Driving the All-New BMW M2 at Laguna Seca

BMW enthusiasts talk about old M cars with a light in their eyes. From the first M3, the E30, that garnered a small but fiercely loyal following to the E46 M3 that set a whole new generation clamoring for the performance brand—those early race-inspired street cars still command awe and respect rarely afforded to current models. The all-new BMW M2 (starting at $51,700) rekindles that spark. But, the small performance sports coupe captures the essence of its predecessors in a thoroughly modern way.

Roughly the size of the early M3s, the M2 is also considered a successor to the limited-production 1M, made from 2011 to 2012. The M2’s lines are sharper and more taut than those of the earlier car, and the front air intakes and the bumpers are much more deeply sculpted. “It’s a very puristic car with a great design,” says Frank van Meel, president of BMW’s M division. “What you see is what you get.” BMW keeps it simple with very few options and only four exterior colors, including Long Beach Blue Metallic, the color of our test cars in the pits at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca—our venue for testing the M2’s limits.

The BMW M2 makes you feel like a hero, even if you do not drive like one. The sole power plant is a newly developed 3-liter, turbocharged inline-6 that produces 365 hp and 343 ft lbs of torque, mated to a standard 6-speed manual transmission. Our track cars are equipped with the optional 7-speed dual-clutch transmission, which can propel the M2 from zero to 60 mph in 4.2 seconds.

As we take off from the pit lane, we switch into Sport+ mode for maximum revs and minimal intervention from the electronic stability control system. While the M2 might not have the high horsepower rating of some cars in a similar price range, there is enough power in the straights to trigger a tickle in the pit of your stomach, especially when the over-boost function kicks in with an extra 26 ft lbs of torque between 1,450 and 4,750 rpm. Like the early M3s, the M2’s engine likes to rev high, and does so with a satisfying, resonating exhaust note.

As one would expect from any BMW M car, the M2 handles the corners with grace and agility, thanks in part to its firm, fixed aluminum sport suspension that uses double-joint spring struts in front and a five-link setup in back. (There is no adaptive suspension option as there is with the M3 and M4.) A standard, electronically controlled limited-slip differential, along with Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires, helps deliver the most traction for the fastest exits.

That is not to say the M2 is light. At 3,505 pounds when equipped with the manual transmission, it is more than 200 pounds heavier than the 1M, and only 25 pounds lighter than the M4. (The M2 equipped with the dual-clutch transmission shaves off 50 pounds.) Yet, somehow BMW engineers manage to conceal and distribute all that weight into a perfectly balanced machine—the automotive equivalent of a great pair of Spanx.

In keeping with the M2’s streamlined setup, there is only one option for brakes: four-piston fixed calipers in front and two-piston fixed calipers in the rear, fitted onto cast-iron rotors with aluminum hubs and performance pads. However, BMW fitted our track cars with nonstock racing pads—identifiable by both their unyielding bite and their incessant squealing.  

The cabin shares its design with the standard 2 Series, but offers more upscale materials and finishes that better conceal the plastic-heavy interior. As with all M cars, aggressively bolstered sport seats keep us pinned in, and the thickly padded steering wheel offers plenty of grip.

A later street drive in an M2 equipped with the 6-speed manual transmission proves it is just as much fun on the road as on the track. The gearbox is satisfying to exercise, with a firm shifter feel and an easy clutch pedal. Automatic rev matching eliminates the need for heel-toe, although this can be turned off for true purists. Besides saving a couple thousand dollars, the only compelling reason to get the manual would be if you really, really like to row through the gears, as the dual-clutch option is lighter, faster, and unquestionably superior for track driving.

Although the M2 is considered the entry into the M lineup, it is by no means inferior to its bigger, costlier siblings. On the contrary, it is the closest you can get to the pure little sports cars of BMW’s past, updated with modern design, performance, and engineering. In other words, it is the kind of car that will put a smile on your face—and a light in your eye. (bmwusa.com)

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