– Muscular design details
– Powerful and agile
– Decent day-to-day comfort
– Very expensive
– Some hard cabin plastics
– Not as old-school as some say
BMW has been neither here nor there lately. Once banking on the “ultimate driving machine” tagline, they’ve now become purveyors of everything from goofy little electric cars to front-wheel-drive minivans, none of which we’ve driven because there has been a drought in terms of BMW test cars for us since 2012. Somehow, we felt like we didn’t miss anything major, save for the latest BMW M4 maybe. But more than that car, there’s a lot more hype surrounding the BMW M2. So we were very keen to give it a go when we finally got the opportunity.
Many are touting the M2 as the successor of the BMW E30 M3. We’ll be the first ones to tell you that it’s not. The M2 has a longer wheelbase, but is shorter in overall length, but not by much. Except that at 1595 kg, the M2 weighs as much as a Toyota RAV4, or almost as much as a BMW M4, or about two fat guys more than the E30 M3. We could see where the bulk went when we parked our tester next to an actual E30. The 2-Series is a bulbous car to begin with, tall-profiled but squished in length thereby looking a bit awkward, but the M2 version at least has some aggression packed into it in the form of fender bulges and sharp bumper details.
The exterior dimensions pay dividends in terms of interior space, with good space up front and comfortable space in the back for average-sized adults, with a big-enough boot tacked on as well. Sure, taller adults will feel severely cramped in the back, while the heavy seat-bolstering and limited elbow-room makes things a bit tight up front as well. But for a car of its size, the M2 Coupe is fairly practical. Access to the back is manageable if you’re limber, but the power-operated front seats take ages to move out of the way. There’s two cup-holders up front, precariously placed ahead of the electronic shifter.
The cabin styling is typical BMW, staid and cleanly laid out. The trim materials are on par with that of the VW Golf GTI that costs half as much, a consequence of being based on the basic 2-Series. As such, there are rubberised soft-touch surfaces on the upper dash and doors, padded knee bolsters and armrests, and a generous dollop of hard-plastic panels below the chest and in the back. There is also “open-pore” carbon-fibre trim that looks like plastic. The orange-themed gauge cluster with the oddly-placed LCD info screen also look like an afterthought.
Tech-wise though, our loaded test car had no shortage. The crisp iDrive LCD screen on the dash is controlled by the usual rotary-dial controller aft of the shifter, and while there are plenty of shortcut buttons for the multimedia, stereo and a/c now, some of it is still complicated to use as you have to take your eyes off the road. Features include cruise control with speed limiter, navigation, rear camera with sensors, smart key with starter button, Xenon headlights with LED trinkets front and back, and all the usual power accessories. There is no sunroof, if you fancy that sort of thing. But there are a whole host of standard safety features, such as a full set of airbags, ABS and several types of stability control. There are also numerous optional driver-assistance systems, like collision warning, pedestrian warning, city braking and lane departure warning.
But let’s skip to the engine already. The M2 is powered by a variant of BMW’s 3.0-litre turbocharged inline-6, making a massive 365 hp at 6500 rpm and 465 Nm of torque from 1400 to 5560 rpm. There’s also an overboost function which takes torque to 500 Nm under full throttle. While available with a 6-speed manual, our test car came with the 7-speed dual-clutch automatic which, with launch control, is actually a bit quicker than the self-shifter version. But while it’s supposed to do the 0-100 kph run in 4.3 seconds, we “only” managed 5.6 seconds, partly because of the hot July weather and partly because there’s a weird throttle delay where the car rolls slowly for almost half a second before firing off like a bullet. We didn’t have time to figure out how to eliminate that in our too-short test drive.
If you’re looking to save fuel by buying a small car, this is not it. We got a consumption figure of 16.0 litres/100 km, and that’s with automatic start/stop at traffic signals and a brake-energy regeneration system.
The usual Eco, Comfort, Sport and Sport+ driving modes are available at the press of a button. These functions dictate throttle response, transmission programming, steering weight and ESP intrusion, but the M2 does not have adaptive dampers.
The little BMW is a riot to drive fast, with brisk acceleration from any speed and quick gear-changes using the paddle-shifters, although the latter isn’t as quick as Porsche’s PDK automatic. At full throttle, the engine is loud with a capital L, and you can keep it loud by leaving the car in Sport mode. We hear at least some of that is faux noise played through the speakers.
Around corners, there’s ample grip from the “Super Sport” tyres wrapping the 19-inch alloys, 245/35 up front and 265/35 in the rear. And yet, you can still induce a twitch in its tail if with sudden steering inputs mid-corner in the Sport modes. You can feel the ESP initially cutting in and making the car understeer slightly, then an instant later, the car turns even tighter as the electronically-controlled limited-slip differential re-distributes power between rear wheels. It can surely powerslide, but don’t ask us if it is easy to drift as you need to be doing very high speeds to break traction on those fat tyres and go full-on sideways, which is impossible to try out safely or legally on public roads.
The brakes feature huge drilled rotors with four-piston front calipers and two-piston rear ones. Even with the light and mildly-uneven pedal feel, the brakes were good, but not particularly impressive, although with several “VIP” journalists given priority before us to thrash this car, the stoppers could’ve just been worn down.
The steering is short-ratio and well-weighted for fast driving, but offers moderate feedback at best, even feeling a bit artificial. Oddly enough, the steering stays heavy even at parking speeds.
And yet, we’d still say the M2 is a decent daily driver. The engine is always humming at cruising speeds, enough to drown out the moderate road and wind noise, but it’s perfectly bearable. Even the ride is surprisingly compliant, even if a bit on the firm side, no worse than any 3-Series with similar-sized wheels. Around the city, it can squirt in and out of tight spaces with ease, although it suffers from a delay in throttle-response from idle, and can be severely jerky when driving at first-gear speeds due to the light throttle pedal. Once you compensate your driving style for this daftness, it’s very easy to pootle around.
So is the BMW M2 a reborn BMW E30 M3? If you want to experience that old-school car’s lightweight chassis, 200-or-so naturally-aspirated horses and minimal electronics, the right car to buy would be the Toyota 86 or, for more power, even an old BMW Z3 M Roadster like the one we owned. The M2 is a thoroughly modern BMW, feeling a lot like any other turbocharged BMW, but after a steady diet of steroids. As such, aside from the buttoned-up Audi RS3 and the lukewarm Mercedes-Benz A45 AMG, one should be cross-shopping this car with the new breed of turbocharged Porsche 718 Caymans. Of course, compared to the latter, the BMW is more practical, a bit quicker at times, and even a bit cheaper, relatively speaking of course.
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