Earlier this year I drove the BMW M240i xDrive, and I thought it was very good indeed. I also thought what a great basis it would be for the next BMW M2. Well, I’ve been able to validate that now, having driven the prototype at the Salzburgring. We had only a handful of laps in cameoed-up cars but I think it’s fair to say I was right.
The cars we drove were oh-so-close to series release. The few percentiles left to tweak involve some calibration settings that were still to be signed off, but the hardware is all done. Basically, that hardware is all M4 with some minor changes aimed at giving the M2 its own character – more agile and livelier, without it ending up a right old handful. That’s not what the engineers are going for – the idea is something that is easier to drive than the old M2.
The biggest change between this and the M4 is a shorter wheelbase. The M2's 110mm shorter between its axles than the current M4, but 54mm longer than the old M2. In one fell swoop that should make this M2 nimbler than its bigger brother, but to compound the effect the front springs are stiffer and it’s softened off at the rear. The result, I am told, is more yaw and front-end bite, but a rear that follows dutifully rather than feels spiky – a trait the old M2 displayed. To curb overwhelming oversteer, the rear damping rates are increased (the dampers are from the M3 Touring as it happens) to compensate for the softer springs at the back. Well, that’s the theory at least.
Otherwise, this is all M4. And because there was one of those at the track, too, I took a moment playing a game of spot the difference – comparing and contrasting, poking around under the bonnets and getting down on my hands and knees in search for variances underneath. I didn’t find many. That isn’t the case with their upper surfaces, though; the two cars have quite different forms. For a start, the M2 doesn’t have those controversial oversized kidneys. Does that mean when the wrapping comes off it’s going to look prettier? Err, not exactly, but I think it will look purposeful.
The front bumper looks very aggressive, with a more open design to its air intakes than the M4’s. This reveals more about the cooling arrangements than ever before: there’s a horizontal engine oil cooler laying flush with the splitter, and either side of the vertical water radiator sit the intercoolers. For those that don’t like fakery, as far as I could tell every hole has the purpose of directing air. The front and rear tracks are the same as the M4’s, and much wider than the M240i’s, but while the M4’s wheel arch extensions are graceful swellings that shroud the wheels, the M2’s arches are blunter – it reminded me of an E30, actually. The arches are linked at the bottom by sharp, protruding side skirts and the rear end culminates in a swooped-up boot lid with a Gurney flap peak. As I said, it’s all very purposeful.
The wheels are the same size as the M4’s, with Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tyres all round – 275/ 35 ZR 19 at the front and 285/ 30 ZR 20 at the rear. Peer through the spokes and you’ll find a set of M4 brakes, too, which makes the front discs 380mm in diameter clamped by big, six-pot calipers, while at the back the single-piston calipers act on 370mm discs.
There’s no option of four-wheel drive, though. There is something much better to contemplate – the choice of six-speed manual or eight-speed auto transmissions. Hurrah! The manual is basically the same drivetrain that you can order for the M4 in other markets, so there wasn’t much re-engineering required to accommodate the ‘box itself or the extra pedal.
Prototype drives rarely give you the full picture – there’s always some element missing from the experience. In this case a public road, to access how the M2 handles B-road bumps. There are the usual three modes for the dampers – Comfort, Sport and Sport + – but they’re not fixed settings; they merely provide the baseline map for the ECU to work from. We’re advised to keep them in Sport for this track because there are bumpy bits in the high-speed sections. It’s true, there are, and you can just feel the M2 beginning to skip over them, but it rides the kerbs at the tight chicane cleanly. There’s lean – of course there is – but nothing off putting.
I can’t tell you how much it weighs, because BMW wouldn’t confirm that, but I did lever out of the engineers that it’s heavier than previous M2 but lighter than both the rear-wheel-drive M4 and M240i xDrive. That makes sense when you think about it, and my guess is between 1,600-1,700kg. It doesn’t feel like a flyweight, but neither does it feel ponderous. I wouldn’t describe the M2 as a track car – it’s more of a road car that you can happily use on track – but, unlike a lot of road cars that will push too readily on a lap, this doesn’t.
In fact, it delivers excellent bite from the front end and it’s a beautifully balanced machine once it’s settled mid turn. It’s not dull, either. It rotates easily with a lift, yet feels stable trail-braking deep into the slower stuff. The only time it feels a bit squirrely on the brakes is when you stamp on them hard at the end of the long straight and the rear goes light. It’s a big stop, though, which you're happy to make because the brakes are strong and the pedal action substantial. It's certainly confidence inspiring when you lean on it hard.
Otherwise, the M2 gives you plenty of confidence to keep pushing and exploring. It’s never lairy. Not in the slightest. Obviously, it will oversteer easily out of the slow stuff under power – there’s more than enough torque to light up the rears – but even then it’s progressive and playful. The steering’s accurate, so it’s an easy car to plant on an apex, and, while it isn’t uber talkative, there’s feel in there and you know it’s reached the point of understeer through sensations at your palms rather than relying on your eyes.
Another thing the engineers wouldn’t let on is what power it has. Again, with a bit of chiselling at this metaphorical brick wall, I uncovered that it’s got similar poke to the old M2 CS, which puts it at around 450hp, and, so far, it’s lapped quicker around the ‘Ring. The definitive time will be delivered when the finished article is, but I sense that the forced order of things will have it pegged a suitable number behind the M4. There are rules here, and one is don't outgun the big lad.
It feels quick enough, that’s for sure. The Salzburgring is basically a couple of straights capped by corners – it looks like an old, bent walking stick, actually – but there are some kinks on the long back straight that warranted a comfort feather of the throttle, just to be sure of seeing the pit lane again. I meant to make a note of the speed it was hitting when I got out – it’s not the done thing to make notes while still circulating quickly – but, stupidly, I forgot. So I have just my ailing memory to rely on, and I think it was around 220kph, which puts it nudging 140mph. As with the M4, there’s no shortage of urgency at any point in the rev range once you’re past 2,000 revs, and the electronic differential keeps it all manageable.
So, the burning question: is the manual any good? Yes, I think it’ll make an excellent choice for those buying the M2 as a road car. It’s typically BMW in feel – it has that slightly rubbery, springy thing going on – but it’s still satisfying to delve into this popular but rare other dimension. What pleased me most is the pedal box. Unlike the old M2, which I did get on with for heel and toeing, this one has a better arrangement of brake and throttle, so I could blip away to my heart’s content. That said, I know I was quicker around the track with the eight-speed auto, which, as it is in the M4, is excellent. It's not the manual's poorer cousin, it's just something different.
We’ll wait to see if the M2 continues to shine on the road, but, bearing in mind the theme of this review is 'it's an M4, only shorter,' I cannot see it falling apart on the Queen's highway, can you? The M4 really is a spectacularly great road car, and I don’t doubt the M2 will be, too. When will we know? The reveal is scheduled for the autumn and deliveries start in 2023. How much will it cost? Guess what, they didn’t say, but if the M240i is £45,000 and the M4 is £75,000, I reckon £60,000 as an educated guess. That’s Mercedes-AMG A45 territory, then, which is also a fantastic car, but I reckon the rear-drive, manual M2 will be even better. Except for the standard seats, which had about as much side support as rodeo bull. Some early spec advice, then: go for the optional carbon seats, which are far better.
Specification | 2023 BMW M2 (G87) Prototype
Engine: 2,993cc, twin-turbo straight-six
Transmission: 6-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 450 (estimate)
Torque (lb ft): 450 (estimate)
0-62mph: 4.0secs (estimate)
Top speed: 155mph
Weight: 1,600kg (estimate)
MPG: Around 30
CO2: Around 230 g/km
Price: £60,000 (or less, hopefully)
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