Words Dan Clow. Pics Chris Wallbank
If you’re lucky enough to own the new M2, you’ll perhaps be considering a few subtle enhancements. First for many is an exhaust upgrade – but which is the best way to go? We join serial supercar tuner Litchfield as they work through their own development programme for this most tuneable of platforms.
It's not often that an M2 is the poor relation in the workshop!
With the launch of the M2, many journos agreed that BMW had indeed rediscovered the mojo behind chuckable greats like the E30 M3 and M Coupe. A compact package (with a small ‘c’), a sublime chassis, and a simply operatic and energetic powerplant. In all the right ways, it was very much 1987 all over again…
An entertaining car deserves an entertaining soundtrack, so understandably, many M2 owners are making an exhaust upgrade the first box they tick. The factory soundtrack is pretty decent ‘out of the box’ – but who doesn’t want a little more of that? Or better still, a few extra ponies to boot?
It seems like BMW has remembered what makes a great, small, light compact powerhouse.
Gloucestershire based tuner Litchfield was one of the first UK outfits to take delivery of an M2, following a simply joyous development period with its previous 235i – which proved to do everything brilliantly – particularly when tuned - and became a rolling testbed for all that the firm now has to offer.
M People... the fastest kind...
Knowing that their clientele would soon be wanting to up the exhaust ante, Litchfield ordered the M-Sport option for their own car, as well as obtaining the original system in order to allow them to do a true back-to-back test alongside the Akrapovič system they were going to offer as part of their M2 tuning programme.
Stock, M-Performance and Akrapovic... but which one is best?
In each case, the options would be test fitted, run on Litchfield’s super-accurate twin-retarder Maha dyno set-up and then analysed for noise, torque and power. In addition to that, the ‘X’ factor would also be taken into account… and that’s ‘does it look and sound good?’ A subjective measurement, of course, but perhaps the most important one of all!
Twin retarder Maha dyno is the same as the one in Munich - and a handy bench-marking tool
To begin with, the original system was put back on to set a true benchmark. As you might expect, and with tongue firmly in cheek, this fitted very well indeed… almost as if the factory had put it there, in fact. A swift dyno run revealed the car to pull almost a precise factory output figure of 363bhp (the brochure quotes 365bhp). All ship-shape so far.
The standard exhaust sounds great for a stocker, but it's merely the entree...
Next up would be the rather lovely looking M-Sport Performance Exhaust package. Specify this at your local dealer and you’ll walk out some £2,899 lighter, but on the upside, what you do get in return is rather special. Fit and function, is of course, totally perfect and the way that the trims sit neatly in the rear bumper aperture is a thing of beauty.
The 'M' part really looks and feels special - and makes the most glorious noise.
This upgrade is a great example for sticking with the mighty ‘M’, with beautifully finished carbon outer trims and well-detailed embossed logos to show your friends that you’ve made a good choice. To be fair though, that last point is unrequired – all you really have to do is start the thing up… the sonorous burble will tell them all is not stock underneath. The M-Sport upgrade offers more of everything the factory system has; a nicer, deeper bark and growl, a fabulous rasp through each gear – and the feeling that the car is faster somehow. Well, loud exhausts always sound faster don’t they?
Test, test and test again, Litchfield's OCD test protocol is an industry leader.
BMW markets this part as a styling and acoustic upgrade only, making absolutely no claims of increased performance in any way – and on that basis, it scores full marks. It looks brilliant, it sounds awesome and it really suits the car. And that’s the only downside to this upgrade, really - despite ticking almost every visual and aural checklist, it doesn’t offer any dynamic increase at all.
You really want the video version of this, don't you?
So where does that leave the enthusiast that wants all of the above, plus a little extra shove at the same time? According to Litchfield, the answer comes from Akrapovič – a name that should leave little introduction to the well-heeled enthusiast. As with many things in life, these are not cheap upgrades, but it’s fair to say, that one does tend to get what one pays for at this end of the market.
A level of fit and finish that justifies the price...
Going toe to toe with Munich’s finest would be the admittedly more expensive – and wonderfully light – Akrapovič Evolution Line Titanium offering. Even in this day and age, there’s definitely still a car-park cache to wonder-materials like carbon-fibre and titanium, and these systems also offer a very distinct sound due to this metallurgic marvel having very different resonant frequencies to either steel or stainless.
More titanium, less restriction - with obvious results.
That weight loss isn’t just a gimmick either, with this system hitting the scales at a useful 5.3 kilos less than the original offering, meaning that it will lower the overall mass of the car, ultimately making a small nod towards an overall improvement in dynamics.
Two is always better than one.
As with the BMW parts, full ECE approval comes as standard (one simply doesn’t want any MoT or TUV faff when one has upgraded thus) and the whole set-up was designed and dynoed to work perfectly with the TwinPower Turbo six’s power band – and that’s evident when you have a good squint at the system alongside the other two.
Fit and finish on the Akra is as good as the factory parts - Not a common affliction in the aftermarket.
The Akrapovič features two separate tubes from the downpipe to the muffler – unlike the car’s original single-tube configuration, which clearly offers more flow, with visually pleasing mandrel bends quickly egressing the spent gasses away with the minimum of restriction.
Exhaust gasses leave quickly - and via an attractive looking carbon tailpipe finisher
Fitment wise, it went on just as easily as the previous two choices, which to be fair, at a not insubstantial £3,742.50 plus VAT and fitting, you really would expect it to, but details like the simple ‘plug and play’ hardware to instantly integrate it into the factory Efficient Dynamics system make it clear that it’s all been well thought out.
Once fitted up and settled onto the dyno, we were all keen to hear how it would sound – the M Sport system having set a high benchmark. We were soon to find out! At low speeds, the system has a neat, clipped tone that sounds delightful, without introducing too much noise into the cabin. Pile on the revs a little, however, and that wonderful titanium ‘ring’ makes itself heard through the now fully open valves. It really does sound different, this system and there’s a definite racecar edge to the upper reaches of its range, without the vibration or harshness of a competition machine.
Sublime noise with a wonderful resonant 'ring' - thanks to the titanium pipework.
After a few pulls to guarantee accuracy, the figures came in, with the Akrapovič netting a most useful 10 bhp hike in power, accompanied by a helpful 15 lbft dollop of torque throughout much of the rev range. Not rocket ship numbers, admittedly, but highly respectable for a half system like this – and something that was immediately noticeable when testing was transferred out onto the highway.
Great on the dyno, but so much nicer on the road.
Here, the system really proved its worth – and ticket price – in equal measure. At low speed, and while running around during ‘normal’ driving, it’s an exceptionally civilised affair. Prod the volume switch – or throttle, as it’s more commonly known – and things start to get quite exciting, quite quickly. There’s a fabulous snarl up through each gear, arriving at a barking crescendo that really makes the little M2 sound like something from Maranello, rather than Munich, which certainly adds to the sense of theatre and sheer spectacle of the whole thing.
Am M2. A sublime soundtrack. The perfect Gloucestershire back road - and sunshine. Driving nirvana.
Aldo Gucci famously rehashed Sir Henry Royce’s motto as “Quality is remembered long after price if forgotten,” and I think it’s the perfect maxim for this system.
The fun doesn’t end there, of course. For those needing even more power, Litchfield can offer even better flow with the addition of either sports catted or decatted downpipes, making the car more than ready for even greater power courtesy of a remap.
This was one of the more 'responsible' cornering shots...
Or, if it’s the aesthetic beauty of this system that tickles your fancy, you can go another step with the rather saucy addition of the rear carbon fibre diffuser, as fitted to Litchfield’s own car. Available either in gloss or matte finish it certainly adds a more aggressive demeanour to the rear of the M2 and really provides the perfect framework to display those beautiful tips. And besides, when you’ve splashed out this much, what’s another £742.50 plus VAT between friends?
A truly gorgeous finishing touch that accentuates the tips.
To conclude then, it’s basically a series of rising positives, depending on your budget! In standard trim, the ‘basic’ M2 is probably all the car you’ll ever need. Add a dash of M-Sport style and sound and you’ll revel in a new-found sense of driving immersion, or dig deep, go for the Akrapovič and liven every commute with the titanium equivalent of the London Symphony Orchestra beneath your right foot – with the added option of an extra couple of minute’s lie in each morning.
Dig deep - and go titanium! You won't regret it.
Whichever way you go, you’ll be happy, but if you can stretch to titanium, I promise you, you’ll be delighted…