BMW M2: Back to Basics

BMW harks back to historic heroes with the M2.

BMW’s M2 is a direct replacement for the short-lived 1-series M Coupé, but it is descended from a much more distinguished line of small, high performance two-door saloons. A stylish alternative to the hot-hatch, the M2 succeeds in being both luxury coupé on the road, and accomplished racer on track.

The models that stand out from BMW’s history, are the small, powerful rear-wheel drive coupé’s like the classic 2002 turbo, and the original M3 of the mid-1980’s (often known by its ‘E30’ model code). They were fun, ferociously quick, and relatively understated, while proving to be highly competitive on track. Over the years the M-division continued to deliver a beefed-up high-performance version of the 3-series, but as the standard car grew larger, safer, more refined, and more expensive, the M3 began to lose some of the character that made those early cars so special.

When, in 2010, BMW’s entry level model, the 1-series coupé, was given a light sprinkling of M enhancements, the company seemed to be on the verge of launching a worthy successor to the E30 M3. Following a revised naming convention, and a component-by-component redesign, the M2 is now set to take is place in BMW’s heritage.

Putting a turbocharged 3.0-litre, 6-cylinder engine into a small car will always grab a driver’s attention. The engine is bespoke to the M2 and delivers monumental performance, charging to 62mph in just 4.3 seconds. That challenges the Porsche 911 and, being limited to 155mph, the little M2 can easily mix it with the big boys on the Autobahn.

‘M,’ essentially, stands for Motor-sport, so the M2 has to be capable of performing on track. Its low, wide stance plants it on the tarmac allowing it to attack corners with tenacious grip and, as it’s rear-wheel drive, when that grip runs out on a fast corner the tendency will be to over-steer in a dramatic but controllable tail-end slide, rather than to spear headlong into the barriers with no steering control.

To add such performance to the 2-series which, despite its size is still a premium sector coupé,  some ruthless weight shedding has had to take place. Many steel components, particularly in the steering assembly and chassis have been replaced with aluminium parts making the M2 so much more responsive. Boy racers will be delighted to hear that there is even a ‘Smokey Burnout’ function when some gratuitous show-boating is required.

‘M’ could just as easily stand for Muscle, as the clean lines of the 2-series are bulked up and pumped out to give the M2 the look of an athlete. The front end carries the low gaping front bumper and splitter assembly that immediately sets it apart as an M car, while at the back four exhaust pipes give the game away if the distinctive M badges aren’t enough.

The M2 has a far more aggressive style than its predecessor, the 1-series M Coupé, which reinforces how much more seriously BMW’s M division have taken this project.

You get the sense that this is a thoroughly well thought out car, thanks to the attention to detail that has been paid to the little things. Engineers have spent time making sure it sounds like a high performance model, incorporating an electronically controlled exhaust flap that acts like the reed in a carefully tuned musical instrument, to deliver the distinctive BMW engine note.

Inside, there is even a knee-pad on the side of the centre console to keep you comfortable during quick changes of direction and ‘M’ logos litter the leather interior, should you need reminding that this is no ordinary 2-series.

The BMW M2 costs £44,000. As a high performance car, this seems to represent reasonable value, but it will still be the higher end of the market that this BMW will attract. It might take a few buyers away from the VW Golf R but the Audi RS 3 is probably the closest competitor. The Mercedes AMG A45 is an alternative, but the BMW’s handsome coupé style will draw in a more aesthetic-oriented buyer.

Being a special edition, the M2 only comes in four colour choices (blue, black, white and grey) and comes with BMW’s signature Xenon headlights as standard. Sat Nav is included along with BMW’s ‘Professional Media Package’ which is, in essence, an enhanced infotainment system with the kinds of apps and travel related services you might find on your smart-phone.

One app that stands out, is the M Laptimer, letting you benchmark your performance on track. These details remind you that this competent road car is also a pocket racer.

The M2 is the pinnacle performer of BMW’s 1 & 2-series ranges. The standard 2-series coupé costs under £23,000 with a convertible around £26,500. The1-series range includes three- and five-door hatchback versions of the same basic model.

BMW have found innovative engineering solutions to deliver outstanding performance while keeping a check on the fuel economy and emissions. By using four specially designed exhaust pipes to help the exhaust gas escape more easily, and by clever positioning of the turbochargers inside the exhaust system, the engine is able to run more smoothly and efficiently. The manual version of the car returns 33.2mpg and emits 199g/km CO2 while the M DCT automatic is more frugal returning 35.8mpg and emitting just 185g/km. That puts the automatic in a lower tax bracket, costing just £225 compared to the manual M2 at £265 per year.

BMW offers a 12-year bodywork warranty, a three-year paint warranty and two years for parts and accessories, so new car buyers will have reasonable peace of mind. Servicing, as with any premium brand, will be expensive at main dealerships and approved body-shops, but BMW’s reputation for quality means mechanical failures should be very rare.

If BMW have got their mix right, and it looks like they have, the M2 has the potential to remain a desirable car for a very long time, so residuals should be strong. The previous model, the 1-series M kept its value well.

BMW may make a little bit of history with the M2. A well built, rear-wheel drive four-seat coupé with a powerful, efficient engine and lightweight engineering, makes a compelling case at £44,000.  It features just enough luxury to merit the premium price, but is focused enough as a performance car to justify the thin options menu.

It looks aggressive, is breathtakingly quick, and handles like it belongs on a circuit. With online connectivity, a ‘Smokey Burnout’ feature and a specially tuned engine sound, driving the M2 will never be less than entertaining.

While BMW are targeting a generation who may not remember the original M3, the ingredients that made that car such a hit back in the 80’s are the same ingredients that should make the M2 sell well today. Whether or not it will ever be considered a classic as BMW’s of old have become, only time will tell.

The edited, published version of this article can be viewed here: The RAC

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