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bmw m2 cornering 2023
The new 454bhp M2 – entry-point to M's range of wares – is now a very serious proposition indeed

For the petrolhead of realistic means, fresh metal doesn’t get much more enticing than a new BMW M car. Especially one with a manual gearbox.Yes, there are the hardcore lightweights from Caterham et al, but special as they undoubtedly are, you can’t use them daily. A rear-wheel-drive, tin-top coupé with a deep genetic predisposition for cornering antics, genuine refinement over distance, all the mod cons and back seats, though? The second-generation BMW M2, successor to an irrefutable superstar, comfortably fits the description, and there’s lots to like about it. For one thing, it’s faster than you would ever need. It’s also a damn sight more attractive in the metal than in those leaked photos from last year, and it will oversteer for Deutschland. But let’s put the champagne on ice for a moment, because there are caveats. Interrogate the tech spec and you will realise the ‘baby M car’ idea that BMW so memorably executed with the 1M Coupé of 2011 (which graduated into the best-selling BMW M2 of 2015) is now dead and buried, killed by flab. The automatic car driven here weighs 1725kg (three pedals saves you 25kg), which is hard to compute because it means the M2 now weighs as much as the M4, whose platform it inherits. Put another way, the new M2 comes in exactly 150kg heavier than its usefully lithe forebear. It’s doubtful the original concept behind the M2 was for something crushing the scales 210kg more forcibly than a fat-hipped, PDK-equipped, leather-lined Porsche 911 Carrera S, yet here we are.Then there’s the price. Even when it went off sale in 2020, the old BMW M2 Competition, if fitted with the dual-clutch gearbox, started at £53,000, yet this new car costs £65,000. Quite the jump. And sure, that’s not all down to BMW. In recent years, the business of building cars has become intensely expensive. There’s also the fact that the new 454bhp M2 is a more capable car than the old one, outgunning by 10bhp even the hardcore CS run-out special. Dirk Hacker, M’s chief engineer, describes the Nordschleife lap-time delta between M2s new and old simply as ‘very big’. Trim is more generous, too: UK cars will get a 6kg-lighter carbonfibre roof as standard and adaptive dampers (the old M2 was passive).But still, £65,000. Or, funnily, £66,000 for a manual. The 4.0-litre Porsche 718 Cayman GTS costs as much, and that car is a certified four-wheeled work of art. You then need to consider that the new M2 is, on paper, basically an M4 on a slower, cheaper, purely rear-driven leash. The same but lesser in all matters – except mass, that is. In two-pedal form, both cars use the same ZF-built gearbox, even down to the ratios. Track widths are replicated to the millimetre (and are up about 35mm front and rear compared with the M240i). The staggered wheel and tyre package is identical except for the fact the M2 has a touch less sidewall. The M2 uses the same twin-turbocharged straight-six S58 engine as its bigger brother, albeit detuned from 503bhp, ensuring daylight exists between the power-to-weight ratios. Suspension geometry is, to all intents and purposes, a mirror image. Same for brakes. Same for the strut hardware, subframes, breathing and cooling. We’re dealing with dizygotic twins here, which wasn’t the case with the old iterations. Borrowing heavily from something as capable as the M4 is nothing to be ashamed of. Quite the opposite. Although I do fear that the Mexico-made M2 might lack its own identifiable dynamic personality.  In aesthetic terms, at least, the car is unmistakable. There’s an angle – low, from the rear three-quarter, ideally with the chiselled spokes of the front nearside alloy wheel angled towards you – from which the thing emanates a whiff of E46 M3 CSL. High praise. And sure, our car’s Brooklyn Grey paint and the new hint of a ducktail spoiler enhance the affinity, but it’s more than that. The M2’s silhouette is less fastback and more classic M coupé than you get with the M4, and the relationship between wheelbase, wheel diameter and those thunderous arches is near-perfect. A well-drawn Hofmeister kink and modest, slatted nostrils round off the visuals. You drop into a cabin that’s more grown-up and luxurious than that of the old M2. At the same time, it’s more compact and intimate than that of an M4. This is a nice balance. There’s also the right blend of carbonfibre, leather and high-quality plastics in here, visibility is excellent and all the M trinketry isn’t at all overwrought.For the first time, the M2 also gets the two bright-red M preset buttons on its steering wheel. These are used to instantly serve up your preferred combinations of settings for powertrain response, brake feel, steering weight and so on. You might set M1 for wet cross-country routes (say, softer dampers, medium engine ferocity and M Dynamic Mode for the ESC) and M2 for perfect conditions on the B-road you know like the back of your hand. It’s a clever function.Less likeable is the huge display, which feels at home in BMW’s big SUVs but swamps smaller models like the 2 Series. It saps away at the cockpit atmosphere, lessening that crucial sense of occasion. Know also that while the M2 is now larger, boot space is unchanged, although there’s a bit more rear leg room.Start-up brings a familiar nasal outburst, which remains nothing to antagonise your neighbours. Pull away, though, and the M2 feels like the serious M car its pricing suggests, far removed from the softer M240i. Firmer springing for the pedals and more castor effect in the meaty steering at low speeds are recognisable from the M4. The car feels monolithic and devilishly taut; you can detect its ability to carry massive speeds even before you’re out of first gear. Even with dampers backed right off and the torque converter languidly short-shifting through its ratios, there’s an aura of only thinly veiled intent, yet without any discomfort.Speeds rise and the M2 remains well mannered, never overly labouring the road surface. It should lap up daily duties in the UK. Note also that I didn’t try a manual M2 or one with the dreamily supportive M Carbon buckets that we have already tried in the M4. These more directly plumb you into the car’s powertrain and chassis, its very being, not least because they set you 10mm closer to the floor than the basic seats. As they should for £6660.None of these satisfying, M-flavoured sensations are accidental. To prepare the basic 2 Series bodyshell, the C-pillar and boot floor have been stiffened and there’s a new shear panel at the back of the car, where an aluminium subframe is also mounted rigidly to the body. As ever, the front subframe is M-specific, too. Attached to it are adaptive dampers swiped from the M4, while those at the rear are the uprated ones from the sensational M3 Touring – the most comfort-focused of all the M3/M4 family. So far, so homogenous. However, the M2’s springing is quite different to anything else in M’s stable. For this smallest offering, the distribution of stiffness has been punted forward, so the back axle is now comparatively softer and the front firmer than in the M3 or M4. This approach has been taken on account of the car’s 110mm-shorter wheelbase: M has attempted to maximise the natural agility that this deficit provides in the hope of creating a dynamic package that’s uniquely M2. It wants razor-sharp turn-in but a driven rear axle that doesn’t automatically catapult you sideways if you overcook things.“A lot of customers would be satisfied with a one-to-one [transfer of chassis set-up from M4 to M2],” says Hacker, “but our target is to get the best of the complete [M2] concept.” As such, the electric steering, the behaviour of the electronically controlled Active M limited-slip differential and the stability control – including a new 10-stage traction control – have also been revised.“The M2 is a traditional M car but not old-school,” says Hacker.So has that worked? Honestly, it’s difficult to say for sure without a back-to-back comparison, which I suppose answers the question. With excellent wheel control, deep reserves of mid-corner poise and 406lb ft of torque on tap almost throughout the rev range, the new M2 is extremely fast on any road. It’s also a beautifully balanced performance coupé, understeering only to a degree that is safe and desirable in a street car. In isolation, it’s an undeniable dynamic success (apart from the pulpy brake feel).However, anyone familiar with both cars can’t help noticing the latest M2 has lost that animalistic hunger for direction changes that defined the old, much-honed M2 Competition, the slight nervousness of response that made the F87 so electrifying on the right road. The new car’s surfeit of mass is discernible when you really attack a sequence of bends or when the road suddenly falls away beneath you and the suspension needs to properly manhandle the body. This latest M2 rarely loses composure but you can sense the mechanical battle taking place to ensure that outcome, and that’s the problem. Related to this is the fact that it can also feel as though there’s 10% too much stability in the package. Lots of composure, epic turn-in, not quite enough adjustability. Steering the car on the throttle takes a good deal of commitment, which makes me wonder whether the 285-section rear contact patches are too serious for a car of the M2’s outlook. The generational shift hasn’t been one of incremental improvement but wholesale change. The familial link between the F87 and G87 isn’t obvious. Rather than a stand-alone M car, the M2 really does now seem like the entry point to the M4 range.The loss of the dual-clutch ’box contributes to this, more keenly missed here than in the M3 and M4. ZF’s hardware is outrageously slick by torque-converter standards, but in manual mode it can stutter if you don’t perfectly nail your 7200rpm-redline upshifts, and it never feels quite sharp enough for an irascible junior M car. But I suppose there’s always the manual.  We need more time with this car. The launch event in Arizona was characterised by low speed limits and straight roads. Only a meagre stint on an off-itinerary section was up to Welsh B-road quality, when it was a case of: ‘Okay, all systems off, let’s see what you can really do.’ And the M2 did just fine. At both ends it generates a lot of grip from its aggressively soft Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tyres, but when it does relinquish its hold on the road (first at the front, although only momentarily, then more permanently at the back), it does so progressively and with tyre-smudging finesse. It’s a forgiving device and a consistent one, with reliable precision in its steering and damping even at fierce speeds on punishing roads. I suspect a damp surface, with the car’s limits of grip and traction lowered, would unlock something laugh-out-loud brilliant. It would also be a fine and enjoyable day-to-day companion, no question. It reminds me a bit of the V8-engined E92 M3, only more clinical and predictable. So no, it’s not the most spellbinding product. I’m not left yearning for one, and an owner of an M2 Competition should think hard before queueing up for their car’s shiny £65,000 replacement. It would be a marginally quicker and more refined M2 but not necessarily a more exciting or rewarding one. Same name, very different beasts. Consider also that, if past form teaches us anything, M often needs a second bite of the cherry. This happened with the original M2, which only realised its full potential in post-facelift form. When asked how the recent M5 CS came to be such an utterly extraordinary driver’s car, Hacker corroborates. He explains that it could never have been developed from scratch. Five years spent honing the regular M5, the M5 Competition and tangential models such as the M8 Competition Gran Coupé were critical to M’s ability to deliver its magnum opus super-saloon. Could the new M2 be destined to follow a similar trajectory? Quite possibly. You can bet that one of a Competition, a CS or possibly even a sub-1600kg CSL version of the car is already in the works – perhaps even all three. Like this first outing for the new M2, they will be impressive. Quite similar to the many versions of M3 and M4, I imagine. But the compact, vivacious, lovably immature flavour of M car rendered in the 1M Coupé and first-generation M2 now resides in the history books, and that’s something to lament.

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