The second-generation BMW M2 Coupe is a car that its creators are clearly proud of, but also a little protective and secretive about. So secretive, in fact, that Toyota invited a group of journalists to test drive it about a year before its global market debut, and then declined to answer detailed technical questions about it.
Such is the odd, meticulously orchestrated game of cat-and-mouse that goes on these days between specialised media and auto manufacturers: have a drive, be our guest, love it or hate it – but we’re not telling you how many miles per gallon it gets.
It takes time and a lot of button-twiddling to get to know a modern M-car; at least more than a few laps around a track. But, while the new M2 is more complex and adaptable than its predecessors, it may also be more rewarding in the long run.
Those people didn’t take a critical decision that had to be made early in the creation of the ‘G87’ model lightly. Unlike the previous-generation ‘F87’-model, which was based on the ‘F22’-generation 2-Series Coupe and thus indirectly related to the old rear-driven 1-Series hatchback, the new M2 uses BMW’s ‘Cluster Architecture’ model platform, which is now shared by all of Munich’s larger models, all the way up to the BMW 8-Series Coupe and the BMW X7 SUV. And it turns out that this is a significant technical development for the car.
“We knew the platform would bring some added size and weight,” says M Division project dynamics manager Sven Esch, “and we had to decide very early on whether to fight with that weight at every stage, sacrificing many things in order to deliver the lowest figure we could; or to accept and work with it, and simply use the best technology at our disposal to maximise the car’s overall performance.”
“In the end, it was a simple decision.” On one road, you must accept many concessions, and you are aware that the car you are constructing may give more. On the other hand, with only one trade-off, you receive so many advantages in a stronger, faster, more advanced, composed, and complete product.”
Doesn’t that sound like a bit of a cop-out, considering surely weight imposes penalties across a car? Obviously not to the important players in this situation. And BMW M is certainly optimistic about the eventual product. “You may make your own decision,” Esch continues, motioning down an empty pitlane at the Saltzburgring track. “However, we believe those few extra kilos constitute a negligible effect.”
BMW is clearly not ready to reveal the exact weight of the new M2 (our source believes it’s somewhere between the 1575kg of the old M2 and the 1725kg of an M4 Coupe), but they will reveal where the majority of its M Division mechanicals – its axles, chassis braces, gearboxes, active locking rear differential, and turbocharged six-cylinder ‘S58’ engine – come from. “Because of the weight decision, we could use as many components as we wanted from the M3 and M4 for this car, which is exactly what we did because we know how fantastic they are,” acknowledges Esch.
“The engine has been toned down slightly, producing the same power output as the outgoing M2 CS [444bhp] rather than the M4. To work on a car 110mm shorter in the wheelbase than an M4, the steering, rear differential, and stability control all have new calibrations.The only hardware changes we made were to fit a firmer coil spring at the front axle to sharpen turn-in; to soften the spring fitted at the rear axle slightly to make the car feel more agile mid-corner and a little more ‘fun’; and to adopt the upgraded adaptive dampers we made for the new M3 Touring, which allow us to replace some of the lateral support that the softer rear suspension spring has cost.”
When intricate car engineering is so simply summarised, you wonder why engineering and validation take years rather than weeks. However, Sven’s description implies that the new M2 is a tiny twin sibling of the larger M4, despite the fact that, even under pretty extensive concealment, it has its own distinct footprint and outline.It has a more classic and less aggressive detailing than an M4, but it also has larger arches and more vacuum-packed body volumes. Not quite as tiny as the previous M2, and certainly not as agile as the 1M Coupe. But it’s still little, and stubby enough in the back and long enough in the hood to visually express the sensation of energy and top-level, rear-driven power that so many great compact M cars have traded on over the years. This is an automobile that appears to be ready to hit the road.
The M2 will arrive in the UK in April 2023, all the way from its Mexican production base, which it shares with the standard 2-Series Coupe. When it arrives, it’ll be a purer, simpler offering than the M4 it’s based on: rear-wheel drive only, only one power output and derivative trim level (a ‘competition’ version won’t arrive until much later), and available with a six-speed manual gearbox and three pedals or an eight-speed paddleshift auto. This last feature may elicit an especially warm response from more traditional UK-based BMW M-car aficionados who might have loved an M4 manual but have been denied the opportunity to purchase one thus far.
The interiors of both manual and automatic M2s handed to us for initial track testing were heavily disguised, so there’s little to report with certainty about cabin layout and equipment. Both vehicles, however, had good, low, tempting driving positions and well-located primary controls, as well as all-digital instrument displays with additional ‘head-up’ instrument projectors.
BMW’s basic car seat provides a helpful combination of easy-sliding hop-in accessibility and comfort, as well as ample lateral support and adjustability for on-road driving. The M3 and M4’s large-bolstered carbon-shelled buckets will be available as options, allowing you to sit even lower and significantly better-located and supported at the controls. The latter are so effective that you’d buy them without hesitation if you were planning on doing a lot of track driving. They’re also rather comfortable, albeit perhaps not as easy to berth and disembark elegantly as some of your passengers would prefer.
Two six-lap sessions of the Salzburgring, one each in the manual and automatic, was what we had to get to know the M2; and sadly no road driving. Luckily the Austrian circuit has a varied mix of gradients and undulations, and both fast stability-testing bends and tighter, balance-checking turns with which to form an initial impression.
It turned out to be the impression of a car that is far from lacking in raw power and is highly dynamically competent; yet it is also significantly different from the tiny M-car mould that its numerous predecessors have established. Agile, sharp, and entertaining; but a few degrees more precise, settled, calm, and ‘on your side’ than the most memorable variants of the previous M2, which was itself a little less raucous than the 1M Coupe before it.
Don’t you anticipate a certain ‘gobby scrumhalf’ appeal from a shrunken M coupe? The sort that compensates in spirit for the car’s lack of sheer size, power, or speed in comparison to higher-level performance automobiles. Well, in this incarnation, the new M2 doesn’t lack much of any of those things, and it’s a touch more interested in just getting on with the work at hand than sounding off or showing its muscles when driven swiftly.
The car handles flat in the body and quite keenly as you turn in – but its ride isn’t overly firm, it’ll stick to its line faithfully, and it’s well capable of filtering a mid-corner bump with its adaptive dampers and relatively supple rear axle, rather than hopping and fidgeting over larger inputs like some of its predecessors have. Previously, only the M2 CS had adaptive shocks; the new one, on the other hand, includes BMW’s revolutionary steering-wheel-mounted M1 and M2 configuration buttons, and can therefore switch character in a flash.
It’ll get to where it’s going quickly and with confidence-inspiring regularity, while being clear in its messaging and progressive at the boundaries of grip. The rear-drive limit handling is customizable and ready to convert into a slide if desired; but, the car is not looking to be juggled and tussled with, or to catch you off guard.
I’m curious whether this makes it feel as much fun at low and fast speeds as some of its forefathers. It’s a little uncertain – but it’s probably too early to tell for sure, especially because we don’t know anything about its road manners. But, even without the close-stacked intermediate ratios of BMW’s eight-speed automatic transmission, it has all the power and performance it requires and then some, so it’s no shrinking violet. The manual shifter provides good pedal feel and linear reactions under your toes, as well as the characteristic springy, somewhat long-throw BMW manual shift action.
“We understand how vital it is for this car to have a lot of fun-factor,” Sven Esch adds, “but we’re certain that making it a modern M car, with all of the grip, chassis serenity, high-speed stability, and handling accuracy you expect from our current cars, was the right option.” The M2 now has everything it need, as well as the system flexibility of larger vehicles, allowing you to operate it precisely as you want. The more you use it, the better it becomes.”