BMW has done something we didn’t think possible
As a car-producing country, Germany has achieved greatness perhaps more than any other land. Funny thing about German car companies, though, is that so many of their greatest achievements have been accidents. The history books are full of cars that happened not by the careful planning you’d expect from a company whose national pastime is Microsoft Excel, but instead from flukes.
The BMW 2002 is a perfect example. The 1602 was a stodgy, slow, two-door sedan into which BMW reluctantly inserted a 2.0-liter engine at the insistence of BMW’s North American importer and a bunch of rogue engineers. In doing so, it became the 2002, and BMW accidentally created the world’s first sports sedan.
Drive a 2002 and then an E21 320i, and you’ll wonder if BMW didn’t fully understand what made the 2002 so special. This is, sadly, a pattern with those German first-hits: the marketing team gets ahold of the buzz and then develops a successor that misses the mark. (See also: Porsche 928 to replace the 911, Mercedes W113 replacing the W198 300SL, what VW did to the GTI in Mk3 and Mk4 guises, and the U.S.-spec E36 M3 as a replacement for the E30 M3. )
BMW’s last surprise hit, the 1 Series M Coupe, was one of those cars that marketing people don’t understand. They made posters for the dealers that actually used the words “all kinds of wrong.” The product planners didn’t think it would sell, and requested only a couple hundred units for the U.S. market.
Then, they found themselves begging the factory for excess production once the car blew the collective minds of the enthusiast community, which stormed dealerships waving deposit checks. In all, 739 of those clinically insane rockets were sold here (plus one more to BMW NA itself). ‘Twas all the factory could build before it had to call it quits.
Those were the days when BMW was the leading edge of all things automotive, a sniper-accurate comparison-test-champ that could do no wrong. The M3 was the undisputed top dog in its segment, and in transplanting its Competition-Package suspension directly into the smaller 1 Series, it had no choice but to create a legend.
These days, the M3/M4 isn’t the top dog; I’d argue it’s barely a dog at all. And the 2 Series, while capable in M235i guise, isn’t the sort of involving, enjoyable car like the ones that made BMW famous. We were genuinely concerned for the new BMW M2.
The new M2 follows the 1 Series M Coupe recipe—the M3/M4’s suspension shoehorned into a car so much narrower that its bodysides had to be widened — by 2.1 inches front, 3.1 in the rear. Its standard 19-inch wheels are the optional forged ones from the M3/M4, and they also wear Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires, 10mm narrower than the bigger car’s, front and rear. The brakes, too, come straight from big brother, with fixed calipers (four piston up front, two at the rear) clamping enormous rotors (15.0 inches front, 14.5 inches rear.)
There are, however, big differences under the hood. Rather than fitting the M3/M4’s twin-turbo S55 straight-six, BMW kept the single-turbo N55 from the M235i, but fitted it with pistons from the S55. These two BMW 3.0-liter straight-sixes share bore (84.0mm), stroke (89.6mm), and compression ratios (10.2:1) but that’s it. The M3/M4 sounds like an air compressor choking on concrete; the M2’s sings like a BMW engine should. Deep, throaty, and refined; just starting the engine brought a sigh of relief.
The six isn’t just sonorous. It’s also potent. The M2 is rated at 365 hp, which it produces at 6,500 rpm. Peak torque is 343 lb-ft, available between 1,400 and 5,560 rpm, but under certain conditions, the computer will allow overboost to 369 lb-ft between 1,450 and 4,750 rpm.
The rest of the M2’s driveline is identical to the M3/M4’s: the same computer-controlled locking rear differential (with up to 1,843 lb-ft of side-to-side locking force), the standard six-speed manual transmission, and the optional 7-speed dual-clutch automatic. For the record, the M235i also uses that same manual, albeit with a longer final-drive ratio, but its automatic is a ZF-sourced eight-speed torque-converter type.
In grand 2 Series tradition, the M2 is shockingly overweight. Despite being 8.3 inches shorter and 0.6 inch narrower than an M4, the M2 we tested weighs only 101 fewer pounds (46 kg)—and our M2 was a European-spec pre-production car that lacked some weight-adding features that come standard on U.S.-spec M2s, namely power seats, automatic climate control, and an upgraded Harman Kardon stereo with satellite radio. We expect the U.S. car to be at least 75 pounds (34 kg) heavier, and indeed BMW of North America lists the weight difference between the M2 and M4 at just 25 pounds (11 kg).
And now, ladies and gentlemen, the numbers. The 2016 BMW M2 accelerates from 0 to 60 mph in 4.2 seconds. It brakes from 60 mph in 107 feet. It pulls 1.01 g around the skidpad, and completes the Motor Trend figure eight in 24.1 seconds at an average of 0.82 g.
To put those in perspective, here are the same numbers laid down by a manual-tranny F82-chassis M4: 0-60 in 4.2 seconds. 60-0 braking in 108 feet. 1.00 g on the skidpad, and the figure eight in 24.1 seconds at 0.82 g.
Or, put another way: The M2 ties the M4 in every performance measure.
Oh, I forgot one: the quarter mile. The M2 runs through 1,320 feet in 12.8 seconds at 107.5 mph (173 km/h). The M4? Noticeably quicker: 12.5 seconds at 116.5 mph (187 km/h). The reason for the discrepancy there is simple: The M2 has a higher coefficient of drag (0.35 versus 0.34, with similar frontal area) and 14 percent fewer horsepower, but only 2.9 percent less mass to accelerate. That it can hang with the M4 on the run to 60 speaks to the cars’ relative ability to put power to the ground—and difficulty putting power down has been a criticism of the M4 since it debuted. But once traction is no longer an issue, the M4 walks away.
But by then, the race has already been won. In fact, any race between these two cars is over before it even begins—the M2 is a far more entertaining car to drive. For starters, its steering feels directly connected to the front wheels. Not only does its weight build in lockstep with cornering loads, it actually transmits road-surface texture back to the driver. This is something that hasn’t happened since BMW switched to electrically assisted power steering. The low-frequency feedback (camber changes and tramlining) is still muted, and the mid-frequency stuff (such as quick one-wheel dips and surface irregularities) is similarly missing in action, but the high-Hertz stuff is back, meaning you can feel road texture and through the helm, helping you place the front wheels. The old 1 Series M Coupe’s hydraulic rack was far from BMW’s best, but was certainly more communicative—but had BMW’s electric assist started out this good, we wouldn’t have blasted it. (OK, we would have, but we’d have remained hopeful that it was fixable. We now have that hope.)
Without adjustable dampers, and with a wheelbase 4.7 inches shorter than the M4’s, the M2 rides stiffly. This will be a problem only to those who buy an M-car because it’s the most expensive model in the lineup but don’t want to spill their three-pump chai soy sugar-free nonfat mocha lattes on the way into work. To you folks, may we also recommend buying the automatic and then never speaking to us again. It’s over.
The manual, for what it’s worth, has a shifter that’s strangely more precise than that of the last M4 we tested, with less rubbery gear engagement and no resistance to being rushed. Unfortunately, it comes with one massive flaw: automatic throttle-blipping that can’t be fully disabled unless you turn stability control completely off.
Electronic stability control is the biggest single advance in automotive safety since the seatbelt, and yet in order to drive your manual-transmission M2 like a manual-transmission M2, you have to fully disable it. For years, we’ve been accusing the German car industry of trying to kill the manual transmission; now we have proof that they’re trying to kill the very people who demand those transmissions. “You want a manual,” they’re effectively saying, “then you have to risk death.”
When I confronted a BMW board member over this decision, he swore that the feature could be disabled in Sport Plus mode. He was wrong, and I invite you to write letters, especially if you’re actually considering purchasing an M2. I genuinely wouldn’t buy the car over this stupid feature.
But without it, I’d seriously consider owning an M2. And that’s not only the highest praise I can give, it’s also the most surprising words I’ve typed about a BMW product since I drove the 1 Series M Coupe. And since we’re talking about buying, we should talk about money. Not only is the M2 a spectacular value when compared to the not-nearly-as-good M4, but it’s actually cheaper than an M235i when comparably equipped, though the base price is thousands more than that discontinued model. It’s win-win-win, and some more win.
Why would I consider owning it? The M2 is enjoyable in normal driving — something the M235i isn’t, thanks to its numb steering — and an absolutely perfectly sorted sports car when you’re caning it. The front end is incredibly accurate, and the rear remains totally planted. At the limit, the M2 falls into moderate understeer, but applications of the throttle call upon that rear diff and gradually tuck in the nose. The M2 exhibits progressive throttle-steerability that we’ve simply never seen on a turbocharged BMW. Missing the sudden smack of torque that sends the twin-turbo M4 scrambling for traction, the M2’s power comes on smoothly, no doubt aided by the fact that its singular, twin-scroll turbocharger is mounted directly to the cylinder head. Or maybe it just doesn’t have too much power, like the M4, which is constantly overwhelmed by its own thrust.
The seats are wonderfully supportive, though the driver’s seat is not centered behind the steering wheel. In fact, it’s also not aimed straight ahead. With the driver seated inboard of the wheel, BMW angled the seat — and especially the seatback — toward the left-front corner of the car. It’s a cheap trick, and one that only perfectionists would notice. BMW should still be catering to perfectionists.
But the perfectionist behind this keyboard could not find a fault with the M2’s on-track performance. BMW swapped in factory-accessory racing brake pads to cope with the notorious brake-killing Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, and then sent us out in Euro-spec, dual-clutch automatic M2s. The speeds were high, they came easy, and the grin was unrelenting. Lapping at a playful pace with lots of room for silliness, the M2 is happy to join in the fun, with on-call oversteer on the way into or out of a corner. At full assault, this is a modern BMW that doesn’t put a foot wrong. The Michelins break away smoothly and slowly, and howl just enough to make up for what the electrically assisted steering lacks for feedback at the limit.
With those non-stock pads, the brakes were indefatigable at Laguna (no small feat) but I could swear that, after five or so laps, the M2’s midrange power started to drop off. Since the M2 has no temperature gauge, I’m left to assume that the engine’s temperature had risen to the point where overboost was no longer available. You can call up a digital coolant-temperature indicator in the LCD screen below the gauges that never moves off “OK” until, presumably, the engine has melted itself into a pile of molten aluminum. But the lack of an oil-temperature gauge is criminal in an M-car. As is the auto throttle blip. And the substitution of the regular BMW “drive modes,” rather than the typical M-car’s ability to control throttle, steering, and chassis settings separately, is almost as upsetting. As is the lack of M memory buttons on the steering wheel, which are present in other M cars.
And the ever-present BMW Active Sound Management? Well, it’s here, too. I pulled the fuse for the stereo amplifier (30-amp fuse number 122, FYI) and the engine sounded largely the same, just much quieter, especially below 4,000 rpm. While it’s still immediately apparent that the engine noise is enhanced, this is also the first time BMW’s active sound design sounds like the actual engine.
Just like the steering feels like BMW steering. And the brakes feel like BMW brakes. And the handling feels like BMW handling. The M2 represents an unexpected return to form. Sure, it has warts — the throttle-blip stupidity, the crooked seating position, the weight — but it hasn’t fallen victim of the dreaded German Second Time Flub.
This time, it seems, BMW knows exactly what made the 1 Series M Coupe so special. And it’s done gone and made a worthy successor.
|2016 BMW M2 (European Spec)|
|PRICE AS TESTED||N/A|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, RWD, 4-pass, 2-door coupe|
|ENGINE||3.0L/365-hp/343-lb-ft turbo DOHC 24-valve I-6|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||3,411 lb (52/48%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||176.2 x 73.0 x 55.5 in|
|0-60 MPH||4.2 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||12.8 sec @ 107.5 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||107 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||1.01 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||24.1 sec @ 0.82 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB||18/27/21 mpg (est)|
|ENERGY CONSUMPTION||187/125 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.92 lb/mile|