The new Competition version of the M2 – which is the new M2 – is better in every way, and is worth every penny of its modest price increase. Yes, really. By Georg Kacher
WHERE’S THE CATCH? A seriously upgraded M2 at a barely increased price sounds too good to be true, and yet here it is in the howling, screeching, thrilling metal.
The new M2 Competition isn’t a special version of the M2 – it replaces the M2. BMW needed to do some work on the M2 to satisfy the latest emissions
regulations, and while they had the spanners out they gave it a massive perfor- mance upgrade. And, even more wonderfully, they have imposed only the most modest of price rises – less than £3000 for UK buyers.
What you get is essentially the familiar M2 but with the old M240i-based engine replaced by the M3/M4 engine, the key difference being twin turbochargers, not the M2’s single twin- scroll turbo. Power is up by 40bhp to 405bhp.
You also get a new exhaust, the engine brace from the M3/M4, new bodywork, new wheels, lowered suspension and even a new paint choice, Stuttgart Silver. It’s still rear-wheel drive, and has a choice of six-speed manual or seven-speed DCT twin-clutch automatic, the latter costing £2125 more. You might also want to opt for the £2095 Driver’s Package, which ups the top speed from 155mph to 174mph. Or you might not.?
The spirit of the M2 dates back to the 1600ti, 323i and the early M3s. It took BMW until 2011 to release its first modern entry-level M car in the shape of the 1-series M coupe, which was denied the M1 badge but could have worn it hap- pily. Further options arrived in the form of the M140i/240i, and finally in 2015 the 365bhp M2 debuted, the car that’s now being replaced by the 405bhp Competition. It’s a great family tree.
The M2 no longer exists but the M240i does, and that’s about £9k less than the cheapest M2 Competition. You’d be very happy with the M240i… unless you’d driven the M2 Competi- tion, which is better in every way.
It really is a remarkable package: faster, sportier, more pure, although still happy as an everyday road car, albeit one that’s short on rear legroom and on the noisy side.
Is it in fact better than the M4? It’s certainly close. The bigger car is more expensive, and a little quicker. But when you’re driving the M2 Competition the feeling is hard to beat. Being smaller than the M3, M4 and M5 it’s more chuckable and invigoratingly raw.
The M2 Competition is about as subtle as a rocket launch. There is barely enough front bumper left to accommodate the multiple air intakes, and we quickly stopped counting the numerous flares, spoilers and splitters. Among the more subtle bodywork upgrades are a wider grille, a shiny black full-width diffuser and a neat quad-tailpipe arrangement.
Inside, the M2 is a 240i with a twist. You get bespoke seats, fresh instrument graphics and higher-grade trim, but the cockpit design is es- sentially unchanged and thus fast approaching its best-before date.
Hit the red starter button, then take a mo- ment to listen to the idle speed which runs at an elevated 1200rpm for about 20 seconds when the engine is cold, to bring the catalysts up to temperature faster. Even though the straight-six is a melodic bit of kit, it does not sound quite as vocal as its predecessor. M division boss Frank van Meel assures me there’s a sports exhaust being developed ‘which won’t disappoint’.
Which to buy – six-speed manual trans- mission or seven-speed DCT? It’s a very tough choice. The manual shifter may add two tenths to the acceleration time, but a stopwatch is the wrong instrument to gauge the rewards of the interaction between brain and hand, and clutch foot and throttle foot. At any rate, the difference between 4.4 and 4.2sec to 62mph is negligible.
So, off we go, manual version first. This clutch is light, smooth and talkative. The gearchange action is fast and positive. Full marks also to the throttle response, which is fast but never jerky. Below 2000rpm, the powerplant holds back and works to rule, but as soon as the torque express starts rolling the M2 Competition peels tarmac.
BMW M2 COMPETITION DCT
Sixth gear goes easy on your wallet but doesn’t let you make the most of this fine engine, which is a waste. At the other end of the scale, first gear is short enough to make the 265/35 R19 Pirellis scramble for traction big time, while third is spot-on for twisty roads, letting you tap into maximum torque.
Paddleshifting has its advantages, and not just the marginal on-paper performance gains. On the track, and for faster road driving, being able to keep both hands on the wheel at all times does help, and the speedy seamless shift action helps you plot a flawlessly flowing line. Around town, too, auto shifting is more relaxing.
The M2 Competition follows the M-car trend of having two M buttons on the steering wheel, allowing you to store your favoured settings. They also let you increase the shift speed of the DCT in three steps from laid-back to hurry-up.
There’s a separate ESP switch, but everything else related to driving dynamics can be grouped under the M1 and M2 mode selectors. Don’t for- get to dial in MDM (M Dynamic Mode) which is high on entertainment yet relatively low on risk, allowing more wheelspin via later DSC intervention.
While the redline sits way above the clouds at 7600rpm, anything over 5250rpm – where the power and torque curves intersect – is noisy Wagnerian encore. Greedy, too; we’re running on empty after only 180 miles in rural Spain, mostly on twisty roads where you’ll never get close to the 174mph top speed of the Driver’s Package.
The M2 is shorter and narrower than the M4, but is only 20kg lighter. That sounds like a bad thing, but no sooner have you started fretting about the downsides of excessive mass than the thought is banished by the spell the Competition casts on every one of your six senses. It quickly demon- strates that what stiffens up the front axle and the engine compartment is muscle, not fat; that taking off like a fighter plane from an aircraft carrier is due to the trick active M differ- ential, not just launch control; and that carrying all that speed through corners is thanks to the painstak- ingly recalibrated chassis, not only the wider 245/35 R19 front tyres.
This is extreme but easily accessible M buttons on the wheel allow rapid switching between favoured modes dynamic brilliance. You’re not insulated or isolated from the road; the M2 Competition only makes sense if you’re prepared to engage with it, rather than expect it to coddle you. Which is another way of saying that the ride comfort is nothing special; that cornering grip at the limit varies significantly with the surface; and that the rear end will squirm when pushed. At any speed, it’s no fan of longitudinal grooves, radical camber variations and transverse challenges like cattle grids.
More fun, speed and excitement for a little more money
Lacks a stealth mode
Costs half as much as an M5, is about 85 per cent as rewarding
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Any car’s traction and roadholding depend to a large extent on tyre performance, and that’s particularly noticeable here. It pays to pace yourself; on a track, going easy on the front tyres in your early laps will pay you back later on when you’ve got your eye in and you’ll be glad you’ve got the grip available to let you exploit the performance.
Similarly, on those second-gear corners that snake up and down Spanish hills, nursing the rear tyres makes all the difference.
The brakes, too, will after a while also feel the stress and the heat. Absolute stopping power does not suffer that much under pressure, but it takes a firmer stab to summon it, the pedal travel increases by half an inch or so, and the ABS is almost constantly on the alert.
So inevitably you start wondering if van Meel is cooking up an even racier lightweight two-seat M2 GTS with carbon-ceramic brakes. Which might be even more fun in those more extreme moments. But it would undoubtedly also be much more expensive. As things stand, the M2 Competition is an astonishing performance car at a remarkably reasonable price.