2023 BMW M2 first drive review

The M2 is back, packing all the best bits from the latest M3/M4 into a compact, rear-drive form, and it’s every bit as good to drive as that sounds
The 2023 BMW M2 is one of the last RWD manual cars BMW will ever build
The 2023 BMW M2 is one of the last RWD manual cars BMW will ever buildAbhishek Benny for evo India

It's a wicked compound bump in the road, like a booby trap laid by a performance car poacher. One steep up- ramp ridge, sump gouge marks at its base; then a second, surprise kicker concealed from view just after. Fading tyre marks trace their way to a twisted stretch of Armco, suggesting someone’s come a cropper not so long ago. The M2 shrugs it off with ease. One controlled movement through the suspension, no aftershocks through the body. Stable, composed. Thank you, next. The M2’s relishing it. Good news, eh? Because as the M division enters its 51st (official) year, this is one of the last rear-wheel-driven, manual-gearboxed cars it will ever build. And certainly the last new model powered by combustion alone. So it would be a shame if it were a duffer. The source material means that was never likely: the new M2 is built on a shortened variation of the 3 and 4 Series platform, with the same track width and suspension architecture as the M3 and M4 and the same powertrain, built around the strapping 3-litre twin-turbo straight-six. In the M3 and M4 Competition it turns out 503bhp and 650Nm, in the M2 a not-exactly-paltry 454bhp and 550Nm. An eight-speed auto is standard fit, while a six-speed manual is, happily, an option.

The 2023 BMW M2 puts out 454bhp and 550Nm
The 2023 BMW M2 puts out 454bhp and 550NmAbhishek Benny for evo India

With a wheelbase shortened by 110mm, it’s a sawn-off shottie version of an M4. When unflattering, covertly snapped pictures leaked last year ahead of the car’s reveal, it looked awkward, a jarring clash of curved and flattened surfaces. In the metal, it’s much more alluring: squatty and purposeful, with short overhangs and widescreen wheelarches. The wheelbase is still a touch longer than that of the previous F87 M2, and it’s a smidge larger in every dimension than before, but it’s still a compact car by modern standards. (And still a tricky one for tall rear passengers to clamber into and out of.) Not necessarily a better looking one than the original, perhaps, and maybe not to all tastes, but it has a great deal of appeal nonetheless. Modern and old-school at once. That’s echoed in the way it drives. Underway it feels alert, responsive – that elbows-out, four-square exterior stance comes through in the car’s movements – but it’s refined and well- mannered too. It’s an easy car to acclimatise to: driving position, visibility, interior ergonomics, software slickness all feel bang-on from the get-go. That dreamy canyon road where we came in takes a bit of finding – made easier by the big, clear nav graphics on the main screen – and a lot of freeway miles. As with the last car, there’s a fair bit of tyre roar but it’s no deal breaker. What might be is the low- to medium-speed ride quality. Although the new M2 rides on adaptive dampers as standard, evolved from the same units fitted to the M3 Touring, even in the softest Comfort setting they’re still pretty damn firm. Naturally the ride’s firmer still in Sport and Sport+ but the body control is so good it never truly feels jarring, just a touch wearying.

The 2023 BMW M2 has a wheelbase 110mm shorter than the M4's
The 2023 BMW M2 has a wheelbase 110mm shorter than the M4'sAbhishek Benny for evo India

We’re cruising at 120kmph, the M2 dwarfed by outsized SUVs. Our test car is a manual, and with the lever stashed in sixth gear the engine is purring at a subdued 2500rpm. (In the eight-speed auto, it would be turning slower still.) Without any corners to play with for the first couple of hours, the engine is the star of the show. And it really shines. With peak torque spread from a lowly 2650rpm all the way to 5870rpm (and peak power at 6250rpm), it has a lovely, flexible driveability. You can cruise around on the groundswell of torque or wring it out and have reward for doing so. You could pull away from a junction in third gear, should you wish, and take it all the way to the ton or thereabouts in one gear. That manual gearbox is fine rather than fantastic. Compared with the short-throw shift in Toyota’s GR86 or even Ford’s Tremec- equipped Mustang, not to mention the benchmark H-pattern in the latest Civic Type R, it’s a slower, wider-gated, more knuckly- feeling set up. But then, it has a heck of a lot more torque to deal with than those cars (Mustang excepted), and it’s still perfectly enjoyable to use.

The 2023 BMW M2 weighs 1725kg with the automatic gearbox and 1700kg with the manual
The 2023 BMW M2 weighs 1725kg with the automatic gearbox and 1700kg with the manualAbhishek Benny for evo India

As was the case for the previous M2, BMW doesn’t expect too many owners to pick the manual, albeit with a bigger percentage for early sales to hardcore enthusiast buyers. I’d say it’s worth being among that small group; the manual does give that little extra degree of involvement, the clutch is light enough to be easy in traffic but heavy enough to fit the car’s overall feel, and the pedals are sweetly spaced for heel-and-toeing. And when you’re not in the mood for footwork, the nicely calibrated automatic rev- matching software is impossible to wrong-foot. But the auto is far from a poor relation, and in certain circumstances is a swifter and equally satisfying drive. You also get an optional carbonfibre roof (also specced on this car), which lops 6kg off the kerb weight. That’s still relatively porky for a small, two-wheel-drive car, however, quoted at 1700kg for manual cars and 1725kg for autos. To compensate for the shorter wheelbase and altered weight versus the M3/M4, the springs have been made stiffer at the front and softer at the rear. Like its bigger brothers, it has a great front-end and changes direction keenly (gut feel says even more keenly than the longer, heavier M3/M4) but never feels nervous. It’s a good communicator and you’re always nicely in tune with what the rear tyres are up to via the messages through the chassis and the controls.

The 2023 BMW M2 has 19-inch front and 20-inch rear wheels
The 2023 BMW M2 has 19-inch front and 20-inch rear wheelsAbhishek Benny for evo India

Those tyres are bigger than the old M2’s – 19 inches at the front and 20 at the rear. “As well as the same track width as the M3 and M4, we have the same tyre size,” Dirk Häcker, M’s head of engineering, tells us later. “Compared with the previous M2, that’s a big performance enabler.” Torque is metered out to the rears via a standard-fit electronically controlled limited-slip diff. As with other modern M-cars, you can mix and match modes for the dampers, steering, engine map, brake pressure and traction control (with ten stages, like big-bro M3/M4, and the more general halfway-off M Dynamic Mode for stability and traction). You can store your favourite settings via the M1 and M2 triggers on the steering wheel to save delving into the menus each time. The menus themselves are sited on the curved touchscreen and digi dials set-up found on bigger BMW models, which looks a mite squashed into the M2’s smaller cockpit but is slick and user-friendly to operate via both the screen and the familiar iDrive clickwheel. Interior quality feels top-notch. Our test car is fitted with the standard sport seats that are a great blend between comfortable and sporty — something you wouldn’t mind being in every day.

The 2023 BMW M2 gets integrated cluster and infotainment screens
The 2023 BMW M2 gets integrated cluster and infotainment screensAbhishek Benny for evo India

If the gearchange isn’t a stone-cold classic, the speed-sensitive, variable-ratio power steering isn’t standout-special either in terms of feel and feedback. But I like it: it’s direct, fast without feeling nervous, and well insulated from kickback and corruption without feeling numb. It feels painstakingly well calibrated, particularly in its response just off-centre, and that’s perhaps a metaphor for the car as a whole. In every dynamic respect – the tip-in response on the throttle, the way the rear axle follows the front so obediently, the engine’s torque and power delivery – it’s a car that feels as though the details have been sweated over.

The 2023 BMW M2 gets adaptive dampers as standard
The 2023 BMW M2 gets adaptive dampers as standardAbhishek Benny for evo India

You get the impression it will be great on track, too. Soft Michelin Cup 2 tyres are available as an option (but not fitted to this regular-tyred test car), ceramic brakes aren’t. Perhaps the latter might be saved for the as-yet-unconfirmed but strongly rumoured CSL and CS versions. Meanwhile, this cooking M2 is quite the source material to work with. On the basis of this first drive, it’s a very desirable car. The asking price is a little under Rs 1 crore (ex-showroom), but the M2’s dynamic abilities and feeling of quality, on first impression, warrant it. Compared with the Rs 1.5 crore-ish M4, their short- wheelbase sibling feels like the one to have, for value and for entertainment.

The 2023 BMW M2 costs about half a crore less than the M4
The 2023 BMW M2 costs about half a crore less than the M4Abhishek Benny for evo India

Perhaps its biggest rival is the old M2 – so should you just buy one of those? It’s hard to say without a back-to-back test, but for some tastes the old, rougher-edged F87 model was maybe yet more charismatic, a smaller car with a bigger character. It’s been a brief, freeway-dominated introduction to the new car but it still has that beguiling, big-engine-in-a-little-car hot-rod feel, and it also comes across as a more cohesive, well-rounded product. In the meantime, there’s a lot to be happy about. The i7 in the following pages will rub plenty of you the wrong way in terms of design, but safe to say that BMW still knows what’s up with cars like the M2.

Related Stories

No stories found.
Evo India