BMW revives its pocket-rocket sports coupe, and along with it, a rare piece of pure driving excitement.
What it is: 2016 BMW M2
Price Range: $51,700 and up
Competitors: Audi S3, Mercedes-Benz CLA 45 AMG
Alternatives: Infiniti Q60, Ford Focus RS, Volkswagen Golf R, Subaru WRX STI
Pros: Sticky, fun, raucous, fast, communicative and a pure joy to drive on the track and on the road.
Cons: Engine noise is boosted via the radio; no adjustable dampers for rough roads. Rev matching in the manual takes some of the joy of driving a manual away and the interior is a bit noisy.
Would I Buy It With My Own Money: Yes, yes and yes.
Few car fans talk about their favorites the way BMW acolytes speak of BMW’s E line—the code name for cars BMW designed up until around 2012. The styling, the performance, and the driving characteristics defined BMW for an entire generation. Since the change over to the current BMW F Line, those same enthusiasts (this one included) have bemoaned an era they saw as bloated, sunken-cheeked, fish-faced, fake-vent and generally backward. Even the engine noises are faked through the stereo system, for heaven’s sake.
That is…until now. The 2016 M2 gives us Bimmer-brained fans something worth celebrating, and puts the joy back into a brand that has, for too long, poured out watered-down shots of the “ultimate driving machine.”
Two years ago BMW introduced us to the 2 series, the two-door coupe that was due to replace the 1 series. The 228i was as good an entry point to the BMW brand as any, and the M235i gave lovers of the brand something to hope for, even if it was an M car more in styling than performance. That’s not to say that the M235i didn’t have good performance, handling or looks. It just wasn’t the replacement for the truly classic 1M that everyone was clamoring for. Then, this year in Detroit, BMW finally showed off a proper M2. Critics mutedly rejoiced, skeptically hoping that this was going to be something worth celebrating.
Good news, folks, its time to stop peering over your spectacles. Start with the engine, a 3-liter turbocharged inline 6 cylinder with 365 hp and 343 ft. lb. of torque. You can row your own gears using a 6-speed manual or spend an extra $2,900 for the 7-speed dual-clutch automatic—the M Double Clutch. I drove both the M DCT and the manual versions, and for my money I’d stick with the manual—even though you’ll sacrifice some track time and get to 60 mph in 4.4 seconds, versus 4.2 in the M DCT.
From the outside, the M2 looks so much better than its whale-ish, bloaty, big bodied brethren. Its got a wider stance and more muscular haunches giving it that traditional M-line look. One of my biggest complaints with the latest F line design have been the aftermarket looking side vents near the nose of the car. While they’re present on the M2, I mind them less as they look less aftermarket and more a part of the complete design. The sizable vertical intakes at the front end are actually functional and good looking. They divert air around and past the wheels to reduce turbulence and drag and they help cool the engine further.
Driving the M DCT version around Laguna Seca was a dream. The car is planted, communicative and flat-out fun. Acceleration is smooth and linear, and you know exactly where the wheels are planted beneath you whether your shooting for an apex or haul the 3450 lb car down for turn 11. The M2 doesn’t get squirrelly in Sport+ mode or when you turn DSC off—there’s enough grip, and fade-free braking, to make the most of any driver’s talent. BMW says the M2 lapped the Nürburgring in 7 minutes 58 seconds, a solid 12 seconds faster than the vaunted 1M.
For those of you who plan to track the M2, BMW has outfitted the new car with a variety of somewhat gimmicky apps. There is an M LapTimer App that can help you analyze your performance and look at braking points and other parameters while you’re out flogging it. They also offer the ability to control your GoPro using the BMW iDrive in the center console, which could be pretty cool if you are trying to learn a track and find a better line. While you’re at it, you can share your results or your video on Facebook and other social media platforms, via the car, just in case you want to #humblebrag.
But track time in any car tends to be rare. On the road, the 2016 BMW M2 is comfortable, compliant and a joy to drive or ride in—even in the backseat. I spent part of our road time bouncing along in the back and was surprised at just how much legroom and comfort there was with two 6-foot adults in the front seats. Sure, the engine noise is simulated and piped through the stereo—but one benefit of it is that it also cuts down on tire and road noise, which is substantial. There were times on our winding drive up a remote part of Carmel Valley Ranch Road that I had to ask my fellow front-seat passengers what it was they’d said moments before because it was so noisy. Admittedly that may be more a product of the specially designed 19-inch Michelin Super Sport tires than anything else, but it’s still noticeable.
The truth is, all that fades to the background when you are behind the wheel. The manual is just as much fun, if not more enjoyable than the M DCT. Shifts in the manual are crisp and notchy, and a pure joy when you time it just right. Throw the car into Comfort and the steering grows light while the throttle softens up. In Sport, the throttle map changes and the steering weights up, giving you more feedback and more immediate torque. Sport + mode weights up the steering and the feedback even more and turns down the DSC (but does not turn it off) giving you more ability to slide the car around. In each mode the dampers on the quad exhausts at the back of the car change position giving the M2 a more raucous sound as you go through the drive settings. If you so desire, you can also put the M2 into a semi-drift mode—as a subsetting of the DSC off position. Put the car into Sport+ and then push the DSC button and you’ve entered M Dynamic Mode. In this setting, wheels slip more and the electronic safety system intervenes later, giving drivers the ability to more easily drift the car through a corner.
There are a few tiny things that may make the BMW purists nuts, however. For one, BMW has built in rev matching on the manual. That means that the only way to defeat it is to turn off DSC—which makes the car a bit more slippery. The clutch is also a bit numb feeling, and you have to hunt and listen to find the engagement point, which is annoying but I suspect something you can adapt to quickly.
In addition, the dampers aren’t adjustable as many competitors offer—but so what? They are tuned well enough to keep a spirited drive down the far reaches of a bumpy road, with three full grown adults bouncing around inside. One warning: It’s a bad idea to race over substantial cattle guards with a passenger in the back seat. The rebound will send their heads into the roof—even when they’re buckled in.
The interior is typical BMW, sparse and somewhat plastic with a carbon fiber dash, alcantara inserts and M badges littered around the cabin, on the door sills and in the center gauge cluster. The navigation screen is still stuck-on looking in the middle of the dash, but it is much clearer now than it has been in the past and the graphics are crisp and legible in high sun. The iDrive system is simple enough to navigate though it takes a little bit of finagling to get to some menus that are a bit buried in BMW’s hierarchy. The stereo is more than ample to get tunes bumping and drown out the piped-in engine sound.
Sport seats come standard in the 2016 M2 and they are remarkably comfortable. Complete with adjustable thigh bolsters for those of us with longer legs and optional power seats, they are great on long drives or when you are tossing it through the Corkscrew at Laguna.
The only other negative is that base price. Spending $51,000 just to get into an M2 is a lot of scratch. Upgrades like metallic paint (another $550), heated steering wheel, back-up camera and park distance control will cost you another $1,250 in the Executive Package. That and you have to spend another $2,900 for the dual clutch.
Yet I suspect BMW will not have much trouble finding people ready to clear such a financial hurdle. The M2 harkens back to the days when BMW made fantastic driving machines, and I’m so thrilled to drive something that isn’t big, boaty, mushy, and ugly. The M2 gives Bimmer fans what they’ve been wanting for the last few years, and more.