A handful of welcome performance tweaks have pushed the new BMW M2 Competition to even greater heights.
While it's traditional to try and keep a bit of suspense going until slightly closer to the bottom of the page, I'm going to call a spoiler alert right now. Because on the basis of my first drive in Spain, the new BMW M2 Competition has just become my favourite current M-Car.
I suspect it's going to top a fair number of other people's lists as well.
It's a case of a car that has evolved through numerous changes rather than any single game-changer, but it's not as if there were ever anything significantly wrong with the previous 'standard' BMW M2. But a brawnier engine and revised suspension settings have tipped the Competition into greatness, and what looks certain to be a significantly higher smile-per-buck ratio than any of its bigger sisters.
While it hasn't been allowed to match the straight-line pace of the M models that get to wear the bigger digits, none of those is more fun to drive.
The engine change is a swap to the twin-turbocharged 3.0-litre six from the M3 and M4, replacing the previous single-turbo engine. This 'S55' motor has been slightly down-tuned – BMW marketing is hierarchical if nothing else – but the 302kW peak still represents a healthy supplement over the regular M2's 272kW.
Torque goes up even more, from 465Nm to 550Nm, the same figure that the engine produces in the M3 and M4. With uprated radiators and a new oil cooler plus the extra turbo, weight has increased by 55kg on BMW's EU figures, but the increase in urge more than offsets that difference.
As before, a seven-speed DCT twin-clutcher is standard in Australia, but buyers will also be able to specify a six-speed manual as a no-cost option.
Beyond the engine, other changes look small, but the overall effect of them together is still considerable. The most obvious from the driver's seat comes from a major stiffening up, the Competition getting the same under-bonnet carbon-fibre yoke linking its front suspension turrets that is fitted to the M3 and M4. So, although the base spring and dampers remain unchanged, M's engineers have tweaked geometry as well as the mapping of the electric power steering and the electronically controlled limited-slip differential.
It's easy to be cynical about software changes and the tendency of manufacturers to use them as a form of low-cost facelift engineering, but the effect here has been considerable and immediately obvious. If BMW had said the car was sitting on entirely redesigned suspension, I'd have bought the tale.
The M2 Competition feels more incisive and more responsive than the regular M2, with the steering tweaks cutting down on the amount of lock required in tighter corners.
The Andalusian test route in southern Spain had bends in abundance, from hairpins next to 100m airdrops to heroic faster sections, plus plenty of the sort of abrasive road surfaces that manufacturers normally try to keep firmly suspended models well clear of.
We also had pretty much the full spread of recent M-Cars to go and play with, yet I can report without fear of contradiction that the Competition was the pick of the bunch, taking everything in its stride – carrying huge speed when asked to do so, but also finding better traction on the dusty surfaces than the old M2 would have.
There's no doubting it is rear-driven. Even well within its limits it has the edgy feel that comes from sending lots of torque to the blunt end. But it's not wayward or lairy unless you want it to be. The passive dampers feel firm at low speeds, but corners and lateral loading show off impressive reflexes in catching and cancelling unwanted motion.
The tweaked chassis is good enough that the new engine wasn't quite the scene-stealer I was expecting it to be. While on-paper acceleration is barely better than the single-turbo M2, the new car feels markedly more keener at everyday speeds, and relishes trips to the 7500rpm redline, with no sense of the turbos running short of puff as it gets there. The DCT remains both blindingly quick and reasonably civilised under lower-intensity use.
A new exhaust with switchable flaps is louder and gives some good rort under harder use, although it sounds a bit droney at cruising speeds. If that's going to be an issue, then this likely won't be the car for you.
I also got a chance to fang the M2 Competition on-track at the Ascari Race Resort, normally a members' only club with a 5.4km track that has drawn inspiration from some of the most famous circuit corners in the world. The Competition's manners stayed good with higher speeds and heavier loading, with a new side of its personality arriving once slip gets introduced.
Lack of sensitivity in slower turns will produce understeer, but the M2 definitely prefers to slide from the rear – with some serious rotation possible even in the quicker stuff.
It's the sort of car you'd take a long time to get bored of on-track, although even with the upgraded six-pot front calipers, my test car's brake pedal was softening after a few big stops. My track car had a manual gearbox, and although an increasingly less-ticked box, it remains a brilliant way to feel an intimate connection to the engine.
With more power and more tech, there's no surprise the M2 Competition's price is set to creep upwards. Compared to the outgoing 'standard' M2, it gains standard M-Sport seats with illuminated logos in the headrests, Dakota blue-black trim and a thick-rimmed steering wheel incorporating 'M1' and 'M2' dynamic memory buttons.
Official pricing hasn't been confirmed, but the steer from BMW is to expect it to just sneak under $100,000, meaning a $10,000 supplement on the regular M2. While a solid increase, that doesn't seem outrageous given the improvements. BMW Aus’ is also trying to make a case for another stripped-out 'Pure' using the same mechanical package.