If you like sharp, stylish, blisteringly fast and hugely satisfying sports cars, you should already be at a BMW dealership right now.
Versus the competiton:
The M2 is very competitive, with uncompromising abilities, top-notch equipment, classic styling and a good suite of features for both track and street driving. Cars that can match the M2 on price and performance tend to be larger with bigger engines, and few match the M2’s balance and poise.
Editor’s note: This review was written in September 2016 for the brand-new 2016 M2. Little has changed for 2017, but to see a side-by-side comparison of the two model years, click here.
BMW purists have lamented how the company has diluted its vaunted M Division’s prestige by offering M badge packages on just about all its cars and SUVs. But if you’re interested in something more than a 3 Series with a flashy appearance package, you can still get the real thing: a true M vehicle with a host of performance upgrades that turn it into an honest sports car, not just a sporty car.
The latest arrival from the magicians at BMW M is the new-for-2016 M2 coupe, a diminutive two-door based on the BMW 2 Series. It’s a relatively moderate upgrade from the already-outstanding M235i with more power, more aggressive bodywork, a tighter suspension and a unique interior.
As good — and as pricey — as the M235i is, can the M2 justify a higher price? And given that the larger M4 is just a little more expensive, does the M2 make the bigger coupe irrelevant, or a sensible splurge?
Exterior & Styling
The changes from M235i to M2 are subtle, but they add up to a considerably more aggressive look. Most noticeable are the bulging fenders, which have been puffed out to cover the M2’s wider wheels. It lends the car the look of a bodybuilder who’s stuffed himself into a T-shirt two sizes too small.
New front and rear bumpers with much more aggressive strakes and scoops are present, as is a fender vent along the side that emphasizes the swollen wheel arches. Out back, a “quad exhaust” with four exhaust tips pokes out underneath the car. It’s a curious affectation, given the M2 is powered by a six-cylinder engine.
How It Drives
As good as the BMW M235i is, the M2 is simply better. It sounds better, goes better, stops better and feels better. The M2 is powered by a turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six-cylinder engine making 365 horsepower and 343 pounds-feet of torque, which isn’t much more than the M235i, which pumps out 320 hp and 330 pounds-feet from its own less-powerful version of the same engine. According to BMW, the two cars’ journey from zero to 60 mph isn’t much different, either. The M2 and its dual-clutch transmission take 4.1 seconds, versus 4.6 seconds for the M235i — close enough to be almost even in the hands of the average driver.
But the numbers by themselves don’t tell the whole story; the snarl that accompanies the M2’s acceleration, and the precise, informing feedback transmitted through the steering wheel and pedals, make the M2 feel considerably more athletic.
My car was equipped with the optional dual-clutch transmission, which snaps off shifts like gunshots — lightning quick and precise. At least, that’s how it works when you’re driving the M2 like a sports car. When you’re driving it like a commuter car, the transmission’s slow-speed behavior is a bit wonky, behaving more like an automated manual transmission than a normal automatic: It’s slow to shift from Park to Drive to Reverse or any combination thereof, and it pogos a little in meandering stop-and-go traffic. It’s not nearly as bad as dual-clutch transmissions used to be, and it’s significantly better than the one in the competing Mercedes-Benz AMG CLA45, but it takes a little getting used to. A manual transmission is still available if you feel like rowing your own gears, but it should be noted that BMW’s testing reveals the M2 with the dual-clutch transmission to be quicker.
Handling performance is nothing short of fantastic. The M2 features some of the most direct and well-balanced steering I’ve experienced in recent testing, and the chassis exhibits a balance and poise that makes throwing the M2 into corners an act of joy. The M2 turns a 10-minute run to the hardware store into an hourlong outing, simply because you don’t want to stop driving. And its track performance is even better, with performance potential that will challenge even the most highly skilled drivers, yet still be accessible to novices.
A lot of credit for how well it handles goes to the M2’s wider track, which is a whopping 2.3 inches wider than the M235i up front and 1.7 inches wider in the back. Unsprung mass has also been greatly reduced on the M2, using aluminum for the suspension, axles, anti-roll bars and other components.
The tires are bigger, too: There are 265 series on the M2’s rear versus 245 series on the M235i, and they’re 19-inch forged lightweight units versus 18-inchers on the M235i. About the only advantage the M235i has going for it in this matchup is the availability of all-wheel drive; the M2 is rear-wheel drive only. The M2 feels tighter and nimbler than the bigger M4, and its chassis dynamics are far better than those of the front-wheel-drive Mercedes-Benz AMG CLA45.
Yet despite the big wheels, thin rubber and tighter suspension tuning, the M2 rides superbly. BMW dialed in the ride-versus-handling tuning exactly right, providing a compliant and comfortable (albeit still firm) ride without sacrificing any handling prowess. Broken pavement, frost heaves, expansion grates — not a problem for the M2. You feel the imperfections in the pavement, but you’re never perturbed by them. Stopping the M2 happens without any drama thanks to massive brakes both front and rear, though when they’re cold they squeal a bit due to an aggressive pad compound.
Amazingly, all this performance doesn’t come with much of a fuel economy penalty. The M2 with a manual transmission is EPA-rated 18/26/21 mpg city/highway/combined, while the automatic M2 is rated 20/27/23 mpg. Even my week of aggressive driving — frequently employing Sport mode, which keeps the car in a lower gear — netted 22 mpg on average. That isn’t quite as good as the Mercedes-Benz AMG CLA45, which gets 23/31/26 mpg from its smaller, turbocharged four-cylinder engine. The BMW’s inline-six, however, has a much broader, more usable torque curve than the Benz’s high-strung, heavily boosted engine.
The M2’s cockpit gets some unique treatment versus the M235i. It’s available only in dark gray but has dramatic blue stitching in the seats, doors, dash and steering wheel that looks terrific. Materials quality is top-notch, including carbon fiber dashboard trim that looks like real carbon fiber, not the fake stuff so many automakers try to pass off as the real thing.
The seating position is good. Some have noted that the pedal placement, seat orientation and steering wheel offset have the driver canted slightly inward, toward the vehicle centerline, but it’s so minor most people aren’t likely to notice it at all. I certainly didn’t.
There’s plenty of headroom thanks to a roof that’s taller than the M4’s. Width isn’t a problem, either, thanks to a multiadjustable seat. It’s snug in there, but in the way an old leather glove is snug — comfortable and meant to hold you in place during spirited activities.
The backseat is snug, too, but less comfortably. The M2 can accommodate a total of three people fairly easily if the front passenger seat is moved forward. Sitting behind the driver is impossible given a complete lack of backseat legroom if the driver is actually occupying the driver’s seat.
Ergonomics & Electronics
The interior isn’t perfect, and my biggest gripe comes with the gauges. There are two round dials facing the driver that are rendered in light gray numbers and hash marks over an only slightly darker gray face. They’re hooded in a binnacle that puts them in perpetual shadow, so they’re extremely difficult to see on bright, sunny days. Even turning on the headlights doesn’t illuminate them if the sensors detect it’s sunny out. Their orange glow is fine at night, but they’re a challenge to read otherwise.
Aside from that, the M2’s interior is standard BMW stuff; everything is easy to reach and easy to use. There’s a wide multimedia screen sitting atop the dash that can be devoted either fully to one function or split into two, for greater information display. The screen is controlled through a multifunction knob and buttons low on the center console, and it uses the common BMW menu system. It takes a little familiarization to learn where everything is, but once you’ve done that it’s quick and easy to use. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are not available.
Cargo & Storage
The M2’s coupe body style means it doesn’t have quite the same space as a hatchback would, but it can carry a decent amount of stuff in its trunk for such a small car. Believe it or not, the 13.8 cubic feet of volume in the M2’s trunk is larger than the 11.0 cubic feet you’d get in the larger, longer M4. It’s also roomier than the 13.1 cubic feet available in the CLA45 AMG and much bigger than the paltry 10.1 cubic feet available in the Lexus RC F. The rear seats fold down in a 40-20-40 split to create more room.
The BMW M2 has not been crash-tested by either the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Most of the electronic safety systems on the M2 are optional, as is common with German luxury cars. You get standard rain-sensing windshield wipers, keyless entry and automatic high beams, but you have to pay extra for a few other things, including a backup camera and parking sensors, as well as Active Driving Assistant, which includes lane departure warning and forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking. See all the M2’s standard equipment here.
Value in Its Class
The 2016 BMW M2 feels like a more extreme version of the M235i (which will become the M240i for 2017 thanks to an engine update) with a more track-oriented skew to it — and it’s priced accordingly higher.
The M2 starts at $52,695 including destination fee. There aren’t a lot of options available, but the one I drove featured Long Beach Blue Metallic paint for $550 and the $1,250 Executive Package, which includes a heated steering wheel, the backup camera, rear parking sonar, automatic high-beams and the Active Driving Assistant safety tech. Add the dual-clutch automatic transmission for $2,900, and we’ve brought the total as-tested to $57,395.
Competition in this segment isn’t plentiful, unless you broaden your definition of what might compete with the M2. The closest contender may be the Mercedes-Benz AMG CLA45, which Mercedes calls a coupe but everyone else in the world calls a sedan. It’s in the same class as the M2 and is priced similarly, plus it features a similarly powerful turbocharged engine (albeit minus two cylinders). That car, however, is available only with a dual-clutch automatic; no manual can be had.
A more unconventional choice might be the Ford Shelby GT350, a top-of-the-line Mustang that competes with the M2 on price and mission. Like the M2, the Shelby is a track star made for the street. Its engine is significantly more powerful than the M2’s, but its greater curb weight means it’s not any quicker.
For a bit more money, you can get the Lexus RC F, a V-8-powered, rear-wheel-drive 2+2 coupe with a lot more power than the M2 but surprisingly less interior room. It’s also significantly heavier than the M2, which puts a damper on its handling abilities, as well. Compare the M2 with its competitors here.
There are two other choices that should also be considered against the M2: BMW’s own M235i and M4. (Compare these models here). The M235i is less expensive, starting at $45,145 or $47,145 for an all-wheel-drive model. It’s not as powerful as the M2, and it doesn’t have that car’s slick aluminum suspension bits or trick active rear differential. If street duty is more your speed, though, it might be a better daily driver. Plus, you can get it as a convertible.
The BMW M4 is much more expensive than the M2 — $14,000 more expensive — and comes with more power from its twin-turbocharged, 3.0-liter inline-six-cylinder engine. It’s a little longer than the M2 but not much heavier, and its performance advantage isn’t significant enough to justify spending that much more. The M2 hits the sweet spot of daily comfort combined with track-star moves — at a price that’s actually attainable.