Review: BMW M2 with M Performance parts

BMW’s M cars have undergone a significant transformation in the last few years. Long known for their mechanical purity, the company boosted the performance of the M5, and then the M3 and M4, with turbocharged engines packing sledgehammer torque as well as top-end power; the X5 M and X6 M SUVs were added to the range, angering some purists but delighting their drivers, and the four-door M6 Gran Coupe came to sit alongside the M6 coupe and cabriolet. All of these cars have delivered aggressive looks and performance that would have been unimaginable a decade ago.

Still, some M car purists have longed for something a little simpler, and a whole lot purer, in the lineup, feeling that the current M range’s complexity and technology has sacrificed some of the excitement they live for in the pursuit of extreme levels of performance. These enthusiasts have cried out not for more power, but for a more playful chassis, not for more drivetrain settings, but fewer. Give us, they’ve been saying, something smaller, nimbler, something that feels like the M cars of old. The M2 is BMW’s answer to their prayers, and while it’s still turbocharged, and still mechanically and technologically sophisticated, it has the feel of something from a simpler time. And it’s all the better for that.

Take, for example, a couple of switches you’ll find on the transmission tunnel. Unlike the M3 and M4, which give you individual switches to adjust steering assistance, throttle response, and transmission shift speed, the M2 has the same drive mode selector as the M235i, which cycles you between normal, sport, sport plus dynamic traction control, and eco pro modes; there are also no M buttons on the steering wheel to save your favourite settings. This isn’t as big a deal as I thought it would be; like the M235i, you can dive into the iDrive system and set up the sport setting to have the fast throttle response and shift time, along with the softer suspension option, which is what I prefer for driving on the street. So, just like the M3 and M4, you get in, push one button, and are ready to go.

Go it does, too, with 365 hp from its turbo inline-six – neatly dividing the gap between the M235i and the M3/M4. Shove from low revs is immediate, with no perceptible lag – it behaves like a much larger-displacement naturally-aspirated engine – but crucially, unlike a lot of turbocharged engines, its eagerness to rev increases as you climb its torque curve, giving a distinctive, performance-oriented character that encourages you to push it hard. This engine sounds terrific too; it’s smooth like you’d expect a BMW inline-six to be, but it throbs at idle, you can hear turbo whine and whoosh, and there’s just the right amount of resonance from the four-exit exhaust system. The seven-speed M DCT transmission does a great job snapping up and down through the gears (seamlessly in normal mode; with a satisfying crack and blipped downshifts in sport), but I’d definitely go manual on my own M2, for this is a car about involvement, and not just ultimate speed.

While the addition of M4 suspension pieces and seriously-widened Michelin Pilot Super Sport rubber – as well as the M4’s fancy electronic differential – have raised the M2’s limits far beyond those of the M235i, it retains that car’s essential puppy-dog playfulness, thanks to its short wheelbase, quick, feelsome steering and the way it responds to the throttle. While I’m not the kind of guy that slides around corners on the street, or indeed even on the track, one of the great advantages a rear-wheel drive car gives you as a driver is the ability to use the gas pedal to subtly adjust the way you go through a corner – it’s something that the M235i is brilliant at, and with that much more power and torque to work with, the M2 is even more reactive (and if you want to disable the traction control and go whole-hog with the rear tires alight, it will do that too).

What’s perhaps most impressive about the whole package is that despite the extra power, the bigger tires (the rears are 265-width 19s instead of 245-width 18s), and the more serious suspension, that the M2 loses none of its practicality or comfort in its transition to back-roads bruiser. In normal mode (and, if you’re like me, you set up sport mode to retain the stock suspension settings) it rides well, with little indication that its cornering limits are so high, and the steering, throttle, and brakes feel as natural navigating traffic as they do when charging around corners. Being based on a 2 Series, it retains that car’s spacious, if slightly conservative, cabin, though with upgraded seats, an M tricolour-stitched steering wheel, blue accents, and some other minor upgrades.

“My” M2 also happened to be fitted with a number of exciting M Performance goodies. There were cosmetic upgrades, including carbon-fibre front lips, mirror caps, rear lip spoiler, and rear diffuser. And there was the exotic titanium M Performance exhaust, which not only adds a guttural growl at all engine speeds, but also has a set of remote-control flaps that, when cracked open with a little Bluetooth remote control, give you so much crackling and popping that the car isn’t actually street-legal anymore. (In fact, there’s a yellow warning label affixed to the remote to remind you of this – get a ticket for too much noise on the street, and it’s your problem, not BMW’s, or ours.) As you would expect from factory-designed and factory-backed parts, the M Performance bits fit beautifully and are finished to the same level as the rest of the car.

Equip an M2 with all of these bits, and you have a serious-looking, serious-sounding performance car whose visual and aural punch matches the punch it gives you in the gut when you fling it down the road. The team at Pfaff BMW can also, for track work, equip your M2 with genuine BMW Motorsport parts.

Leave them off and you still have the purest, most entertaining M car in years, a car in the best M tradition of everyday drivability combined with a lively, active chassis and a powerful, character-filled powerplant. It’s also a bargain at just over $60,000, one reason among many that all of our dealership’s 2016 allocation is sold out. Despite its e-diff, shared suspension components, and visuals this is no junior M4 – it’s something even better.

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