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The 2016 BMW M2 could be seen as the smaller, cheaper underling to the M4.
Yes, it is smaller. Yes, it is cheaper. But to call the all-new, first-ever BMW M2 an underling would be an insult to it. And this isn’t a car that deserves to be insulted.
The M4, in case you’re not aware, is BMW’s technically-impressive-but-not-so-personality-laden two-door mid-size performance coupe.
The M2, then, is more of a potential upstart that could spoil the party for its bigger Bavarian brother.
Priced from $89,900 plus on-road costs for the Pure base model and $98,900 for the better-specced version simply known as the M2, this new flagship member of the 2 Series range costs almost half what was once asked for the larger M4 Coupe ($166,900 at launch in 2014, reduced to $149,900 in late 2015).
So the M2 is about 33 per cent cheaper than the 2016 model M4, and in terms of dimensions it’s actually not that much smaller, though it looks a lot more squat due to its shorter wheelbase, toothy front-end and broad behind (4671mm for the M4 versus 4468mm for the M2; wheelbase for the M4 is 2812mm versus 2693mm for the M2).
But don’t let the numbers fool you – because the M2 is unapologetic in its brilliance, its purity and its intent.
There are shared parts between the two: the lightweight axles are shared; the brakes (380mm discs with four-piston calipers up front and 370mm rear discs with two-piston calipers) are the same as those on the M4; the electric power steering system has been carried over, but tweaked; and the transmissions – a six-speed manual or seven-speed double-clutch automatic – are shared.
Under the bonnet, instead of a twin-turbocharged six-cylinder engine, the M2 has a single-turbo straight six, with 272kW of power at 6500rpm and 465Nm of torque between 1400-5560rpm, while on overboost during overtaking moves or for short bursts than can be upped to 500Nm of torque between 1450-4750rpm.
This is a sports car that does what so many performance models of recent years haven’t been able to – that is, to be technologically advanced, yet still pure and entertaining to drive.
Entertaining may be too dull a word, because this thing is an absolute hoot.
Chief engineer of the BMW M2, Frank Isenberg, also oversaw the development of the previous flagship M small car, the 1 Series M Coupe, which was renowned for being a bit like a rodeo bull – it wanted to buck you off at any chance it could get.
Isenberg told CarAdvice at the launch of the all-new M2 that there was a concerted effort to make this model more manageable at the limit.
“We developed a lot of confidence in the car. You aren’t scared to go up to the limit without being afraid or [intimidated],” he said.
Isenberg said the 1 Series M Coupe displayed “tricky behaviour at the limit”, and that was something that he didn’t want to replicate with the M2, which, like the 1 Series M Coupe, has a 3.0-litre turbocharged six-cylinder engine, and can be had with a six-speed manual transmission or seven-speed dual-clutch automatic (DCT). The previous small performance coupe could only be had with a stick shift.
We sampled the all-new BMW M2 on the roads around Carmel on the Pacific coast of California in the manual, and there was also some time – not enough time! – spent on the hallowed tarmac of Laguna Seca in the DCT version.
Laguna Seca is a track that is hard not to enjoy, too, with a mix of different corners at high and low speeds, some lengthy, fast straights and the infamous Corkscrew corner that tests both the fortitude of the car and of its driver.
The track component, as you may have predicted, was a highlight. And while there are Comfort and Sport modes for daily driving, we were instructed to go with Sport+, which offers the most engine grunt and steering responsiveness available, and also disables traction control to an extent to allow the rear end to move around in corners.
And it did – the M2 is a proper compact sporting machine, a vehicle that isn’t pretentious or pernickety. It just feels like it wants you to get wherever you’re going as fast and as fun as possible.
The engine offers a wealth of pulling power on full throttle and a six-cylinder scream from the engine bay, too. It revs cleanly and effortlessly towards its 7000rpm redline.
The DCT is excellent in fully automatic mode, with rapid-fire shifts that jolt through the cabin at full beans, and a level of intuition that means you only need to think about the next gear and it has already chosen it. The manual mode – with paddleshifters, of course – means you can take matters in to your own hands if you think you can outsmart the auto. There’s a good chance you won’t, though.
But going fast in a straight line is just part of the equation. There’s a beautiful balance to the way you can corner in the M2, something that the M4 doesn’t quite nail despite its amazingly grippy front end, and the 1 Series M didn’t possess, either, as it always wanted the rear bumper to chase the front.
The 19-inch forged alloy wheels – which measure 19x9 inches at the front and 19x10 inches at the rear, and are fitted with Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres (245/35 ZR 19 front; 265/35 ZR 19 rear) – allow for a big contact patch with the road.
It feels planted and grippy on the straights, and the rear will only step out if provoked in the corners. The suspension of the M2 is a little softer than it was in the 1 Series M, according to Isenberg, and it certainly doesn’t feel ridiculously stiff when you change direction. There’s a lovely fluidity to its motion, something intrinsically natural about the way it behaves.
In some specifications the M2 weighs just a few kilograms less than the much larger M4 (1495kg vs 1497kg unladen), but the shorter wheelbase means it feels very chuckable.
The brakes were strong, with some squirrelling under hard application but excellent pedal feel during our seven laps of full-steam driving, too.
This is a car that allows you to push hard and feel the road beneath you. There’s such excellent feedback to the driver, from the steering wheel to the thumping gearbox, the engine to the way the car moves on its tyres.
The on-road component showed off how liveable the M2 could be, too.
It’s just as roomy as the regular 2 Series Coupe – meaning you can take friends places reasonably comfortably, but don’t plan a three-week road trip with them – and the finishes of the car’s interior were excellent.
Some may find the cockpit to be a little dour for something with an M badge on it, but the open-core carbonfibre trim is pure sex, the blue stitching adds some nice flair (and the padded section on the centre console to stop you bashing your knees when you're on the track is a very thoughtful touch), and the seats offer excellent bolstering and adjustment, too.
It was here that we noticed a few minor qualms with the M2, but none concerning the drive experience with the manual gearbox, which was slick, smooth and while the clutch was a little heavy, it could make a great option for those who demand to make gearing decisions for themselves. And the drive mode selector system highlighted that Comfort is a cruising mode, Sport is when you're having a bit of fun, and Sport+ offers the most fun available.
The amount of road noise was one issue. Sure, there’s a lot of tyre in contact with the surface, but on coarse-chip roads as are so commonly found in Australia, it could become grating.
Another was the ride. Look, it’s a sports car, so it can’t be expected to be super spongy over bumps. And while it did compose itself nicely after big bumps, there were a few hard-edged bits that we hit that were very much felt inside the cabin.
Overall, though, those two minuscule complaints cannot dull what is an otherwise excellent driver’s car. Yes, the 2016 BMW M2 is smaller and cheaper than an M4, but it’s also a damn sight better than its big brother, and potentially better than anything else in its segment.
Click the Photos tab above for more images of the 2016 BMW M2.