While offering a new position below the M3, BMW’s new M2 doesn’t lack any of the firepower of its bigger siblings. Automan drives the car in an exclusive drive in Dubai
Author: Raj Warrior | Photography: Jorge Ferrari and Author
What is it about the performance coupé and sedan category that continues to draw buyers who would otherwise look at the dedicated sports car? It cannot be all about utility and the ability to take home a little more than your weekly shopping? And it cannot be about style. But cars like BMW’s M3, M5 and M6 have been drawing affluent customers who aren’t just out to prove that they can pay a whole lot more for their regular sedan. In fact, you just have to poll the universe of auto journalists and one of these cars will end up being in their top three of all time.
The appeal of the M3 and M5 has been with us for a few years. From the days of a sedan that got a more powerful engine to the revolutionary M button, these models have seen it all. And these class defining models have been joined this year by the smaller, yet no less potent M2.
The M2 follows the formula set by the brand for its stable of performance cars. It takes the 2-series platform and sets out to tweak and empower it so that it no longer feels like anything that the original designers wanted. In addition to external styling changes that add a sense of brooding menace and implied movement, to choosing performance components that add a performance envelope while losing weight and then topping it all off with a high-output engine and some really defining chassis control elements, the M2 enjoys the best of the pick.
Exterior design is of course essential when you want the buyer to enjoy a sense of differentiation from the rest who buy the regular 2-series. Beginning from the dark on dark treatment of the kidney grille, signature headlight treatment, an accentuated scoop like treatment of the front lower airdam and the puffed out contours of the fenders, the M2 sits in muscle territory. And its not just visual, the extra styling is there for a purpose. Those huge scoops are to channel air in and over the wheels, while the central portion goes towards cooling the engine bay.
The compact dimensions of the car are already an advantage for the M2, with a reasonably long wheelbase of 2,693mm on a full length of 4,468mm. And the proportions are all just right, with the typical low front overhang and just adequate rear. The driver’s hip point is shifted towards the rear, so that the bonnet has a feel of beig overly long, with a short rear deck.
The car also manages to offer a very busy profile, with the use of the muscle like swage line from front to rear making the area between the door and rear wheel dissolve visually. The rear is also sculpted to connect visually with the front, with toned down scoops on the outer flanks with reflectors and the provision of an airflow modifier on the lip of the boot lid. Of course you shouldn’t miss the various M badges around the car.
Once you step into the interiors, the car’s sporty nature communicates just that bit more with its black on black treatment. As you would expect, the seats and theme is one of black ventilated leather with alcantara trims around the roof and insets. The metal treatment is all brushed aluminium and wherever plastics come into the touch zone they are exemplary. The centre console is defined by a carbon-fibre panel that hasn’t been masked by any resin layer. The texture communicates through the finish and does a lot more than the glossy laminate treatment in other cars.
This author has a particular fondness for the black on black treatment of a car’s interior. It does give you an impression of a hotter cabin in the region’s interminable summers, but the takeaway is a compactness of cabin and its ability to highlight just the controls that you really want to look at. Here the visual focal point is about the IP binnacle, the dashboard panel and the controller area. It’s all visually focussed on the driver. Even the paddle shifters are just visible enough to let your hands fall on them, once set in place it’s all tactile. And the seats are snug enough to provide support, yet don’t really crossover into the unforgiving territory of a track based car’s. We guess that you could even upgrade your seat if you really wanted to, but this one also packs in the creature comforts of a luxury car.
What’s in the package?
At the heart of the M2 is the 3.0-litre inline six engine with a twin scroll turbocharger and both variable camshaft timing and variable valve lift control. It’s seems a bit of an overkill really, but it is really the sweetspot of engineering. You’ve got it all happening on the header. At the same time, the design of the rest of the engine has been optimised too, with the turbocharger tucked in close on the exhaust manifold.
The engine offers an output of 370 horsepower with a meaty torque figure of 465Nm. Torque delivery is across the range from the just above idling to the upper reached of the midrange. What this means is the presence of almost full thrust through the most useable parts of the engine’s delivery range and that in turn is coupled with a very handy 7-speed double clutch automatic gearbox (one that BMW claims acts like two separate gearboxes). In effect the shift pattern is well designed that it outshifts the six-speed manual. The company tells us that the actual shift is handled so fast that the upcoming gear is already connected while you are working through the pattern, only waiting for the clutch to fall back in place.
There is of course a whole lot of extra work done in the engine. For instance the oil sump has been redesigned so as to ensure that oil gets to engine parts even under heavy acceleration and braking, with active shifting of oil through pumps. And the exhaust pipes get active flaps that tune in the rumble on sport modes while preventing back pressure.
In order to stay true to the general idea of fuel efficiency, the M2 gets an auto stop/start function that can be switched off as well regenerative braking.
The idea of an M2 engine switching off to save fuel may be a bit counter-intuitive, but here it even switches off in sport mode on the drive console. You have to manually opt out of it.
The M2 offers a whole gamut of setup options, with an easily selectable drive mode knob that takes you through from Comfort to sport+, also allowing you to change the response settings on the dampers and even tuning in the sort of response you expect from the steering wheel. This is made easier by the electric assisted steering, which gives it a means of variance while still being rather miserly in its need of power.
Some of the largest changes are in areas that aren’t visible. In order to lose weight, the chassis elements, especially the unsprung and rotating masses have been surgically lightened. Forged aluminium alloy members have been joined with some hollowing out, while even the brakes have lost mass. While the ventilated discs are still ferritic in nature, the brake design is now a composite one, with the bulk of the disc being made of aluminium while the friction disc stays iron. The rear subframe is made of lightweight steel and improves the dynamic characteristics of the rear axle.
Even the tyres are made to demand here – front and rear are of different widths. The effect is to make the car visually beefier at the rear.
The other hidden gem is BMW’s active M differential. It is proactively programmed to offer torque shifts of 100% either way and comprises a multi-plate limited slip differential that can offer a rather seamless transfer while making it almost instantaneous. This is supposed to allow you to work around a slipping wheel, but it also has the added effect of actually allowing an appreciable degree of tail sliding in case you want to use the car’s burnout ability in sport+.
Don’t be fooled by the less than 400bhp on the engine. The M2 will out accelerate and out handle almost every regular muscle car out there. As we’ve said before in this story, it’s the way in which the torque kicks in as you need. The car has launch control and you are really supposed to be able to beat the manual gearbox with the inherent programming. All you really need to do is rev up and then let loose.
Our drive took us on some of Dubai’s busy roads and a stretch that let us open out, but we didn’t get to try out launch control. Shifting through the modes is however as entertaining and you feel the car stiffen up on demand, put its foot down and then growl into the higher speeds. Lateral control is spot on. Apparently the programming is supposed to to be able to automatically declutch if it senses too much oversteer, but that would only happen if you misjudge the curve completely. In the normal quick shift and burst modes where you put the car in Sport or Sport+, tighten up the suspension rebound and go into a series of bends with the wheel on Sport mode, the car feels so well balanced (albeit with a very distinct rear-wheel bias).
What we really missed on the drive was any slopes. That’s the territory where you would really enjoy the car’s grunt, razor-fine handling and instantaneous gearshift responses, as well as your ability to read the weight shift of the body.
If you really want the rear to slide, leave the car on sport+ and floor as you go, it doesn’t have to be too hard. The car offers a good degree of slip control when you turn off stability control but never really lets go altogether.
Additionally the car has engineered creep built in, something that can be triggered from the accelerator and that is supposed to be useful in car parks and such.
The seating position is quite suitable to the bulk of human shapes, but the M2 doesn’t really peg itself out to be a ladies car. The seat should be snug and supportive but that presupposes that you are of a certain mass and height. Legroom in the rear is quite restricted, although it does have better than expected headroom.
Frankly there is not much of an argument over whether or not the carshould be on your shopping list. If you can afford to buy a car in the mid-twenty thousand rials segment and you really like your driving, the M2 should be one of the choices. While it does not have the raw thrill factor of the RS3, it does feel more together than the A45 and brings with it a level of aspiration as well. It is bound to this feel that somehow you are going to progress up the value chain from the M2 to the M3 and thereon.
As for us, the reason we love the BMW M2 is that it fits so well into our ideal of a car with a performance envelope that grows with your skills, allowing you to make mistakes and still offering that extra bit of challenge that seems like it will max out around the next corner.