First Drive: 2023 BMW M2
The former baby of the German marque’s motorsport-inspired M line has grown up.
When the original BMW M2 debuted back in 2016, it was widely hailed as a return to form. The perception had been that icons like the M3 and M5 had become too complex for their own good, and that the M division’s long-standing strategy of blending cogent performance with a brilliantly balanced chassis had been tossed out the window. Instead, it seemed the modus operandi was to add an ever-expanding list of features (and the weight they brought with them), which was in turn countered by piling on the horsepower.
Regardless of the merits of those accusations (which conveniently ignore the fact that shifts in design philosophy tend to be driven by consumer preferences), the initial M2 felt like a direct response. It was tangibly smaller, lighter, and simpler than the M4 of the day, and its price reflected the perceptible gap in performance, amenities, and cachet between this new entry-level M coupe and its bigger brother. And while the M2 Competition and M2 CS variants ushered in more features and performance over the years, that internal hierarchy still remained intact. But now, with the introduction of the second-generation M2, it seems like that sibling dynamic has changed. This no longer feels like a stepping stone toward an end goal in the M roster. The M2 has become the destination.
The first evidence of the M2’s upstaging potential comes from its size. The new car is 10 cm longer, 3 cm wider, and 0.7 cm lower than its predecessor, dimensions which make this M2 slightly larger than an E46-generation M3 by every measure. Its wheelbase has grown by 2.1 inches as well, and these expanded dimensions collectively make the vehicle feel less like a sophisticated alternative to a hot hatch and more like a sports car with some grand touring intent.
Like many models in the current BMW portfolio, the M2’s makeover has also yielded a significantly more daring appearance. Bulging fenders, massive air intakes, and squared-off bodywork give the second-generation of the M2 the look of a dressed-down DTM racer, and it’s a significant departure from the relatively anonymous design of the first-generation car. The fact that its nose did not suffer a fate similar to the latest M3 and M4, though, indicates that BMW is getting a better sense of the public’s aesthetic tolerances, and for that we are thankful.
The model’s brawny new look is also backed up by some formidable hardware. Its 3.0-litre, twin-turbocharged inline six-cylinder S58 engine is a variant of the mill used in the latest M4, and here it dishes out 453 hp and 550 Nm of torque. These figures make the base 2023 BMW M2 even more powerful than the hardcore, limited-production M2 CS from 2020.
The grunt is sent exclusively to the rear wheels through either a six-speed manual transmission or an eight-speed automatic, but you can expect a seriously quick machine regardless of which gearbox you choose. During straight-line sprints with our manual-equipped test car out in the Arizona desert, the new M2’s acceleration felt noticeably more urgent than the 470 hp Ford Mustang Mach 1 that we recently drove, and perhaps only half a step behind the stunningly rapid second-generation M4. Given the M2’s size, it might be easy to assume that it has a power-to-weight advantage over those larger models, but it officially tips the scales at 1730 kg, so the difference in heft between the three is actually pretty negligible. And as such, it drives like a performance coupe that weighs nearly two tons.
Adaptive suspension was previously exclusive to the M2 CS, but it’s now standard equipment for this iteration. That’s a welcome upgrade from the non-adaptive-suspension setups on the original M2 and M2 Competition, of course, but because it’s tasked with controlling a pretty significant amount of mass here, the ride is pretty firm even in its most relaxed setting. However, the coupe does earn points back for excellent chassis balance and strong braking performance, and the longer wheelbase makes it easier to manage the back end near the limits of grip.
The M2’s expanded footprint also makes the interior feel more spacious, and the revamped digs make it a generally more inviting place to spend some time. The same expansive BMW Curved Display and iDrive 8 infotainment system that you’ll find in the new flagship XM SUV is standard equipment in the new M2. And although it isn’t without its flaws—our kingdom for iDrive 7’s physical climate control buttons—the 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster and 14.9-inch touchscreen give the interior an upscale, tech-driven look.
Like the M4, the M2 can now be optioned with track-ready M Carbon bucket seats instead of the redesigned standard M Sport seats. Then there’s the optional carbon roof. The standard roof has an electrically operated moonroof which cannot be deleted, so the carbon roof is the only way to avoid the performance penalty of additional weight above your head, as well as the probable loss of an inch or two of headroom as a result of the moonroof’s assembly.
The carbon roof is actually one of the few must-have features that isn’t standard equipment on the latest M2. Along with the Curved Display, adaptive suspension, and the myriad of performance upgrades that comprise the package itself, a Harmon Kardon premium audio system, heated front seats, LED headlights, and all manner of M-related aesthetic enhancements are also included by default, and that means that a well-equipped example should command an MSRP of about $97,000 before destination.
Considering that an unrestrained run at the M4’s options sheet can send its price into six-figure territory, and how little this car gives up to its more-esteemed stablemate in terms of both performance and amenities, the M2 feels like a bargain. While it might not be the same back-to-basics machine that it once was, or as readily tossed around the road, it has matured into a seriously impressive sports coupe that’s capable of punching well above its weight class.
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