Here we are then: after a prototype drive, a US test and endless debate about the styling, here’s a G87 BMW M2 in the UK. A big car in every sense, as the last pure combustion M car and - you might have heard - a 1,700kg, 4.6m 2 Series. You’ll be seeing a lot of BUJ, too, a £66k Zandvoort Blue auto with the M Drivers Pack and M2 Comfort Pack among its options. We have the car for a few weeks and there’s plenty planned, because M cars are a pretty big deal for PH - especially ones that mark the end of an era.
This UK drive begins with a different M2, however, a Toronto Red one (which already looks like the best colour) optioned up with extras like the carbon seats and £1,200 of… manual gearbox. Yes, it still feels strange to write about the manual as an optional extra. And while the vast majority, as before, will go for the auto (now the eight-speed auto rather than seven-speed DCT), this is PH and the M2 looks like being one of the last M cars offered with a clutch and three pedals. We had to have a go.
That said, even as ardent manual enthusiasts, it's hard to give the six-speed an unequivocal thumbs up. Some of the blame for that ambivalence can be attributed to the optional seats, with that M3-esque carbon fist between the driver’s legs. Because the pedals are offset to the right, your left leg brushes the raised section every time you change gear. It’s really irritating. Like most annoyances, you get used to it, but it shouldn’t be there in the first instance, and is probably the clearest indicator (there are a few!) that this car has been designed, reasonably enough, for the auto. Get the manual by all means, just not with the seats.
As for the shift itself, it’ll be familiar to anyone with experience of any BMW manual from this millennium, right down to a gearknob that could have come straight from an E39 5 Series. It’s quite knuckly, quite long, but satisfying in its own way, and happier to be rushed than most BMW manuals can be. The shift assistant is smart (and easily disabled), the ratios aren’t crazy long (though second will reach 70mph) and, truthfully, we should probably all be grateful for the opportunity to get a brand-new, 460hp, 3.0-litre, rear-drive M car with a manual in 2023.
Certainly there’s sufficient entertainment here to justify its presence, from minicab shuffling to fourth and feeling the turbos swell to grabbing a gear with hand and foot as late as you dare beyond 7,000rpm. But from the incorporation of the lever into the dash to the occasional transmission whirr in an otherwise very refined car, seldom has a manual felt more incongruous. Although no doubt they’ll be the ones worth £100,000 in a few years’ time…
Anyway, the auto. First experience of it comes after 11pm, after a very big dinner and with bed officially half an hour or so away. Never has a more mature, more luxurious M2 seemed more inviting. We all like to think of M cars as raw and ruthlessly driver-focused, but they haven’t really been that way for more than 30 years now - an E39 M5 had a Sport mode and the option of a phone, the E46 M3 electric leather seats two decades ago. They’re sporty cars, yes, but luxurious ones as well, and in that sense the M2 strikes a perfect chord: you sit low, the stubby auto gear lever feels good, the oil temp gauge is easy to see and the setup button easy to access. But it’s also got a lovely Harmon Kardon stereo as standard, stunningly bright LEDs to illuminate the way home and a really solid, reassuring feel to it generally. It’s heavier and more expensive than we’re used to for a 2 Series, sure, but also makes good on all the additional pounds with a plusher, more premium and more desirable interior.
That implacable sense of superior refinement extends to the first few miles of driving, as well. Where an old Comp is always busy and eager, this M2 can lope along on its longer wheelbase like a much larger car, which is nice when you’re not driving like a DTM wannabe. The Comfort ride setting does what it says on the tin (beyond some low-speed toughness), the straight six can be subdued and the auto unobtrusive. The striking new BMW interior isn’t going to win many people over on first impressions, but it makes more sense with increased exposure, and ensures a fine driving environment as midnight looms.
And if that doesn’t sound very M car, then that’s because it didn’t feel it. It’s commonplace for cars to be criticised for chipping away at their established character with a new generation, often growing up and detracting from the appeal of the original. The M2 feels like a more significant leap than just one new model era, such is the step forward. And, actually, mostly, that’s probably a good thing; where perhaps the old F87 could be accused of wearing its heart a little too proudly on its sleeve, this car is a more rounded everyday prospect. Whether that’s what M2 buyers are after is a different question, of course - but remember this is just the start of the G87 story. Presumably, it can be left to forthcoming Competition and/or CS variants to provide a bit more edge to proceedings.
Moreover, its agreeableness doesn’t undo the essence of the thing: rest assured, there’s an M2 in here, it just requires a bit of unearthing. And we’ll probably continue to discover the best bits of it over time, as is the modern way with so much to tweak. But with the engine roused from its Efficient slumber (but kept away from Sport Plus to avoid an OTT exhaust), some speed to harmonise with the tautness of Sport damping and space to slacken some assists, there’s a much more familiar feel to this little M car. (Sport steering and Sport braking, as in every single installation ever, don’t really bring anything to the party.)
It'll come as no surprise to find an M4-like driving experience surfacing from then on, with huge front-end purchase - the M2 has 275-section front Michelins as standard! - good balance, strong brakes and great traction; it’s as benign as might be expected from a front-engined, rear-drive BMW when the tyres are overspeeding, too. Its sillier side perhaps isn’t as easily accessible as it once was, but that great feeling through the seat of the pants as the Active M diff works its magic remains. If you’d have said this was a little lighter than an M4, the cornering zeal would make that believable, but with kerbweights within a few kilos there really can’t be much in it. Perhaps that feeling is attributable to the shorter wheelbase. Similarly, the stats show the more expensive M car is the torquier, faster one, yet it’s negligible in reality. Stats that say it’s swifter than an old Comp are borne out on the road, too, this engine picking up from even fewer revs and the auto a match for a DCT when not shifting at the redline.
The new M2, then, experienced on UK roads, is most certainly very, very good; a noticeable step up in ability over the M240i xDrive and with the kind of prestigious feel befitting of its asking price. On initial impressions it’s a great drive, too. The mild disappointment that the junior M car couldn’t have been given its own character does linger - perhaps criticising a car for seeming too much like an M4 sounds churlish, but a more prominent helping of the old raucousness wouldn’t go amiss. Again, maybe that will emerge in time. For now, objectively speaking, this is a fast, capable, exciting and very likeable driver’s car. Whether or not its maker’s diehard fans consider it as wildly charismatic as its predecessor - or as thrilling as its closely related stablemate - remains to be seen.
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
Price: £64,890 (price as standard; price as tested £69,025 comprising M Driver’s Pack (a 180mph limiter raise and a voucher for ‘M Intensive Driver Training’) for £2,305, Driving Assistant for £1,100, and M2 Comfort Package (Comfort Access, Heated wheel, wireless charging storage) for £730.
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