First Drive: BMW M2

The exterior of the 2016 BMW M2.

The exterior of the 2016 BMW M2.

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What’s new?

The 2 Series is already offered in pretty toasty M235i form, but now there’s a full-house M badge version, complete with all the kudos and expectation that comes with it. Seen as a spiritual successor to the limited-run 1 Series M Coupe, the M2 receives the customary level of M Division magic.

The exterior of the 2016 BMW M2.

The exterior of the 2016 BMW M2.

Outside there’s a tough-looking bodykit with pumped arches, air intakes that look like they could inhale small children and steamroller 19-inch wheels. Under the bonnet there’s a more powerful version of the 3.0-litre single-turbo straight six linked to a six-speed manual or seven-speed DCT automatic, with uprated brakes, the electronic M differential and aluminium suspension components similar to those on the bigger M3.

Looks and image

Controlled aggression is the name of the game when it comes to BMW M cars and the compact shape of the 2 Series translates exceptionally well into full performance guise. Dark gloss elements to the grille and wheels means contrasting colours work well, while greys and blacks give a more subtle look.

While the bigger M cars might be seen as the ultimate expression of the sub-brand, the M2 still has the looks and the cache to give car enthusiasts sleepless nights. It’s also the least expensive way into an M car, which will put it on plenty of shopping lists.

The interior of the 2016 BMW M2.

The interior of the 2016 BMW M2.

Space and practicality

The M2 offers the same cabin space as the standard 2 Series, which is perfectly reasonable for a car of this class. Up front, the sports seats offer excellent support, although even in their lowest setting the driving position feels a fraction high. In the rear, legroom is good even for taller adults although headroom is relatively limited. The flip side is a huge boot, with 390 litres on offer.

Behind the wheel

There’s a definite sense of purpose when you’re behind the wheel of the M2, even with it in the Comfort setting. The ride is firm, but not harsh and keeps the body well under control, while the easy torque of the turbo six makes short work of normal driving. Go for the DCT auto gearbox and urban traffic is a breeze.

Get on the right kind of road however and the M2’s real personality starts to come through. That effortless torque translates into strong acceleration right around the rev range, and with Sport mode engaged, the throttle response is sharper and more of the engaging straight six engine note comes through too. 62mph can be despatched in 4.5 seconds, but there’s no massive turbo kick; instead, you know there’s always acceleration available, but never so much that it feels edgy.

But what really marks out the M2 as a fine driver’s car is the handling balance. Unlike the more hooligan M4, the ratio of grip to power is just about perfect. Several laps of the challenging Laguna Seca racetrack showed the M2 to be confidence-inspiring with excellent traction out of slow corners and good grip balance between front and rear. It will play the hooligan too and serve up lurid powerslides when required, but only then; the rest of the time the M2 is real-world fast, capable, controlled and ultimately on your side.

Value for money

M2 prices start at £44,070 and for that you get the higher-specification navigation system, xenon headlights, 19-inch alloy wheels and the higher grade of audio system including Bluetooth, DAB and BMW online services. The biggest option decision you’ll need to make is whether to choose the impressive M-DCT dual clutch transmission, but either way the M2 is a genuine M car for less than £50k.

Who would buy one?

If your idea of a real sports car is a front-engined, rear-wheel-drive coupe - and frankly it should be - then the M2 is a near-perfect introduction. Whether you’re already a dab hand behind the wheel or just moving up into a true performance car the M2 is sufficiently exciting to be great fun but not so fast that novices should be worried. It also has kerb appeal to burn so even if you never reach the red line, it’s a car to savour that can be enjoyed at normal speeds.

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