We live in a world of infinite wants and finite resources. Excuse the textbook lesson, but it is this very principle that defines an “economic problem”, a theory that can be applied to almost any industry or product. The reason for this concept existing is simple, human nature dictates that we always desire more than we already have. Do not for a second think that this does not relate to the automotive world.
Back in 2010 BMW announced that they were going to launch an M variant of the rather timid 1 Series Coupe, something the company had never done before. Many were sceptical and dubious of what the final product would be like. Their scepticism was quickly replaced with sheer awe and a strong desire to own the 335 horsepower twin-turbocharged brute. The rear wheel drive, manual transmission 1 Series M Coupe became an instant success and was hailed BMWs greatest creation since the E46 M3 CSL. Everyone wanted a slice of the action, but BMW stated that they would limit 1M Coupe production to just 2,700 units globally. The demand was so strong for the pocket rocket that by the end of its production life more than 6,300 rolled off the line. As a result of its cult following and hero status, the 1M Coupe has become an icon and used prices now exceed the prices of what a new 1M cost.
There are very few 1M Coupes on the markets today, but the urge for many individuals to own such a car never relented. When BMW unveiled the M135i hatch and M235i Coupe many leaped at the opportunity to own a car with a hope that it would have a hint of the magic that made the 1M the poster car it is to this day, I should know, I bought an M135i. However great these cars are, they could never match the magic of a fully fledged and badged M car. When the M3 and M4 were released they received mixed reviews and would never be able to fill the shoes that the 1M left behind as a pure and entertaining drivers car.
It has been six years, but finally, BMW have created a successor to the mighty 1M, meet the 2016 BMW M2 and I flew over to the West Coast of the United States to put the new kid on the block through its paces for a few days. Before grabbing the keys or even laying eyes on the M2 in the flesh, I was well aware of the pressure this car would be facing upon its inception. When first being unveiled at the Detroit Motor Show 2016 opinions were already split.
As with the 1M, the style was a talking point, particularly the gaping air intakes in the front bumper. Additionally, their was the option to spec the car with a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic and the car is not a limited run special like the 1M Coupe, it will be built for as long as the 2 Series exists. Following the sightings of dozens of test mules and official launch, many salivated at the prospect of a 365 horsepower straight 6 engine dropped into a compact sport coupe body that had been scorched with the typical M traits in design and chassis balance.
The figures are impressive considering the M2 is the entry level car in the M range, the car feels every bit as fast as BMW quote – 0-100 km/h with the M DCT gearbox flashes by in 4.3 seconds and 4.7 with the standard manual transmission. At the top end it is business as usual with the car being limited to 250 km/h with the optional M Drivers Package raising that figure to 270 km/h.
Of course, being an M car, significant changes have been made all over, not just to the power plant. The swollen and desperately cool rear arches are not just for show, in comparison to the M235i the rear axle has got a 45mm wider rear track and an additional 55mm at the front. There are new suspension set ups and the M2 borrows the brakes from its bigger brothers, the M3/4. Significantly, there is a new Active M Differential that is able to lock to 100% in 150 milliseconds.
With such pulse raising performance figures and new technical features, BMW invited me to test the M DCT equipped M2 on a circuit that many of you may know from the likes of GranTurismo, Forza or a number of other simulation games, Laguna Seca. This is a circuit that features a number of different sections that allowed me to see how the car managed its power combined with its surprising kerb weight of 1,565 kilograms in manual form – only a shave lighter than the M4.
The first session out on track was led by none other than DTM driver and ex Formula 1 racer, Timo Glock. As you would imagine, the pace was not exactly sluggish so after two laps to learn the track and trying not to close my eyes going through the corkscrew things got serious. As the lap counter ticked over through the 30 minute session the M2 continuously inspired me to push harder and harder. The performance and balance is astonishing. The front end is immediate to react, understeer is virtually absent and will only thwart progress when entering a corner much faster that you should be.
The M DCT gearbox, the only transmission on offer at the circuit, did not let me down, it was sharp and fantastically quick. The option of having the DCT on the circuit was something I thought would detract from the experience, but through such high speed bends and tremendous elevation changes it allowed me to focus and attempt to master the track. Over the undulations and compressions of the frantically quick circuit the car had me gleaming with joy, it is so controllable, the steering is very quick but not once did aggressive direction changes upset the car. The traction is immense, coming out of the last corner in 2nd gear you can be fairly liberal with the power without the tail stepping out, the differential does a great job to keep you pointing in the right direction under harsh acceleration. Many were surprised to see that carbon ceramic brakes were not on offer but the traditional brakes, taken from the M3/4, never had me thinking that I needed more. The car is an absolute joy on circuit.
Following my three memorable sessions out on track, it was time to take the M2 out onto the road to see if the glorious track experiences could be transferred to the road. Where the media were only given access to the M DCT on the track, the road test would only be with manual transmission cars. My initial impressions when leaving the circuit car park were that the clutch has weight to it but would not become tiresome. The gearshift was fairly short and felt sporty. The prescribed route took me over some of the most famous roads in America, not least the legendary Pacific Highway 1 that straddles the ocean and features some sensational viewing points along the way.
The roads surface was well maintained and the car felt just as poised and sharp as it did on track that morning. The downside, inevitably, was the firmness of the ride. If driving in places with sketchy road surfaces, such as the UK, I suspect the ride could become a little overbearing and there are no adjustable dampers available.
As a result of its astonishing views and natural beauty, the road was fairly busy and there were dozens of locals and tourists parked at the sides of the road to take in the majestic views. As I pulled over, to do the same, it was clear that the M2 is clearly a crowd pleaser. Reactions were very positive and many commented on just how good Long Beach Blue looked on the mini M car, the other options are black, a dark grey and white. The styling, to my eyes at least, is very impressive. The car looks taught and purposeful, the aggression levels are high but have not been taken too far.
The BMW M2 was destined to be a brilliant car. The combination of its performance figures, drivetrain and styling all brought together in one compact sports coupe meant I went over to California with extremely high expectations. When asked for my first impressions by the BMW M team upon leaving the car after the first track session I struggled to string together a clumsy sentence that could convey just how good the car had felt.
When you consider competitors of the M2 you will likely think of three cars. The Porsche Cayman range can be linked in the context of its sportiness and handling, but in terms of practicality it cannot compete. The Mercedes-Benz A45 AMG and Audi RS3 may also spring to mind, but dynamically neither can compete with the M2 with its superior agility, rear wheel drive layout and the availability of a manual transmission. From a visual perspective I think the M2 certainly stands out from the competition.
The BMW M2 took my high expectations and blew them out of the water. That is not to say that it is perfect. As previously mentioned, I fear the ride may be a little taxing over longer journeys and the interior is certainly something that deserved more attention. Cover the carbon inserts and M badges and you could be in any other 1 or 2 Series model. These are points that I have had to think hard to make, but both were rendered irrelevant to me as I found an open section of California road and was able to enjoy the astonishing feeling of joy that this car delivers when you focus on breaking points and apexes.
The car is so inspiring, it yearns to be driven hard and never puts a foot wrong when you do. It seems I am not the only one that dreams to own such a car, run to your dealer and put the money down and you will have to wait to until 2017 to receive your M2. I am fortunate enough to know that it will be well worth the wait.