You may have read recently a rather damning assessment of the BMW XM. That was me, and I wasn’t only giving the car a bit of a kicking but the ethos that conspired to produce it. The XM is not an M car - sorry M. Anyway, I drove the XM in the good-ol’ U.S. of A, but luckily that wasn’t the only new M car being launched there (it’s almost as if BMW knew the assembled journalists would need a good-news fillip to cancel out the frightfulness of its new flagship). That other car was the new BMW M2, and to prove that the XM was nothing personal, the M2 is a completely different ballgame. I liked it very much.
Having made the point a few times that it’s not my job to appraise a car’s looks (usually followed by an appraisal of its looks) I'm going to mention the M2’s looks. It’s quite a talking point, so we can’t avoid another elephant in the room. I am still not convinced by the M2’s styling, but I am not about to penalise it on that score. I might not have been down on my knees savouring every detail – and with all those angles and protuberances, it’s not short on details – but it’s not a gargoyle. It’s not an XM. Indeed, many of the correspondents I was with in America – some whose opinions I respect – told me it looked fab in the flesh. Well, I can’t go that far, but I certainly warmed to it in the launch colour – that's the pastel shade called Zandvoort blue you can see in the pictures.
Right, that's all I'm saying about the looks. And you know already that I liked the rest of the M2, so there’s no point in building up any suspense there by asking questions like: ‘is this a true M car?’ and ‘does this pick up from where the old M2 Competition left off?' It is and it does, but in a very different way to the old F87. I’ve only driven the original M2 (not the Competition version) and I wasn’t a fan, to be honest. The day I drove it was straight after a weekend in an entry-level Cayman, and the Cayman was hands down better. Better gearbox, better pedals for heel and toeing, better steering, better chassis balance. The overwhelming thought on that day was that the Cayman was a proper sports car, while the M2 felt like a fast coupe trying to be a sports car. But it was the M2’s spikey handling that I liked the least, and on that score, I hear the Competition was much sweeter. Indeed, Matt B gave an account of how well it drives recently in his hero piece.
The other big difference with the Competition was the engine. The original M2 had the N55 turbocharged six – ‘N’ denoting not M, if you catch my drift. Whereas the Comp gained the S55 from the M3 and M4, and, as we know, ‘S’ does mean M. The good news this time is that there’s none of that 'will they, won’t they' dillydallying. They will; they have. The G87 M2 has the current M4’s S58 straight six. In fact, rather than trying to explain what else the M2 shares with its bigger brother, it’s easier to say it is an M4, just with 110mm chopped out between the wheels.
Same engine, same eight-speed ZF auto gearbox, or, if you go for the six-speed manual, that’s the same one that’s available with the M4 in markets beyond the UK. I’m not overplaying the similarities, either. It also has the same cooling set-up, same brakes, same diff, same tyres, same tracks, same suspension design, the list goes on. Actually, there are some changes to the suspension settings: the M2 has stiffer springs at the front and softer springs at the rear to add some more yaw into the mix. Along with the shorter wheelbase, this gets the front to turn in with more vim, but the engineering team wanted the rear to follow the front dutifully, not spikily. That’s why they went for the M3 Touring’s rear dampers, which have a higher damping rate to calm the back end.
Inside, it’s all jolly M4-like as well. The dashboard design is very similar, and it has the new BMW infotainment system with the curved display. While I’m on the fence with the M2’s looks, the infotainment is something I don’t like. I’ve said this before, so won’t dwell on it here, but the software is not as good as iDrive’s of old - put simply it has too many menu layers and too few proper buttons to support ease of use. Otherwise, the driving position is virtuous, but I’d opt for the M Sport buckets if I were ordering one – the standard seats do make it easier to get in and out but fall short on side support. In terms of build, the quality and integrity are good for the price.
I say for the price because while this car isn’t cheap at £64,745, a lot of the hardware can be found in the more expensive BMWs, like the XM. And while I’d suggest the shared bits can feel a little underwhelming at the XM’s hefty £150,000, at well under half that it’s a different story. Compared with the RS3 saloon the M2 is at least as good, if not a cut above - and it’s better made than a CLA 45, of that I have little doubt.
Now, I’ve driven this car on track and it worked well there. That was in pre-prod form at the Salzburgring, and while I wouldn’t say the M2 is a track car per se – it’s a bit too heavy to qualify for that tag – it’s no slouch and felt precise and good fun. But this launch was all about its on-road character, and it wasn’t the car but the roads themselves that looked like being a problem. I began in Scottsdale, which is typically a grid layout with wide, straight roads and 40mph limits. That’s fine: you’ve got to start somewhere, but an hour or so later I was still travelling on roads that were more Roman than New World. Barely a corner anywhere and stuck at a max-65mph if I was lucky. Throw in the semi-trucks – with impressively huge twin stacks but less impressive average speeds – clogging these transport arteries like aneurysms, and I was beginning to lose hope of getting near to scratching the surface.
Then there was the surface itself. You might think we have it bad over here – and to be fair, we do – but some of the roads in Arizona are truly appalling. Miles and miles of crumbling concrete that means you’re constantly making steering adjustments on arrow-straight roads just to avoid the calluses and a burst tyre. Still, it meant I could report on the ride, which, bearing in mind the extreme testing regime, is good. The constant thud, thud, thud of the endless expansion joints became wearing, but few performance cars would have made a better fist of riding those more peacefully, and the same goes for the ride itself. It’s never soft, even with the dampers in Comfort, but nor is it bruising.
Travelling down Route 93 with more of the same, I’d begun to wonder why BMW had chosen this place to launch its most exciting performance car in years. But hang on, what’s that up ahead? Route 97 appeared on the sat nav, not as the image of a ruler but an indisputable squiggle. The promised land, perhaps? The sign telling me I was heading to Bagdad challenged that, but it was the 45mph limit that did for it – shame really, because the road itself was good.
The lunch stop, at a quintessentially American town called Prescott offered a pick-me-up – my God, the cheesecake at The Palace saloon bar is quite something if you’re ever in the area. Afterwards, heading along Route 89, not far from a place called Potato Patch, things got better still. I’m not talking cheesecake this time but properly good roads at last, with some dramatic scenery as a backdrop. Not dry desert, either, as you might expect in Arizona, but sections of twisting Tarmac with snow-covered banks.
And here's the thing: the M2 didn’t just come alive, it delivered utter brilliance. Sure, it may be 1,625kg and, yes, that’s 100 or so more than the F87, but I’ll take that penalty any day to have a chassis that manages its mass as well as this one does. The M2 is the definition of pinned, poised and - not to put too finer point on it - pant-wettingly good. It demonstrated many qualities that I admired, and am keen to tell you about them all, but none more so than its body control. That was the one that got me; the one that stood out the most in recollection.
I’m an admirer of the M4 in that respect, too, so it really shouldn’t be a surprise that the M2 – a smaller and lighter M4 – can match it. Better it, even. Yet there were times on the twists and turns of Route 89 that I still had to take a moment to think about what it had just done. To savour how well it had rode that last hump, midway around that bend back there, all while loaded up heavily on its outside wheels and straining hard at the leash of lateral grip. A particularly salivating slice of (free) cheesecake is great, but it’s the moments when a car’s fundamental engineering excellence comes to the fore that remind me why I love doing this job.
Probably next in line for comment, if I try to work out an order here, is the steering. In Comfort mode it builds up heft nicely, and there is some fizz through the wheel rim, but it’s not frothing away like the best EPAS systems do. However, it’s not the weighting nor the feedback that makes it number two on my list of faves: it's how enthusiastically the M2 turns in. I remember this from the track drive last year, and on the road this aspect showed up again as a towering strength. It responds so keenly as you sweep the wheel and aim for every inside kerb, but not in a hyperactive way. It’s natural and measured, too, so you can pick your spot and land on it time after time.
Which brings me to the M2’s balance. Now, I wasn’t ragging it senseless out on the road because I had a passenger and a few state laws to respect. But even though I wasn’t running it to the very edge of its limits and beyond, the M2’s inherent balance still shone through, whatever phase of the corner it was in. And I have pushed it harder. That was back at the Salzburgring, and I remember then how benign it was, way after the rear tyres had broken traction and the thing was more than a little sideways. This is my kind of BMW. I never liked the spikey stuff we’ve seen over the last few years. I always loved my E39 M5 because it felt so playful, and this, to an extent, reminds me of that. That's high praise.
Next in order of merit is the engine. I really like this S58. Granted, it’s no Audi five-pot. The RS3's motor has the edge on character, but the S58 feels like a serious thing. There are no pantomime parps or pops here, as there is with a CLA 45. As long as you run it without the sports exhaust turned on - which is when the noise is all natural - it has this wonderful straight-six tone, but with a hard, highly tuned edge. The way it delivers its power is spot on, too. This feeds back to the car’s playfulness, because the throttle response is extremely well-judged. You can meter out the 405lb ft of torque (that figure matches the F87 M2 CS, by the way) very easily. What I also like is how the torque builds. One of the reasons why I didn’t like the original M2 was because, at 1,500rpm: boom. A mighty torque dump. The F87 Comp and CS didn’t do that, and neither does the G87. Peak torque doesn’t arrive until 2,650rpm, and that reigns until just below 6,000. Just past that the engine hits peak power, all 460hp of it coming at 6,250rpm. Not only do all those phases gel together cohesively but the engine’s happy to rev; it’s always got something more to give right up to the red line. And ultimately, it’s fast, too.
It’ll hit 62mph in 4.1 seconds if you opt for the eight-speed auto, or 4.3 seconds if you go for the manual. So it’s quick in either case, but the extra tenth or two isn’t why I’d opt for the auto. I appreciate I'm risking a permanent place on the PH naughty step there, but here's what I'd say in my defence: for a start, I did far more miles pulling paddles in an auto M2 than I did in a manual. Had I spent a few more of those stirring the pot myself, maybe I’d have come away with a different mindset, but actually it was the same story after the track drive.
When you’re really on it, the auto leaves you more time to focus on the road, and with the M2 having such a talented chassis that's a good thing. And despite what people may say, I like this auto ‘box. It’s really punchy and quick, so I don’t share the view that it would’ve been better served with dual clutches rather than a torque converter. But the main reason for my choosing the auto is that when all is said and done the manual just isn’t that great. It’s fine, don't get me wrong, just a bit springy and supine. Were it more at the well-oiled, clickety-clack end of the spectrum, I’d be more inclined to pay the extra to have it.
As it happens, most people who bought the old M2 Competition opted for the auto (although that was a DCT), but will everyone with an F87 Competition be desperate to change it for a G87? That's a tricky one to gauge, especially for me because, as I’ve said, I haven’t driven the Comp. I think the new car is great, but my suspicion is at least a few F87 owners will test drive it and say, “I’ll stick,” and I could understand why. The old car is probably more old school. There are just a few years separating this G87 and the last of F87s, but the bare-bones simplicity of the previous model makes the gap seem like a decade or more.
The old car had fixed-rate dampers and no M Mode buttons on its steering wheel. All you had to fiddle with was the engine and the steering settings, and there’s something to be said for that. In the new car, as with all current M cars, you stare at the full suite of M Complexity that’s available and it's mind-boggling. At least to begin with. I don’t think it's that bad once you've programmed your defaults into the M Buttons, so to say the new M2 is too complicated, or indeed too polished, is arguably a little harsh. If you do think that I’ll cheerily suggest we agree to disagree and find something else to reconcile us. I think I have just the thing, too.
This is the last non-hybrid M car, so let’s just enjoy that fact. In a few years, the G87 will be the old-school car we look back on fondly, I am pretty convinced of that. And let's not forget the first hybrid M car is already out there, and all the XM’s done so far is highlight the grip that the bean counters and marketeers have on the M brand right now. The G87 M2, on the other hand, brings to life all the things we love about the badge. It is a Zandvoort-blue reminder that the firm retains quality engineers, such as Dirk Häcker (Head of Development at M), who still know how to build a good car when they're allowed to. The new M2 is the final testament to its legendary capabilities - thank goodness it's a fitting end to a sensational era.
SPECIFICATION | 2023 BMW M2 (G87)
Engine: 2,993cc, twin-turbo, straight six
Transmission: eight-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 460 @ 6,250rpm
Torque (lb ft): 406 @ 2,650-5,870rpm
Top speed: 155mph (177mph with optional M Driver’s Pack)
Weight: 1,725kg (DIN)
CO2: 220 g/km
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