A BMW that puts the M back in ‘mother of all fast cars’. By Thomas Falkiner
BMW M-cars. Formidable chargers. Understated feats of performance engineering capable of wrestling supercars to their knees. Or at least hold them in an embarrassing headlock long enough for the rest of the world to point fingers, snigger and take note.
In the beginning they were light and nimble and involving. And perhaps, most importantly, represented a relatively realistic ownership proposition for the everyman. Especially the evergreen M3 that, based on the ubiquitous 3 Series saloon, emerged as one of the greatest sporting democratisers the world has known.
Unfortunately as the years clicked by and profit took priority over purity, the M-car image started to suffer. We were now dealing with ostentatious behemoths like the X6M — the motoring equivalent of a brontosaurus on roller-skates with a Saturn V rocket stuck up its backside. Intrinsically not a bad car, but in no way faithful to the attributes that made those first M-cars so good. There’s a vein of similarity running through the latest M3 and M4. Again, both are fine machines in their own right but they lack the flickable finesse of their ancestors.
Which is why the new M2 is such a breath of fresh air. Although it’s only around 20kg lighter than the M4, the M2 is considerably more compact. It’s not only shorter in length but also shorter in wheelbase. And this is good because as a driver, once you strap in behind that right-sized leather steering wheel, you feel instantly more in touch, more intimately involved with the car. If the M4 is a catcher’s mitt then the M2 is a surgeon’s operating glove.
Then there’s the engine. Although the turbocharged six-cylinder is pretty much a dead ringer for the one in the M4, here in the M2 it has been dialled down to produce not quite as much muscle. Normally this would be a bad thing. But sometimes less equates to more. Unlike its bigger brother, this baby of the BMW M-car range doesn’t feel unnecessarily over-endowed in the power department.
Instead you have just the right amount on tap to properly exploit that fine chassis to the full without worrying about crashing backwards into a sidewalk bistro. Or a tree. Or a ditch. The M2 is a car you can drive around with the traction control switched off in total confidence. For when you get it sideways, and believe me you will, it is supremely easy to tug back in line.
And when you’re not rocketing about in a cloud of tyre smoke you can savour this machine’s delightfully tasty handling dynamics. Driven neatly the M2 changes direction with a crisp, crystalline transparency that’s been lacking in M-badged products since the excellent E92 M3 exited stage left.
Yet do not for a second think that this controllability comes at the sacrifice of raw pace. The M2 is still biblically quick down an empty road with the devil whispering temptation in your ear. BMW says it will hit 100km/h in little more than four seconds and, you know what, I think I believe them — it really does feel that rapid. I’m just not a fan of the optional M-DCT transmission. At lower speeds it behaves nicely enough but the violence it throws down the driveline when swapping cogs at higher velocities makes those rear wheels grapple for traction. I found it often unsteadies the car, which is why I would pick the manual.
Other gripes? The artificial engine sound piped through the speakers is a bit lame, and the cabin, in standard specification, is somewhat bleak. Lumbar support? Reversing camera? Park distance control? All these toys are optional. But I’m happy to live with this in exchange for what is arguably the best, most joyous and focused M-car in years.
Fast Facts: BMW M2 Coupé M-DCT
Engine: 2979cc six-cylinder turbo
Power: 272kW at 6500rpm
Torque: 500Nm from 1400 to 5560rpm
Transmission: seven-speed M-DCT
0-100km/h: 4.3 seconds (claimed)
Top speed: 250km/h (limited)
Fuel: 14.6l/100km (achieved)
Price: From R906600