It's with some trepidation that I approach the 2016 BMW M2 for the first time. What if it's not? What if they're wrong? What if all the hype is exactly that?
I vividly remember being fresh meat in the CarAdvice office back in 2012, eagerly awaiting the first reviews of the then-new Toyota 86. The majority of international journalists sang its praises, with a great many local journalists doing the same a short time later. And then, finally, I got my chance to drive one… and I loved it. I still love it. The Toyota 86/Subaru BRZ remains one of my favourite cars to be alone in on an empty stretch of twisting mountain road.
Finished in the car’s stunning Long Beach Blue metallic hero colour (a $1485 option), the $89,900 (plus on-roads) M2 Pure pictured here is the entry point into the most affordable BMW M car ever. And sat under the glow of 26 fluorescent globes hanging from the roof of the CarAdvice Melbourne garage, it looks tidy. Very tidy.
Doing a lap around the 1854mm-wide, 4468mm-long two-door, its intentions are clear. Pumped rear guards, a chrome-tipped quad-exhaust, meaty-looking M-stamped cross-drilled brakes sitting under black, 19-inch forged double-spoke light-alloy M wheels.
An M2 badge located on the black and chrome front grille is accompanied by M2 badging on the front guards, and an M2 badge on the bum. There’s a neat little boot-lip spoiler, a black rear diffuser, and body-coloured and gloss black heated wing mirrors.
Cracking the door for the first time, I breath in a lungful of BMW new-car smell.
Inside, there are manually-adjustable, leather, M-embossed sports seats, an Alcantara gear lever boot and Alcantara door inserts, a leather M gear knob, and a chunky red- and blue-stitched M sports steering wheel. Adding a touch of cool are M-stamped kick plates and some carbon-fibre lashings on the door pulls, transmission tunnel, and passenger-side dash.
As you’d expect from a two-door, four-seater, there’s not a tonne of space behind the driver and front passenger. However, rear seat room is actually okay in the back, and although toe room is tight, knee room and head room aren’t bad. Tucked behind here is a 390-litre boot, expandable via 60:40 split-fold rear seats.
Undercutting the ‘regular’ $98,900 BMW M2 by $9000, the M2 Pure comes standard with a six-speed manual transmission, and forgoes its dearer twin’s factory inclusions of a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, adaptive headlights with high-beam assist, heated electric seats with electric lumbar support, keyless comfort access system, and 12-speaker Harman Kardon sound system.
It does, however, still come standard with bi-xenon headlights, rain-sensing wipers, cruise control and a speed limiter, automatic anti-dazzle mirrors, rear parking sensors and a rear-view camera, Bluetooth phone connectivity and audio streaming, a seven-speaker stereo with DAB+ digital radio, and a dash-top-mounted 8.8-inch iDrive display screen with Professional satellite navigation and BMW’s ConnectedDrive services, including real-time traffic information.
And while the M2 does come equipped with a tyre pressure monitoring system, lane-departure warning, and city braking, it misses out on a head-up display, blind-spot monitoring, front parking sensors, and dual-zone climate control.
Regardless of which M2 you choose to buy, you also won’t get the handy ‘M1’ and ‘M2’ driver preference ‘shortcut’ buttons seen on the steering wheel of the BMW M3, M4, M5, and M6, nor these cars’ adaptive suspension systems.
That’s right, although drive modes for ‘Comfort’, ‘Sport’, and ‘Sport+’ exist in the M2, the model’s non-adaptive M Sport Suspension will not vary in its compliance between modes. It is, however, paired to an electronically controlled active M rear differential, which BMW says can apply a locking effect of between 0-100 per cent, and allow for some “controlled drifting” when M Dynamic mode is selected.
Turning those rear wheels is a turbocharged 3.0-litre straight-six engine churning out 272kW of power at 6500rpm and 465Nm of torque between 1400-5560rpm (and up to 500Nm between 1450-4750rpm thanks to an ‘overboost’ function).
Combine that with the M2’s 1495kg kerb weight, and BMW promises 0-100km/h in 4.5 seconds (4.3s with the DCT’s launch control in play) and a top speed of 250km/h. That’s quick.
That’s not only 0.4 seconds quicker to triple figures than the M2’s spiritual predecessor, the 250kW/500Nm twin-turbocharged 1 Series M Coupe, we’re talking Alfa Romeo 4C ($89,000), Aston Martin V8 Vantage GT ($219,895), and Porsche 911 Carrera ($217,800) fast. In fact, it’s only 0.1s off a $189,900 Porsche Cayman GT4 and 0.2s off its $149,900 M4 stablemate.
Gear changes usually take place at around 2500-3000rpm and, driving gently, fifth gear will still pull you up a hill from 1800rpm. You definitely tend to dial up a few more revolutions than you would with the seven-speed auto on board, however, the turbo 3.0-litre is tractable enough to make cruising around the city no hassle.
The electronic power steering is on the heavier side – even in Comfort mode – and, like the notchy, six-speed, H-pattern gearbox, demands you be a touch more deliberate with it.
Shifting modes to Sport adds even more weight to the steering, and while this also brings with it a sharper throttle and increased engine sound in the cabin, feedback and feel are left somewhat lacking. The steering is extremely accurate and responsive, however, and turn-in, even in urban environments, is excellent.
Without adaptive suspension, the M2 is unquestionably firm in its ride. Yet, it’s comfortable enough over most surfaces – though, yes, cats eyes, tram tracks, and even minor road imperfections will be felt. It’s far from supple, but nor does it ever get knocked off course. And, if you like driving, the trade-off is worth it.
Get out into the hills and the M2 impeccably holds a line, teaming exceptional body control with balance, grip, and stability.
Tested over an 800-kilometre mix of inner-city and urban roads, as well as wet-to-patchy twisty roads in Victoria’s glorious Yarra Ranges, the M2’s stability is one of the car’s biggest standouts (along with its impeccably natural-feeling brakes, comprising four-piston calipers and 380mm discs up front and two-piston calipers and 370mm discs out back).
Despite cold temperatures, slippery surfaces, and performance-focussed Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres (245/35ZR19s up front and 265/35ZR19s out back), the M2’s front end never pushed or felt as though it was anywhere near ever doing so – not at all what I was expecting turning into damp second-gear corners up in the hills.
Planted, settled, and composed, driving fast, the BMW M2 might not be the single most engaging drive but it is one dynamically exceptional product. Even the rear end – barring the odd flash of the stability control light or slight lock adjustment – remains controlled, with the car’s overall core performance truly very impressive. If you happen across a sensational sequence of switchbacks, the M2 is a fun and very well executed car to drive.
But right when you feel you’re on Cloud Nine, and you’re basking in the lovely, free-revving nature of the torquey engine’s fat mid-range at around 3000-4000rpm and top-end punch available all the way to just past 7000rpm, you realise something isn’t right. In fact, you realise something is very, very wrong.
The BMW M2 Pure – the apparent Holy Grail of modern sports cars – auto-blips the throttle whenever you downshift.
It’s true. In the six-speed manual M2, if you want to reward yourself with the cheeky bliss that comes from nailing a heel-and-toe downshift, you’ve got to either let the car take that joy away from you, or risk putting yourself into the trees by disengaging stability control altogether to deactivate it.
Let me be clear here, I don’t mind that the M2 has plain old rubber pedals rather than aluminium ones. I don’t mind that it doesn’t have dual-zone climate control, or adaptive suspension, or that the standard seats aren’t particularly supportive or bolstered enough. I don’t even really mind that it’s missing the M1/M2 buttons like a ‘proper’ M car.
But for a manual-equipped sports car, all about the drive, the driver, and the purity and essence of BMW’s ‘M’ brand, to have this technology hard-wired into its driving experience, I hate. I mean, I loathe it. It’s dumb. It’s a manual car – a word that precisely means ‘physical’ and ‘labour-intensive’.
If it was a function you could turn on and off at your choosing (such as in the Chevrolet Corvette and Nissan 370Z), I’d be a little more okay with it. But you can’t turn it off unless you’re willing to select ‘Nah, I’m as good as Bruno Spengler’-mode.
All of that said, when you’re up it a little and in good rhythm, you can begin to fool yourself into enjoying a good heel-and-toe anyway – despite the annoying feature. Simply do it yourself and ignore whatever the car may do behind the scenes.
Where it makes even less sense, too, is when you’re gingerly driving around town in Comfort mode, and the M2 forces you into being ‘that guy’ who blips the throttle of his brand new M2 every single time he drops a gear. Naff.
The M2’s foibles are few, but what makes them more frustrating is simply this: The M2 is, without a doubt, the most entertaining BMW M car I have driven since the E92 BMW M3 ceased production in 2013. That doesn’t mean it’s perfect, but it is close, and it’s nowhere near as snappy or angry as an M4.
The 2016 BMW M2 Pure is a highly intuitive and impressive package that will, for many, be the source of ear-to-ear smiles for many years to come. And largely, the hype and buzz it's been receiving is warranted. I think it’s beautifully balanced, incredible stable, and it genuinely loves to be driven, and driven properly.
There’s no doubt the first-ever BMW M2 is good. In fact, it’s really good. But for me personally, it falls just short in some key areas that, had it nailed, would've made it an all-time great for hardcore driving enthusiasts. That said, make no mistake, at $60,000 less, the M2 is far from a poor man’s M4 – it’s better.
Click on the Photos tab for more 2016 BMW M2 Pure images by Tom Fraser.