Test Drive: 2016 BMW M2

Finally!

So, is the M2 BMW’s renaissance; its rebirth as a true and honest performance car maker? It surely is.

BMW is giving its real, long-standing, diehard fans exactly what they covet: a compact coupe powered by a lusty inline six-cylinder engine, and with an indiscriminate focus on handling.

In recent years there have been whispers (and a few shouts) from enthusiasts and the media alike that BMW has lost its way. The company, once worshiped for its lithe-handling sports coupes and sedans, followed the profits and popularity of crossover SUVs and odd hatchback wagon-like things. They replaced sweetly sonorous naturally aspirated six- and eight-cylinder engines with smaller displacement turbocharged mills. And steering systems were universally switched from hypersensitive hydraulic units to relatively lifeless electric systems.

Performance continued to reach new heights, mind you, particularly for BMW’s M-cars, while fuel efficiency also improved dramatically, and yet, somehow, a little more of BMW’s soul vanished with each newer and “better” model.

But now, all the bellyaching whiners can cram it because the all-new M2 sports coupe does everything a modern M car should do, infused with the solid dose of passion and soul the BMW-lovers demand.

As an ardent fan of both the M235i and 228i I’d be remiss not to tell you that the M2 is the car I most wanted to drive this year. Despite big horsepower muscle monsters and proper full-on European sports cars being launched in 2016, the new, smallest M car held so much promise for being a refined, capable and simply brilliant machine that I just had to have some seat time.

So, is the M2 BMW’s renaissance; its rebirth as a true and honest performance car maker? It surely is.

Like all full-on, proper M-cars, the M2 is built to be an impressive and accomplished machine on the racetrack. Suspension bits have been pillaged from the M3 and M4 and are crafted from aluminum. The axles have been made from lightweight steel to shave grams here and there. And there are additional oil coolers and suction pumps added to ensure the engine doesn’t starve for lubrication at high g-loads on the track.

That’s all fine and well, but during my week with the M2, no racetrack was available to me, so this evaluation is based on the quality of the ownership experience in day-to-day living. I commuted to work. I picked up and dropped off my son at school. I got groceries. And I loved every damned minute of it in this car.

Counting it up: 2016 BMW M2 By The Numbers

Every M2 I’ve seen so far, from the launch machine at the Detroit Auto Show in January, to every subsequent photo in the media, to the one privately-owned example I’ve seen on the road, have all been finished in Long Beach Blue Metallic, just as the example you see here. It’s a sensational colour and works wonders for highlighting the bulging musculature that’s unique to the M2. Apparently M2s can also be had in other metallic colours (black, or grey), but if you don’t want to pay $895 extra, your only option is non-metallic white.

Deeper and wider ducting and inlets up front scoop in air to the engine bay, while flared fenders stretch over a wider front and rear track. Overall, the M2 is compact in person, but seriously menacing, and to my eye, thoroughly handsome from every angle. It’s certainly better proportioned than the 1M Coupe – the M2’s revered (and raw) predecessor.

Inside, those familiar with the “lesser” 2 Series cars will feel at home here. BMW has dolled it up a bit with some open-weave carbon fibre and primary gauges that are a little trickier to read, but otherwise, the atmosphere is standard, modern BMW fare. No real complaints here with everything being well glued and screwed together, and all the materials feeling of quality.

The rear seat is anything but generous in space, but was suitable for my six-year old to ride along and enjoy the racy sounds made by the M2 on a trip down some country roads to visit his grandparents. Up front, the heated leather seats hug the driver and front passenger with aggressive – and adjustable – bolstering (both under the thighs and along the torso), to ensure the high g-load lateral forces don’t throw you around the car.

BMW’s iDrive is controlled through the same rotary-knob-with-a-touchpad-top we’ve grown accustomed to, and it continues to do a fine job of managing the complexities of a modern infotainment system. The dash-top screen is broad, bright and crisp in its graphics, and the standard Harman Kardon sound system is deep, powerful and clear.

Uncharacteristic for a German car company, the M2 does not have a lengthy option list. In fact, it comes loaded up with some key tech goodies like adaptive cruise control, automatic high-beam control and lane departure warning and parking sensors all as part of the $61,000 base price. What you can’t have in an M2, are cooled seats, active lane assist or even a sunroof, and not one of those items were missed during my week with the car.

To be honest, if BMW stripped out even more of the fancy modern technology, lightened the car up further and shaved a few more bucks off the starting cost, it’s likely the rabid few truly diehard enthusiasts would think the M2 to be the second-coming of all things sacred. But then, keeping the order sheets simple for the M2 makes life easier for BMW, and ideally is helping to keep the price reasonable.

Anyway, it doesn’t take long to realize that the M2 is already pretty much the most raw, pure and visceral offering from the Bavarian company on sale today. Its ride is firm, even in the Comfort setting activated from the console button, but I rarely drove any of the 800 or so km I enjoyed with the car in anything other than Sport mode that firms things up further. People who complain that the ride is too harsh will never really get this car and shouldn’t buy one.

For the rest of us, we realize a bit of starch in the suspenders simply helps the M2 corner level and true, with its custom-fitted Michelin gripping impressively in aggressive carving maneuvers. Squat and nosedive are virtually nil and there’s so little body roll it’s not even worth mentioning.

This, combined with the M2’s compact dimensions, mean the little Bimmer changes direction with real immediacy, and feels planted and stable throughout the turn.

But let’s not kid ourselves, there is ample power to unhinge the back end and break loose the 265-width rear tires with even a moderate prod of the accelerator. Horsepower from the twin-scroll single-turbo 3.0L inline-six cylinder engine rates at 365, while torque comes in at 343 lb-ft. These figures, even in a relatively small and fairly light car, are not enough to make the M2 feel like a rabid animal on a leash. That said, at one point toward the end of the week with the M2, I grew impatient behind a dawdling RV and when safe, stomped my foot to make a pass, calling on all the ponies and 369 lb-ft or torque available in brief doses as a part of an over-boost feature. Acceleration was fierce enough that despite having logged several hundred kilometers in the car prior, I was seriously caught off guard by the pace at which it overtook the RV.

What’s more, the way the power is delivered is sublime. From idle speed to redline the N55 (yes, the same engine in the M235i, just tuned more aggressively) is turbine-smooth, lag-free and makes sensational sounds the whole way through the rev range.

Yes, BMW does “enhance” the sound reaching the interior through the speakers, but it’s only to overcome the muffling resultant of loads of insulation and turbo plumbing. Outside the car, it’s still a full-volume rock show and it’s awesome.

My test car is the quickest M2 you can order. This means it is equipped with the $3,900 dual-clutch transmission on offer from BMW. While I’d prefer the six-speed manual in such a traditional-style sporting Bimmer, it sure is hard to fault the DCT. Shifts are ridiculously fast and thanks to the steering wheel mounted paddles, the M2 can very much be driven like a manual (roll-backs on a grade and all!).

BMW claims the DCT model will hit 100 km/h in 4.3 seconds whereas the manual will take 4.5. If 2/10 of a second are that important to you and spending nearly four grand for the transmission doesn’t cause tightness in the chest, then go for it – it’s about as good as they come, but I believe those specifying the stick shift are going to be getting the better experience in this car.

The M2 is rated at a combined highway/city fuel consumption average of 11.1 L/100 km with the stick and 10.4 with the DCT. I saw an average of 11.5, but confess to driving in a less-than-efficient manner everywhere I went. The down side to that is having to fill and re-fill the tiny 52 L fuel tank with alarming regularity.

I challenge any true driving enthusiasts to drive this car more conservatively, though. Listening to that engine sing, snapping off lightning-quick shifts, hammering on the eye-popping 15-inch (front) brakes and horsing the little M into corners is an addiction for which very few will seek a cure.

The M2 will keep drivers grinning, corner after corner, passing move after passing move, and still do a fine job of picking up the kid from school and the groceries from the market. It is well-built and masterfully engineered without being over-refined and soulless. It’s a track weapon that works just fine as an everyday car.

BMW has given the Bimmerphiles – and the media – the car they’ve demanded, and they’ve done it brilliantly.

Finally.

Warranty:
4 years/80,000 km; 4 years/80,000 km powertrain; 12 years/unlimited distance corrosion perforation; 4 years/unlimited distance roadside assistance

Competitors:
Audi TTS
Lexus RC F
Mercedes-AMG CLA 45
Porsche Cayman

2016 BMW M2
articles_PricingType 2016 BMW M2
Base Price $61,000
Optional Equipment Long Beach Blue Metallic Paint, $895; M Double Clutch Transmission, $3,900
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $2,145
Price as Tested $68,040
Optional Equipment
10 0
Scoring breakdowns 7.8
9 Exterior Styling
9 Performance
8 Interior
7 Comfort
6 Fuel Economy