You can’t deny AC Schnitzer knows its audience. One UK customer with a new BMW M2 on order has already booked in its full makeover, having not yet driven the thing. Some people are addicted to modification – whatever the cost. We’ll find out very soon just how good the new M2 is, and whether anything is actually crying out for improvement. But on the same day Mr Howell was assessing its merits somewhere very sunny indeed, I was trying out an alternative in a somewhat cloudier, and much chillier Northamptonshire.
This is the AC Schnitzer ACS2 40i, the Aachen tuner’s take on the BMW M240i xDrive. The tweaks on offer are many and numerous; its headline pieces are a quad exhaust with carbon tailpipes (£3,954), 20-inch flow-formed wheels with Michelin Pilot Sport 4S rubber (£4,747), passive sports suspension in lieu of BMW’s adaptive setup (£2,150) and a power boost to 420hp and an M2-beating 443lb ft (£4,269).
Curiously, this demo car misses out on the latter, keeping to the stock M240i’s 374hp and 369lb ft, while bundling everything else – plus aesthetic upgrades, inside and out – into one £14,500 package. Pricing as punchy as the styling itself, you’d rightly argue, but Schnitzer customers largely cherry-pick two or three options rather than going the whole hog. Most bills will be half that.
You’ll clock its enormous wheels (and their terrifyingly slim sidewall) first and foremost, their appearance even bolder than the curious twin spoilers on the boot lid (a relative snip at £544 if you’re speccing stuff individually). They’re larger and more visually dramatic than I’d usually want or ask of an alloy, but at 11kg a corner they save almost 6kg of unsprung mass while also wearing one of the best tyres in the business.
Climb inside and once you’ve brushed your fingers over the metal paddles (£310 and complemented here by a £987 slimmer-rimmed wheel) the next point of note is a louder bark as the engine starts up, the exhaust system bringing a whole heap of extra intent without making this usually subtle sports coupe an outright rascal.
It works very well with the engine, too, and provides way more incentive than usual to hang on right past 6,000rpm for a lovely crescendo as you pull that newly tactile upshift paddle. The soundtrack is meaner, but to a shorter extent than its slightly brash tailpipes might suggest. I like it. And having heaped plenty of praise on how pure the lighter, rear-driven 4cyl BMW 220i feels compared a stock M240i, I still have to concede that six cylinders in a car so squat remains a special experience and one we ought to cling onto for a little longer yet. Schnitzer’s exhaust only bolsters the argument.
There’s enough torque to overcome the M240i’s weight beside a 220 or 230i, too, even without the optional power boost. It’s only the pungent smell of brakes after a mildly spirited run that truly betrays the extra mass being kept in check here.
However, most transformative of all in this ACS2 is its suspension. The passive setup sits 20mm lower than stock and combines Eibach springs with Bilstein dampers, and right from the off they’ve sharpened some of the M240i’s softer, slightly grand-touring edge. Sure, the ride can feel abrupt at low speeds – particularly on more pummelled urban roads – but with increased pace the car’s body control comes together beautifully and its taut and predictable responses only serve to build your speed further. Its resilience on bumpy, undulating roads means you’re never prodding through the drive mode menus in a vain attempt to soften things off. (Yep, they’ve not actually deleted the adaptive options from the iDrive screen…)
It’s how the suspension works together with Schnitzer’s other mods to form one really impressive whole that I’ll credit most of the ACS2’s enjoyment to, though. Rich communication from its tyres and through the thinner ‘wheel go hand-in-hand with that sharper body control to give it real tactility at all speeds. My favourite is pushing harder through a third gear corner, just feeling the rear wheels begin to overdrive, a rich stream of feedback pouring into your hands as they do. I don’t remember driving the base car quite like this.
Crucially, you’re rewarded more the harder you lean into its rev range and grip limits, not always a given in performance cars nowadays – especially those with turbo engines driving stocky kerbweights. Sometimes holding back a bit reaps more reliable rewards. The ACS2 flips that on its head and simply eggs you on to delve deeper into its abilities. I could probably have done with a stock M240i for a definitive conclusion on the matter, but it’s safe to say those perturbed by the latest M2’s chunky price and even chunkier styling can find solace in applying the Schnitzer treatment to its softer sibling.
Of course, that’ll depend on how many of the tuner’s options boxes they tick – this demo car would certainly fight an M2 for attention as it stands while also equalling it on price. As it goes, I don’t mind the twin spoilers, though a less angsty colour scheme would do the whole aesthetic numerous favours. But if it were my order, I’d skip the exterior makeover by picking and choosing the more dynamic elements that AC Schnitzer has really nailed. Limit yourself to the suspension, steering wheel, alloys and tyres – neatly sharpening up an M240i without taking a scythe to its useability – and you can keep the bill below £8,000. Stick those on a lightly used car rather than a new one and you’ll only just land the wrong side of £50,000.
Our experience of the M240i thus far is that it stops a few feet short of true greatness and interactivity. Some wise cherry-picking of the Schnitzer options list appears to nudge it over the threshold. Whatever verdict we read on the M2 in the coming days, that’s welcome news indeed.
SPECIFICATION – 2023 AC Schnitzer ACS2 40i
Engine: Straight-six, 2998cc, turbocharged petrol
Transmission: eight-speed automatic, all-wheel drive
Power: 374hp @ 5,500-6,500rpm
Torque: 369lb ft @ 1,900-5,000rpm
Top speed: 155mph
Weight: 1680kg (DIN)
Price: £63,630 (£14,500 pack plus new donor car) or modifications available individually
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