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2023 BMW M2 review: International pre-production first ride

Things we like

  • Fantastic in-line six
  • Performance almost equal to M3/M4
  • A blue chip investment
  • Guaranteed to put a smile on your face

Not so much

  • Has four seats but only two doors and is no packaging miracle
  • No flying carpet over rough terrain
  • Liability to bite back when teased
  • High insurance premium

Snapshot

  • 343 kW, 550 Nm 3.0-litre twin-turbo on board
  • Australian timing TB, but probably 2023
  • …this is the last non-hybrid M car

Like father Like Son.

The new 2023 BMW M2 is a scaled-down M4 – just less pricey and even more boastful. We drive it on the high-speed Salzburgring race track on the hottest spring day in history.

The starting formation on the makeshift grid is an odd mix of nearly new and gaudy unfinished metal. The pair of thinly veiled M2 pre-production cars – one manual and one automatic – are led by a hyper-blue M4 Competition with Dirk Häcker, chief engineer of the BMW M division, at the wheel.

I’m right behind him in the louder of the two M2s, wearing a psychedelic multi-blue, multi-pattern livery: Charlie Brown is sharing a joint with Winnie the Pooh, if you know what I mean.

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In the rearview mirror looms the other M2 large, LED lights dressed in the brand’s generic swirly trompe d’oeil shrink wrap, which reveals more than it hides once your eyes have figured out how to separate shapes from surfaces.

Full concentration now, Georg! Concentrate on the track and stop playing brain games. Driving position? To check. mirrors? To check. Cabin temperature? Up to 20°C, check. It’s already 33°C outside, and lunchtime is still an hour away. Radio? To check.

“Clear clear for the acclimatization round.” Understand that, car number one.

The Salzburgring is nestled in a scenic secluded valley east of, you guessed it, Salzburg. Birthplace of Mozart and the confectionery of the same name.

The track has a very long elevated straight, two reasonably fast 120-degree turns at either end, a small infield filled with some tortuous stuff and the extra-wide start-finish boulevard from which a retrofit chicane takes you to the third and final flat section.

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Sounds and looks pretty simple, but when you first fly over the fastest blind eyebrow at an indicated 260 km/h, be ready to brake as hard as you can for the next panoramic right-hander who’s almost come full circle before turning off direction changes, heart and throat temporarily change into one big wet and heavy wad of flesh.

On lap three Herr Häcker finally pushes through, the M4 brake lights now pulse regularly as we approach the trickier bits, the more aggressive power-on antics leaving subtle black tire marks on the tarmac, the M4’s power and torque advantage opening up slightly larger gaps under hard acceleration.

With 343 kW, the 3.0-litre twin-turbo mounted on the new M2 is 15 kW less powerful than the motor installed in the base M3/M4. Maximum torque, however, is an identical 550 Nmavailable from 2250rpm, so you get the exact same bottom end punch, just in a tighter package.

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However, the larger car retains a weight advantage of 35kg, which is largely due to a mix of more expensive and more exotic low-calorie materials. While homologation is not yet complete, the M2 will tip the scales at 1,810kg, sources say.

At an expected 4.2 seconds from 0-100 km/hthe version equipped with the eight-speed Steptronic automatic transmission corresponds to the acceleration time registered for the M4 with a manual transmission. The preliminary number for the DIY M2 is 4.5 seconds.

While the M4 with driver package can reach a top speed of 290 km/h, its more compact sister model throws in the towel at 286 km/h.

The difference in performance between the two models is thus marginal and more politically motivated than observable on the road and track. The same goes for the three-tenths that sets the two-pedal M2 apart from the three-pedal variant.

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Despite the minor math drawback, the manual feels more inspiring and engaging overall, and it’s clear that eight ratios – one more than before – are by no means obligated to spread all that grunt evenly across a nearly identical speed spectrum.

While M3 and M4 are also available with xDrive AWD technology, the M2 has rear-wheel drive only, as the ultimate descendant of the legendary BMW 2002tii should be.

This layout will also carry over to the brawnier – did we hear someone say 365kW? – CS derivative expected during model year 2024.

Built in San Luis Potosi, Mexico, the most powerful 2 Series coupe to date – essentially – shares the adaptive M suspension, M compound brakes and variable M steering with its more expensive brethren.

Thanks to an extensive Efficient Dynamics package, the predicted average fuel consumption is a relatively planet-friendly 9.9 l/100 km.

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Both prototypes were shod with an extra wide unequal size Michelin tires (275/35 ZR19 up front, 285/30 ZR20 in rear), but we suspect the base model will leave the factory on slightly less beefy 18- or 19-inchers.

You can’t see it, but the M2 pictured here has the optional lightweight carbon fiber roof and garish carbon fiber racing seats, also an extra.

The electric buckets may save weight over the standard comfort seats, but their radically sculpted shape won’t suit every body, and the contrasting yellow, green, orange or blue leather trim is certainly more dominant than Dreamliner.

The widescreen instrument cluster contains most of the specific infotainment goodies seen on other M cars, the center tunnel again houses the pleasingly fail-safe iDrive controller, there are plenty of direct access buttons to avoid getting lost in one of the many sub-menus, and the gearshift is, of course, the old-fashioned kind – no joystick, no automatic clutch, no electric reverse but always on-demand coasting with the transmission in neutral.

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That said, coastal shipping is not on the menu today. What we’ve prepared for you instead is precise upshifts right on the red line, sending massive amounts of torque to the high-mech diff and its electronic helpers, plus of course the full range of power-on and power-off antics .

But first and foremost, the three drivers need to agree on a rhythm and establish a flow, then follow the groove while setting a pace that everyone is comfortable with. There’s no denying that manual shifting is more of an emotional act than a tangible benefit.

The automatic transmission is a great everyday stress reliever, but lacks the sharp edges, fine motor skills and deep commitment to do all the interactive work yourself.

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In theory, the manual transmission loses time to its automatic counterpart because each gear – up and down – takes just a little longer. In reality, however, much of it can be recovered through intelligent timing and coordinated action accordingly.

Even with war paint all over the face, the new M2 looks intriguingly different from its narrower and taller predecessor.

Deeper spoilers and more wind deflectors, wider skirts, bolder flares, thicker wheels, the substantial rear diffuser, boot lid mounted air dam, sharper grille, darker lights, lowered suspension – this model has the full M body kit, which is not subtle but quite substantial and very effective.

The same goes for the chassis, both in detail and as a whole. Improved stiffness and torsional rigidity allow for flatter cornering habits, as well as more grip and traction compared to the M240i.

While the M4 looked perfectly composed from the back with the R&D chief in charge, the M2 definitely felt more playful and it would happily accept all the acreage it could get. The secret is in the mix.

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Time the turn-in to perfection, make sure the steering angle is absolutely right, synchronize throttle input to fine-tune momentum, and you don’t have to sacrifice a single tenth. But if the line is wrong or the entry speed is wrong, everything that follows falls apart: braking point, weight transfer, composure, grip, exit speed and ultimately driver confidence.

Watching the guy behind me lose his baby nearly twice before finally spinning around just confirmed that the M2 can turn from Bambi to Beast with the stability control turned off and the driver’s right hoof cut free from the black box inside their heads.

Due to the two angles of third gear, the dividing line between eventual understeer and early oversteer was surprisingly narrow and tortuous. Not only from the vantage point of the M2, but also if you look at the M4 in front making the exact same moves.

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Dirk Häcker described this attitude towards interaction at different moments in time as intriguing, delicate, malleable, merging and interactive. We would call it very involved and praise the manual transmission for its connecting talents, while the laissez faire car tends to hold the car on a longer but less precise line.

The steering feels a little beefier than the M240i and a little more centered than the M4, with the muscular, ventilated steel brakes getting a little heavy when pressed. The ride is undisturbed on the track, but knobby and not exactly quiet on the rim roads.

Like the M3 and M4, the M2 is the last of its kind.

If there is a next-generation M2, it will undoubtedly be all-electric, complete with all the associated pros and cons.

While the bigger sister models are an acquired taste in front-end design, the tiniest fish in the M pond will give the taste committee no cause for complaint.

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It’s too early to give a price, but when the first production cars arrive in late fall, they’re sure to undercut between €20K and €25K (AU$30-37K).

After an hour and two car changes, we are now back for good at the pits, inspecting tires that reportedly had completed a staggering 320 laps but were still deemed suitable for the final group of journalists, as were the original brake discs and pads.

So, M4 or M2…which one to take?

The M4 as a second or third car if you can stretch to the CSL or fancy a soft-top. The M2 gets the wink when the fun factor is more important than lap times and absolute performance.

Give up the manual gearbox at no extra cost and you have a reasonably priced instant classic with no waiting list. Truly a no-brainer.

Things we like

  • Fantastic in-line six
  • Performance almost equal to M3/M4
  • A blue chip investment
  • Guaranteed to put a smile on your face

Not so much

  • Has four seats but only two doors and is no packaging miracle
  • No flying carpet over rough terrain
  • Liability to bite back when teased
  • High insurance premium