This is the one.
It’s the one that the most hardcore BMW enthusiasts have been waiting for.
Up to now, this crowd has lived a life of compromise. It had to settle for either the not-quite-M Sport-level M235i coupé or make the leap to the somewhat terrifying M4 2+2. The 235i is a spanking little ride — I absolutely adored it — but it’s just … not … quite … enough.
The 2-Series needed the true M Sport treatment from the mad scientists in Germany. The M4 is brilliant but a bit much, both under the hood (425 horsepower) and in its impact on the bank account (a whopping $72,500 for the groovy convertible version that I drove last year).
So BMW went for enthusiast nirvana: a rear-wheel-drive two-door that evokes the glorious tradition of all those marvellous, sporty Bimmers of the past, the ones that earned the Bayerische Motoren Werke its august reputation. They even added icing to an already tasty cake, outfitting the M2 with an optional six-speed manual transmission to go along with the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic.
That’s right: In the M2 you can grab gears the way the gods intended them to be grabbed.
We borrowed a spiffy new M2 from BMW for a weekend’s worth of navigating the highways and byways of our suburban and semirural stomping grounds, northern New Jersey. The car has a base price of $51,700, and our test car didn’t come at much more than that. An Executive Package for $1,250 added a heated steering wheel, a backing camera, and a few other bells, while the truly whistle-worthy extra, at $550, was the Long Beach Blue Metallic paint job, which was friggin’ gorgeous — as in thumbs up all over the place from
every single BMW owner who saw the car, on the road or at rest, and plenty of non-Bimmeristas. The colour is hypnotically beautiful
At dusk on a Sunday, I simply could not stop looking at the M2. I’m not kidding. There was an abundance, a riot, a mad bustle of Northeastern springtime loveliness all around me, and I was entranced by a chunk of shiny sheet metal.
Throw in about a grand in destination charges and our M2 tipped the cost scales at $54,500 (the M235i is $43,000). Not cheap. But not crazy expensive, either — and a stupendous bargain for an automobile of this, well, stupdendousness.
Under the hood
First, the nuts and bolts. Under the hood is a 3.0-litre inline six-cylinder engine with a twin-scroll turbo that makes 365 horsepower, a nice bump on the M235i’s 320 ponies.
A nice bump, but nothing outrageous.
The engine isn’t a downgraded version of the M4’s twin-turbo powerplant; it’s more like an upgrade of the M235i’s single-turbo motor. This is the sort of tap dance that BMW has to do with these M cars — the M2 needed to be a move up on the M235i, a really terrific little car, rather than a move down from the M4, which has nothing little about it. So the M235i motor got some superior components borrowed from the M4.
It makes for a BMW-claimed 0-to-60 mph time of 4.2 seconds, and you register every succulent tenth of a second in this puppy.
The M Sport brakes on all four ventilated discs are deep blue and so, so good. And the six-speed manual is precise and purposeful. It isn’t silky smooth, like the stick on the Jaguar F-Type supercharged V6 I recently sampled, nor is it as snicky and snappy as the Mazda Miata’s legendary manual.
But it is Germanic, and once you get over the mild challenge of wedging into reverse, you discover what an effective piece of mechanical engineering it is for selecting the gears that will route that 365 horsepower to the rear wheels. As a plus, you get some active rev-matching, so your downshifts will never be lurchy or power-sapping (though I personally like to feel that lurch when I match my own revs, for better or worse, and you can get that in the M2 if you disable the traction control).
Not much to complain about
One point of complaint. I took me a day or so to adapt to the way the M2 wants to serve up the power. I’m used to winding out a gear and then quickly shifting before getting back on the throttle to bring on the speed. The M2 doesn’t want to do this. That bada-bing technique with the clutch and the accelerator fails to deliver punch.
Instead, you have to hold the clutch in for a split-second longer and allow the revs to climb before letting ‘er go. For my feet, this feels sloppy, but my driving is unsubtle — I like to be high up on the revs because I’m used to squeezing more performance out of underpowered cars. Massaging the clutch is effective in the M2’s case, and should you find yourself on a track doing some fancy heel-toe shifting, it might be a benefit.
You have ungodly amounts of grip in this car, so you can push the M2 into corners and curves without much worry of slip. The steering is exceptionally balanced, though some real enthusiast types might find it insufficiently heavy — in Sport and Sport Plus modes, for me, it was just dandy, and I was coming off a drive of the Tesla Roadster in California, and that’s a car that doesn’t even have power steering.
BMW’s M Sport steering wheels are fat and leather-wrapped and have maroon-and-blue M Sport topstitching and a bit of M Sport badging — but I think they’re sort of too thick. I spend a few minutes every time I’m in an M getting reacquainted with the unique feel.
In cruising mode, the M2 is fine, but of course it feels held back. That said, a brief review by a passenger I took on a drive over a stretch of the Garden State Parkway suggested that the M2 is plenty comfortable (and the car has some heft — it isn’t a light and dainty customer). The driver has a lot of options for seat tweaks. The fronts are 14-way adjustable and have four-way lumbar support. The 2+2 layout means you can use the M2 in a pinch as a family car, but forget about it you have more than two kids — and be aware that the rear seats aren’t all that roomy. Our test car had no sunroof, either, so it was dark back there.
Obviously, the M2 is a car that’s supposed to come into its own when the cruising goes away and the driving takes over.
On this front, it brings the goods. The M235i put a huge smile on my face, the M4 scared me a bit, and the M2 struck a tuning fork deep in my automotive psyche. I didn’t bond with it in the way that have with the Miata, but that’s because the Miata doesn’t have the M2’s grunt. I’m a good enough driver to make Mazda’s legendary roadster do its thing. But the M2 presses the case beyond my abilities, so I respect the machine.
For the true believers, this is going to be the perfect car. It is completely optimised for thrills behind the wheel. And yet it is far from useless for quick runs to the grocery store (I picked up a case of wine, and there was plenty of room in the trunk) or fetching the kids from school. The design is, in a word, punchy. The exhaust note is growly (reviewers widely consider it an improvement over the M4’s twin-turbo slurp), but it won’t wake up the neighbours.
The M2 is pure, direct, and, with the manual transmission, a throwback that doesn’t wilfully abandon contemporary technology. There’s a good reason the Bimmerati have been waiting for this car. The M-Deuce has arrived. And it doesn’t disappoint.
NOW WATCH: Executive Life videos
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.