’re living in a time of performance cars being sanitized for commuting purposes and cup holders taking precedent over oil temp gauges. But the BMW M2 defiantly bucks this trend. With the character of the 1M created from M4 components it delivers an experience that is worthy of the best M cars of all time. It may not have that last 10% of feedback and nuance M cars of old have but it’s got all the excitement.