2016 BMW M2 first drive review

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The 2016 BMW M2 is, at long last, the M car that doesn’t try to please everyone—and will, because of that, end up pleasing far more driving enthusiasts in ways that matter.

Get a group of longtime BMW enthusiasts together to talk cars—the ins and outs of the uncompromised, performance-tuned M cars—and chances are the discussion will devolve to nostalgic swoons about the 1995-1999 E36 M3.

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After that, we’ll venture to say, BMW got a bit lost on a muddled path, and ended up with some M car results (we won’t name names) that were at times more garage trophies than precise track-day tools.

There’s plenty of evidence that BMW has worked hard to keep the M2 simple and its price under control—and to bring back some of the driver’s seat sensations that have gone missing in other recent M cars...well, except for the very brief run of the 1-Series M Coupe five years ago.

Calibration overload? Not in this driver’s car

Right from the start, the M2 doesn’t have the dizzying array of performance settings—and the feel, at times, that you’re programming a simulator—that you’ll find in the more uppety M cars. Here, as one spokesman put it, you’ll find merely sporty and sportier. Sport and Sport+ is really all you need to worry about. With Sport+ you engage some sharper settings for powertrain responsiveness (and the excellent dual-clutch M DCT transmission, if so equipped), for the stability control systems, and for the steering.

That’s about it. No matrix of personalized settings. Sure, there’s iDrive, but you can ignore it for now. You get in and drive.

And this little coupe is at its best being driven hard. Precise body control, well-weighted steering, super-strong confident brakes, and a nicely coordinated six-speed manual gearbox are all here, in check. As are all the right performance-car sounds.

The direct-injection twin-scroll-turbo in-line six-cylinder engine in the M2 is distinct from both what’s used in main-line BMWs and what’s used in the current M3 and M4. It gets some upgrades oriented toward track duty, including pistons and gray cast-iron liners from those other M cars. And the oil system gets an additional oil cooler for DCT M transmission oil, while the engine oil sump has been redesigned for higher lateral Gs.

Redline is 7,000 rpm—and it sounds great being wound up to it, thanks to an exhaust-flap system and some induction noise piped in—but out on the track it felt just as quick, maybe quicker, if we shifted right at or before it reached its 6,500-rpm power peak.

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It makes its peak torque of 343 pound-feet at just 1,400 rpm (all the way up to 5,560 rpm. And for short bursts there’s an overboost function that will pump it up to 369 pound-feet (between 1,450 and 4,750). BMW notes that torque figure is 70 lb-ft more than the last-generation M3.

The M2 can get to 60 mph in just 4.2 seconds with the M DCT transmission, or 4.4 seconds with the six-speed manual—and to a top speed of 155 mph.

On the track: so happy together

Out on the track, we drove an M2 equipped with the M DCT and appreciated its seamless shifts, carried out in fractions of a second and without ever upsetting our line in corners or the friction at the tires. Select them manually with the steering-wheel paddles, and you can lock in individual gears without ever worrying about sudden, dramatic downshifts breaking through.

There, out on Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, we found the M2’s firm suspension to allow just the right amount of predictable weight transfer through tight corners—and the always-tricky corkscrew—without fancy adaptive dampers or expensive air-suspension components. Lightweight aluminum suspension members, including forged aluminum control arms and carriers for the five-link rear axle and a special stiffening plate in the underbody, altogether helps with front-end precision under high forces.


 
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