2016 BMW M2 Review - Don't Call It a Comeback

Bradley Iger
by Bradley Iger
Fast Facts

2016 BMW M2

3.0-liter I6, turbocharged (365 horsepower @ 6,500 rpm, 343 lbs-ft @ 1,400-5,560 rpm)
Six-speed manual (seven-speed DCT optional), rear-wheel drive
18 city / 26 highway / 21 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)
20 (Observed, MPG)
Base price: $52,695
As tested: $54,495
All prices include $995 destination fee.
2016 bmw m2 review don t call it a comeback

For decades BMW worked tirelessly to cultivate a reputation for building performance machines that could hit above their weight classes. Although the 2002 is a well-regarded classic, and the homologation special M1 is a bonafide supercar of its era, it wasn’t until the debut of the E30 M3 in 1986 that BMW’s high-performance road cars really started to find favor with the general public.

In recent years, BMW has sought to recapture some of that E30 magic with cars like the M235i and the 1M before it. While both of those models have their virtues, they fall short of the mark largely by way of an unidentifiable, intangible element. After a stint behind the wheel of the M2, I discovered that “fun” is that elusive character trait, because this car has it in spades.

When it comes to the M division, enthusiasts tend to recall the past through a rose-colored lens. But regardless of quantifiable merit, the original M3 set the tone for numerous M road cars to come — one which included naturally aspirated motivation, lightweight, exceptional handling, an emotive driving experience, and legitimate daily driver practicality.

Throughout the ’80s and ’90s, M more or less continued to deliver on that unspoken promise, culminating with the E46 M3 and E39 M5. Both the 3 and 5 Series cars grew in size and weight over those decades, but M’s engineers still had control of the reins. The resulting cars in general felt objectively better than their predecessors and became standard bearers for high performance road cars outside of the realm of exotics. Things were progressing.

But something changed in the M division’s core philosophy. While the cars continued to grow, so did their luxury content, and curb weights rose alongside. BMW sought to remedy this with more power. In doing so, M cars began to change on a fundamental level. The current generation F10 M5 serves as the culmination of this trend. With roughly 4,400 pounds to lug around, it’s motivated by a twin turbocharged V8 making 600 horsepower in its most potent form, and the driving experience bears more resemblance to piloting a torpedo than wielding a scalpel.

In many ways, the M4 suffers from a similar fate: it leaves the driver feeling somewhat disconnected from the road, instead coddled by luxury appointments and electronic assistance, while twin turbocharged theatrics unsuccessfully attempt to distract one from the issue.

But none of this accurately describes the M2. It should, because it’s also turbocharged and it weighs nearly as much as an M4 despite being significantly smaller. Yet the truth of the matter is that the M2 is one of the most well-executed cars that the M division has put out in a very long time.

Powertrain

Available with either a seven-speed DCT automatic used in the M3/M4/M5 or a six-speed manual gearbox, the M2 is powered by BMW’s ubiquitous direct-injected inline six-cylinder N55 engine, versions of which are used in everything from the X4 to the current M3 and M4. Here it’s tuned to 365 horsepower and 343 pounds-feet of torque, the latter of which is available from 1,400 rpm and stays with you until 5,560 rpm due in part to a single twin-scroll turbocharger.

BMW says the engine is capable of getting the 3,450 pound, manual-equipped M2 to 60 mph from rest in 4.4 seconds (4.2 with the DCT) and I’d venture to guess that’s a conservative estimate. More importantly, with peak torque coming in so low in the rev range, the sensation of turbo lag is virtually nonexistent, and the motor feels responsive even when called upon to dig out of a low speed corner or tasked with overtaking slower traffic on the highway while loping along in sixth gear.

Almost as big of a surprise is the fact that it sounds good too. Where the M4 and M5 sound mechanically clinical and subdued, the M2’s exhaust note is significantly more raucous. BMW seems to have gotten the message about faking the soundtrack through the stereo as this car sounds good both inside and out. We’re talking about real engine noise here and not simulated nonsense.

Shifters in recent manual-equipped BMWs have typically had a rubbery feel to them while rowing through the gates, and the M2 is not an exception to the rule, nor is the relative lightness of its clutch. But neither seemed to detract from the car in a substantial way. Shifts felt admirably positive with fairly short throws. And despite the light clutch, the engagement point was easy to identify and felt natural almost immediately.

Exterior

Astute BMW fans will note that, despite the company’s recent penchant for convoluted model naming structure, the M2 serves as a successor to the 2011 1M. Though the proportions are similar, the M2 looks substantially more aggressive than its predecessor, though whether or not that’s a good thing is largely a subjective matter.

But there’s no doubt that it looks purposeful, with bulging front and rear fenders housing a meaty set of specially designed Michelin Pilot Super Sport rubber, a low, angular front fascia angrily directing airflow, and a racy looking quad-tipped exhaust installed out back.

But the main attraction here is the overall size of the M2. It’s just five inches longer than an E30 coupe, and its proportions feel more in line with the M cars of yore. The car looks tossable and, in turn, inviting to drive.

Interior

The M2’s cabin is pretty standard BMW M car fare, though the inclusion of contrast stitching does liven things up a bit. Seeing an honest-to-God handbrake between the front seats was a pleasant surprise. Even though it’s an antiquated design now, I still prefer them over electronically controlled parking brakes, despite the fact that I have no plans to film a Gymkhana video anytime soon.

It’s comfortable with nicely bolstered sport seats that offer enough adjustment to be cozy for long hauls, but also keep you in place during spirited driving. As you might expect, the rear seats are essentially a write-off — there’s virtually no legroom for any normal-sized human being that you don’t wish intense suffering upon. Then again, the same is true with the M4 to a slightly lesser degree, so the compromise in practicality seems pretty minimal for the M2’s reduced footprint.

iDrive continues to be the center of BMW’s infotainment world, and although the company has made substantial improvements to the system over the years, it’s still a love it or hate it proposition. If you’re happy to use a pivoting rotary knob and a smattering of buttons on the center console rather than registering commands on a touchscreen, you’ll likely have no qualms with it. If that sounds horribly convoluted to you, you’ll probably find yourself cursing at it in fairly regular intervals until you’ve acclimated to it and accepted your fate.

On The Road

“This thing would be a blast at an autocross,” I said to myself while ham-fistedly careening down the winding stretches of Angeles Crest Highway. That’s not a sentiment I’ve had about any other BMW I’ve driven in recent memory, but the fact is that the M2 is a hell of a lot of fun on an entertaining road, and not just in a “POWERRR!” kind of way. The M2’s mostly aluminum suspension bits — pilfered from the M4 parts bin — surely play a significant role here, though the M2 gets its own unique tuning.

And the car’s near 50-50 weight distribution deserves from credit as well. It feels genuinely balanced, as though the mass is in the center of the car and down low.

But what’s particularly striking is that the M2’s relative lack of features in comparison to the M4 actually make it a more enjoyable car in almost every regard. For instance, where the M4 has three different steering weight settings and none of them really feel particularly right, the M2 offers no adjustability in that regard yet lands on a setting that feels ideally weighted in nearly every situation.

That “set it and forget it” approach seems to follow throughout the car, and it results in a BMW that’s fun to drive right out of the box rather than one you must adjust to find the right delicate balance amongst a myriad of performance settings (although the lack of an optional adaptive suspension system is a notable bummer).

Bottom Line

I feel like the M2 shouldn’t be as good as it is. On paper, this car could be easily overlooked when cross-shopping performance coupes in this segment. But then again, isn’t that true of some of the best performance cars that BMW has ever produced?

Starting at $51,700 before destination, the M2 is substantially cheaper than an M4 while providing a far more entertaining drive. And while you’d expect the price tag of this press car to have ballooned with extra features, the $1,250 Executive Package (which includes a heated steering wheel, rear view camera, automatic high beams, Park Distance Control and Active Driving Assistant) is the only content here not included as standard — which brings the M2’s price tag in under $55K after everything is said and done.

Believe the hype: this is the M car we’ve been waiting for.

[Images: © 2016 Bradley Iger/The Truth About Cars]

Disclosure: BMW provided the vehicle, insurance, and a full tank of fuel for the purpose of this review.

Comments
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  • Baconator Baconator on May 29, 2016

    You make an important point - stiffer and more powerful isn't necessary usable capability. In the real world, the twisty back-roads are bumpy and poorly maintained. A little suspension compliance helps. Same for power - my sense is that the M2 is right on the edge of what's usable. Cars that are 0-60 in under 4 seconds and do the quarter in under 12 are just frustrating to work with on the street. Just not too many places to use that level of acceleration safely.

    • Chan Chan on May 31, 2016

      If you go back to the 90s, most sports cars were softer than today's equivalents. But because they were lighter and had less insulation, the best cars were nearly equally capable and entertaining in turns despite the body roll. For a modern-day example of how a relatively soft car can still do wonders, see the ND MX-5. Unless you want a track car, stiffness isn't the end-all for handling performance.

  • Ricky Spanish Ricky Spanish on May 31, 2016

    "Almost as big of a surprise is the fact that it sounds good too. Where the M4 and M5 sound mechanically clinical and subdued, the M2’s exhaust note is significantly more raucous. BMW seems to have gotten the message about faking the soundtrack through the stereo as this car sounds good both inside and out. We’re talking about real engine noise here and not simulated nonsense." Are you shitting me? This car, just like all the other cars, has a digital soundtrack. Did you do any research? Did you even bother to read the press release that you're spewing verbatim?

  • YellowDuck Thank goodness neither one had their feet up on the dash....
  • Zerofoo I learned a long time ago to never buy a heavily modified vehicle. Far too many people lack the necessary mechanical engineering skills to know when they've screwed something up.
  • Zerofoo I was part of this industry during my college years. We built many, many cars for "street pharmacists" that sounded like this.Excessive car audio systems are kind of like 800 HP engines. Completely unnecessary, but a hell of a lot of fun.
  • DedBull In it to win it!
  • Wolfwagen IIRC I remember reading somewhere that the Porsche Cayenne was supposed to have a small gasoline-powered block heater. There was a loop in the cooling system that ran to the heater and when the temperature got to a certain point (0°C)the vehicle's control unit would activate the heater. I dont know if this was a concept or if it ever made it into production.
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