BMW M2 Competition review: 7 reasons it is a future classic
History will be kind to the BMW M2 Competition. It marks the moment BMW effectively out-Porsched Porsche. It’s a Cayman rival with a six-cylinder engine at a time when Porsche’s baby sports car range is mostly equipped with banal-sounding four-cylinder engines.
But for now, the M2 Competition isn’t part of history because you can still buy one, and I’m not here to be kind. Yet it’s still an incredible car.
Having spent a week slithering around in some of the worst autumn weather the UK’s ever seen, here are seven reasons why.
It takes an already brilliant car closer to perfection
The common or garden M2 was a good car. Despite being the entry-level car in BMW’s performance range of M cars, it ticked just about all of the boxes that mark out the best fast cars from Beemer’s back catalogue. It had wonderfully balanced handling, a slightly lairy rear-wheel-drive attitude to cornering and BMW’s trademark spot-on driving position. But it wasn’t perfekt. The engine was merely a warmed-over version of the M240i’s fairly ordinary N55 single turbocharged six-cylinder, which meant that it put out decent power but didn’t really sound exciting or put the willies up you when you floored it.
The M2 Competition, then, fixes those flaws. It gets the outgoing M3 and M4’s S55 twin-turbo six-cylinder engine detuned to 410hp, and it feels a lot more like a bespoke M engine. Because it is. With 550Nm it’s incredibly torquey, and the turbos kick in with real aggression above 2,000rpm, overwhelming the fat rear tyres in third gear when the road isn’t perfectly dry. It’ll get to 62mph in 4.4 seconds if you go for the manual, or 4.2 seconds with the superb DCT dual-clutch auto. Yet it still cruises with barely any revs on the clocks in top gear.
But it’s not as scary
When they first came out, the outgoing M3 and M4 from which the M2 Competition nicks its engine were pretty terrifying cars to drive quickly. The then-new turbocharged straight-six had such instant torque at low revs you’d find yourself kicking the back end out when you’d least expect it.
The brakes work incredibly on the road – a few owners have noted that they get a bit overworked on track
Somehow, despite the M2 Comp’s shorter wheelbase than the M3 and M4, it doesn’t feel as unpredictable when you put your foot down. BMW’s imbued the M2 Comp with outstanding buttfeel, so you can sense when the rear tyres are going to start spinning and adjust your throttle inputs accordingly.
It isn’t the sort of car you can always go flat-out in
Unlike an Audi RS 3 with its four-wheel-drive system, the M2 can’t be approached with a gung-ho approach to the accelerator pedal. It’s been engineered to be exceptionally engaging and speak to serious helmsmiths who understand physics – it hasn’t been designed to patronise good drivers. You find yourself building up to going quickly in it, always with the notion that it’s a powerful, rear-wheel-drive car with a short wheelbase in the back of your mind.
It absolutely isn’t for everyone and you have to read the road conditions and adjust your speed to suit. Or you’ll end up in a hedge.
You can drive it neat or loose – but always fast
Plonked low in the M2 Comp’s cabin with the steering wheel pulled all the way out into your lap you feel as if you’re in a proper sports car – the motoring equivalent of pulling on your favourite slippers. If you’re 6’3” or so the wheel will block the tops of the speedo and rev-counter dials, but that’s about the only ergonomic flaw. Being so at ease behind the M2’s not-too-chunky wheel quickly encourages you to press on a bit, spurred on by the wonderful way the straight six goes from a chesty growl to a not-quite howl at the top end of the rev range. Yes, a naturally aspirated engine from BMW’s history books would sound better, but such are the turbocharged times we live in.
Did I mention the weather was diabolical for the week I had the M2? I was also very ill. Send your small violins to the DT office
You have to commend BMW for giving you such a good sense of what the front and back wheels are doing, through the wheel as well as your buttocks. And those messages are usually saying ‘go on, you’ve got loads of grip to lean on’. Which means that you can drive it in a fast, pointy manner like a 911, sensing the fantastic electronic locking rear differential hunting out grip for you. Yes, the rear tyres will spin up at 50mph on part throttle in the wet. But be more considered and you can link your degrees of foot movement to the rear tyres’ grip. You can be precise and carve a neat, tidy and devastatingly fast line through corners and roundabouts.
Or you can move the weight of the car about more on the brakes and then adjust the angle of the car using the throttle, hammering at the redline and smoking the rear tyres like a loon.
The dual-clutch gearbox is how all autos should be
That black button below the gear lever adjusts the severity of the shifts and how likely the gearbox is likely to downshift when you accelerate. It's simple but very helpful
This sounds a bit perverse, but in our week with the M2 Comp it’s the automatic gearbox that proved the star of the show.
It doesn’t creep when you come off the brakes which can make reversing into tight spaces a bit of a jerky, teeth-gnashing affair, but it’s otherwise a wonderfully bipolar thing. It’ll shuffle seamlessly between ratios when you just want to drive like a normal person, but it’ll also turn into a ratio-smashing hooligan bastard when you put it in its most severe mode, letting you crash into the 7,600rpm redline if you’re not quick enough on the paddles.
There’s a button just below the old-school phallic gearknob to adjust the severity of the shifts. Which is great, but it also tweaks how willingly the box downshifts when you floor the throttle. This means you can actually leave it in a fairly numb setting and enjoy accelerating on the engine’s torque rather than eliciting an unwanted downshift or two when you’re pulling onto the motorway. It leaves you feeling far more in control than an RS 3’s gearbox. It is excellent.
It’s more practical than you’d think
Sure, the M2 Comp’s based on the old 2 Series Coupe bodyshell, which means it only has two doors (three if you’re weird like the rest of the industry and count the boot/trunk). But access to the back seats is still pretty good, thanks to switches on the front seats which fold and slide them. We managed to get an infant’s child seat in the back alongside a human adult, as well as a grown-up in each of the front seats. No one was cramped, and there’s a very generously sized boot. If you have a baby yet still want a sports car, this is where your money should go.
The interior’s fine
Sure, it doesn’t have the latest infotainment tech that you’ll find in the new 3 Series, but everything in the M2’s cabin is perfectly fine and you won’t feel short-changed. The infotainment screen is sharp and ridiculously quick to use. Weirdly, the DAB radio list is the fastest we’ve ever flicked through. You can go from Radio 1 to Gaydio in the blink of an eye. Yes it’s a weird honour, but it’s just another area where the M2 is very good. The only real failing is that the doors don't have cutouts for your hands when you're swinging them open – there's no little recess built into the door-side armrest. And odd miss, and one that makes opening the doors gently a little tricky.
The BMW M2 Competition is an outrageously fun little sports car. In many ways it’s like an angry badger – it’s small, but packs an outrageous amount of power into its muscular frame. Yet it’s also a car that you can learn over time, and you find yourself peeling back an extra layer of its talent on every drive as you bond with it. And if that isn’t the mark of an outstanding car that’ll go down in history as a classic, I don’t know what is.