Just in case you managed to avoid me talking about this, I’m a happy owner of a first gen BMW M2. It’s an awesome car and I won’t shut up about it, and will definitely use that in my favour if it means a bit more seat time when its new gen has just been released. So while Matt and I were playing tug-of-war with the keys to see who got to drive it, we felt it was interesting to get the owner’s perspective for the written review. So join me for this thrill ride and also in giving Dave a bit of a hard time for missing driving it – but first, a quick history lesson.
The BMW M2 was released back in 2016 as the entry into the brand’s motorsport division. It borrowed the M3/M4’s suspension components and other goodies to bring the performance treatment to the 2 Series. And to accommodate all of that, BMW had to install the wider front and rear fenders, which have since then become a signature of this model. The combination of a turbocharged inline six and real performance upgrades in a small, 2 door coupe body was an instant hit and won many people over, including yours truly. So fast forward a few years and the M2 was due for an update, which came in the shape of this new G87 model.
In this incredible hue of Zandvoort Blue, we need to agree this is as subtle as a sledgehammer. I’ll concede that it does not have the “classical” lines that my F87 car has, and that I was a bit unsure when I saw the reveal photos some time ago, but this thing has to be seen in the metal to be fully appreciated. All the important M bits are there, and there is a sense of occasion as you approach the car. Alongside the colour, our press example was beautifully specced with the staggered wheels (19 inches up front, 20 on the back) and the carbon fibre roof, which helped build the image of a special car.
After just a bit of time interacting with it, I became a sucker for the way it looks. For the filming of the review (you positively have to watch it), Matt and I drove around in the two M2s, side by side, making that the highlight of many a car enthusiast’s weekend. BMW’s latest design signature is to make bold statements, and the new M2 is nothing short of that. It had been a while since I last had a press car that I saw people taking selfies with, and this was one of them. It will certainly not be for everyone’s taste, but in my opinion is the best looking M product on sale today. And just you wait, because I have more hot takes to get out of my system!
Follow me inside and you shall see what is possibly the biggest improvement from one generation to the other. The G87 interior was given the full M treatment, and no longer feels like a repurposed 1-series setup with fancy stitching. There is a great mix of alloys, plastics, “carbon fibre” and leather finishes everywhere, really elevating the impression of luxury. It is very tasteful and well built, and in proper BMW fashion, the driving position is still spot on, and all commands fall to the hand. And while the previous generation offered great optional seats, those are still a step behind even the “base” ones of the current generation, which have M coloured wings and an M2 badge that lights up. There are other lights that make for a special experience inside, including the doors and ambient lighting. Everywhere you look, there is no mistaking this car for a “regular” BMW. And even in the unlikely event that someone could miss all of that, I’m sure kicking the engine alive will finally convince them.
The starter motor barely does a full turn and the S58 comes on, with a growly cold start that would turn heads every single time. The “OG” M2 was scoffed at by the gatekeepers as a non real M car because of the lack of a a “proper M engine” that carried the S moniker. And this is also no longer the case here: BMW started off from the B58, an engine that has proved itself time and time again recently, and bumped it up to S level with the S58, offering 453hp and 550Nm of torque. It is a powerhouse that matches the objective of the car in every measure, albeit with a bit of a downgrade on the soundtrack department – I think this is a pretty unanimous opinion: the N55 is the best sounding modern 6 cylinder BMW has made, and the S58, while a marvel of engineering, doesn’t come close when the objective is hearing pleasure. More stringent emission rules and an extra turbocharger will do that to an engine, bummer. But all of that is forgiven the moment you put it in Drive and start moving.
BMW cars have been famous over the years at being a great one car solution you can use to tackle the daily grind and also go for a weekend blast. And one way modern cars achieve this is through customisation and drive modes. In some examples, this is pure smoke and mirrors and there’s barely any change between setups – not here. The new M2 gives you almost overwhelming levels of customisation, and I say “almost” because if you want to use just Comfort and Sport you can, and you will already feel that difference. But the world is your oyster, and if you want to get into the super nitty gritty of setting up the car for your liking, you also can. All important points of interaction (steering, brakes, accelerator, gearbox, sound) have sliders with plenty of levels, and to make things even easier (and more special), there are two dedicated buttons on the steering wheel called M1 and M2 that allow you to instantly switch between modes. I customised M1 to be tame-as-can-be so that I could let the car handle traffic while I listened to the great Harman Kardon stereo, knowing I was always a press of the M2 button away from being able to unleash all of the M2’s potential.
And there’s so much of it. In the more aggressive modes, the car invites you to push it harder, and rewards you for doing so. The gearbox is snappy, and will even lead the car to buck and ask you to commit to flooring it, something I always obliged. Do that in the lower gears and as soon as boost builds, the rear wheels will try to overtake the front ones, leading to some exciting take offs. The brakes, which were already great before, seem to be even better now with proper feedback and great street performance. I can only imagine the amount of work that went into introducing so much configurability to these systems and having them work this smoothly.
All of this makes the old M2 feel way more “old school”, with its passive shocks, three drive modes and little customisation to input calibration. The level of mechanical grip on the new one is something I’ve never experienced before. The car intimidated me a little bit at first, but it didn’t take long for me to feel at home with it, to the point I even tried some monkey business with it. The M differential is eager to lock up as it is in my own M2, and with the right angle and throttle it will step out immediately, leading to an ear-to-ear grin. I found it to be even more predictable than in my car, possibly because of the lengthened wheelbase.
Yes, it’s bigger and yes, it’s heavier. But unless you’re driving the old gen back to back like we were, you will probably struggle to notice the added dimensions, just because so much else has changed. The new car feels more eager to move with you, even though it does so in a slightly less agile manner. And when it does, you better be prepared to move with it, because it was clear its limits were way above mine. The combination of zero body roll, never ending torque and massive amounts of grip is addictive and the only reason I had to stop was for a refill. Or two, or three.
And you read that right, our press car was an auto. And here comes my second hot take: I think it’s better for it. Alongside the M2, I have another manual BMW, an E46, and while I tip my hat for them still making these cars with three pedals, their shifter action is still behind some other enthusiast-oriented offerings. The auto, on the other hand, was probably using some kind of alien technology to read my brainwaves and predict what gear I needed for what I wanted to do. Add to that the fact you have 8 gears to choose from and that you have at least 9 different ways you can set up the gearbox behaviour, and you will have something that works for you every time. Yes, a manual M2 owner is recommending you get an automatic M2.
And that’s not the end for the technology talk. Ever since BMW introduced iDrive, they have been improving on a great product, and while I’d wish some commands still had physical dials, the rotary dial on the centre console is still a winner. Put that together with the two screens and the heads up display, and all that configurability I mentioned before is always at a glance. This new infotainment system introduces a more smartphone-like experience, which allows you to create a Home Screen with widgets and access apps as needed. On said home, I always had drive mode and trip details, leaving maps and music for the CarPlay integration, which benefits from the impressive size and resolution of the centre screen.
The blue M2 on home screen matches what the actual car does (indicators, lights, etc), and the rest of the apps is accessed through a dedicated drawer. This time I focussed way more on the driving than exploring every single app (who can blame me), but I checked out two M-dedicated apps for off-road use, the Lap Timer and the Drift Analyser. The first will bring a stopwatch you can use to time your laps, whereas the second turns the M2 experience into your drift game of choice by analysing drift speed, angle, duration and even gives you a score at the end. It seems like a blast and a half, but unfortunately, it’s not the kind of feature you’d test on public roads. BMW, I’m looking at you, please get the hint!
Which brings me to my last point: in cars with this level of luxury and performance, it is very common for you to feel isolated from it all, diluting a bit of the enjoyment. The M2 has some of that, and you are always held back by the thought that you cannot explore all of its prowess on the street safely. So I’m glad that BMW went the extra mile by adding substantial theatre back into the experience. The claims made by the visuals inside and out are backed up by the sound and the way the car reacts when you are going for it. It might seem unintuitive to make an isolated car only to then have to add oomph to it back again, but this is the reality of performance cars nowadays and the only way you can have your cake and eat it too.
The new M2 is a blast, and my time with it was one of the automotive highlights of 2023. Even with its bigger size, it’s no substitute for an M3, but no one can say it’s not a proper M product. It delivers on all fronts, and is a great representation of what the Motorsport division stands for. Go and check one on the flesh to see your preconceived notions about the looks melt away, and be prepared to lust after one after you take it for a test drive. Because I know I will.
Thanks for reading this far into a long one, and have a great Christmas and New Year! See you in 2024.