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We all have our personal favourite cars, but it’s impossible to say which. Is it the Mercedes AMG or BMW M, which of these iconic go-faster brands exhilarate the most? Both brands were born in the crucible of motorsport; AMG set up independently, M Division always in-house, but both had one goal, Win Races!. Their very first cars, AMG’s 300 SEL Red Sow and M’s 3.0 CSL Batmobile, have been a permanent fixture across the t-shirts of the faithful; their homologation specials, Merc’s CLK GTR and BMW’s M1, have been the wildest cars from a mainstream manufacturer; and their engines have gone down in history, notably Merc’s vast 7.3 V12 that still powers Paganis and BMW Motorsport’s 6.1 V12 in the back of the McLaren F1 that many have rated as the finest engine ever to be made.
Today both make excruciatingly fast cars and SUVs, and both shamelessly flog the appeal of the go-faster brand by tacking badges on to body kits for little diesel cars and SUVs. Yet in India it is AMG that rules the roost. The timeless appeal of the G 63, deft product planning in the form of the (affordable) 43-series, and a commitment to the brand in the form of AMG Performance Centres has seen Mercedes-Benz rule the roost. But this is the car, the M2 which BMW has now launched at a mouth watering price tag of Rs 79.9 lakh (Ex-showroom, India) is a game changer. Why? Time to find out!
AMG always had a hot-rod tradition but M was always about lightweight homologation specials. Except nothing in the M catalogue today is small and light. M fanatics moan for the return to the delicacy and agility of the E30 M3, the playfulness of the E39 M5, heck even the affordability of the past – and it has all come together in the M2 Competition, the smallest, lightest and most playful M car right now. With its launch in India it is now ready to take on the C 43 AMG, it has two fewer doors and two fewer driven wheels but a whole load more power and a tail that wags harder than a Labrador puppy. Along with a manual gearbox!
“The manual gearbox is what sets the M2 Competition apart from its, err, competition. It makes the baby M truly spectacular”
Of course there is a twin-clutch DCT automatic and that’d be the obvious transmission to bring to India considering nothing remotely expensive is sold with a manual gearbox. But that’d be missing the wood for the trees. The manual gearbox is what sets the M2 Competition apart from its, err, competition. It makes the baby M truly spectacular. Shifting gears manually on a fast car, it has become such a rare thing, a rare joy, that a stick shift has become massively desirable. A manual sports car, now that gives you bragging rights. It’s a clear cut reason to buy the M over the AMG; that and the fact that the M2 Competition is so good to drive even Porsche’s 718 Cayman isn’t safe. I also think it looks utterly fabulous.
The M2 Competition replaces the M2, always a quirky car with unresolved boot-slapped-on-to-hatchback styling and a ho-hum engine. The M2 Competition is now sharp, amped up and suitably flared while the motor has been whacked straight off the M3/M4 complete with two turbochargers, lightened crank, beefed up pistons and improved cooling. It even gets the M3/M4’s carbon strut brace for an even more tied-down front end and electronic locking rear differential with revised mapping for the stability control for an even-more playful rear end. With 404bhp from the S55 motor, 21bhp less than the M3/M4, but an identical torque figure of 550Nm, the M2 Competition rips to 100kmph in 4.4 seconds and with the optional M Driver’s Package can hit a top speed of 280kmph. But it’s in the character of the engine where the real joy lies.
We have driven the M2 Competition at the Ascari circuit in the southern Spanish island of Malaga, all sun-kissed beaches and twisty roads disappearing off into the mountains. We started off with the race track and it’s immediately apparent our instructor, a proper BMW Motorsport race car driver, isn’t hanging about. A lap to figure out the circuit and get used to the M2 and we’re told to hit the second of the two pre-set buttons on the steering wheel. As with all M cars there are two buttons that can be individually programed with your engine, gearbox and ESP settings – not suspension as the M2 runs on regular, uncomplicated, steel springs – and M2 (unrelated to the name of the car) sets everything in full power mode and slackens the traction control.
“Destroying rear tyres was never so easy! Over the course of the media rotations at the Ascari track, BMW probably went through an Eiffel-sized pile of Pirellis”
What strikes you is just how tractable the motor is. We’re driving the manual, obviously the manual, and third and fourth gears are all that is required on this fast, flowing circuit. The S55 motor pulls from as low as 1500rpm without any lag yet, surprisingly for a twin-turbo’d motor, pulls hard all the way to 7500rpm accompanied by a lovely growl and hint of turbo whistle. It’s a character that Porsche 718 Cayman owners will weep for. This is a very fast car, no question about it, but then again you cannot accuse any of today’s M cars, or even SUVs for that matter, of not being fast. No, what you’d rightly criticise is they’re no longer light on their feet – and that has been addressed. The carbonfibre brace for the front struts and bulkhead have strengthened the chassis and the direct benefit is a more precise and direct steering, it infuses new-found agility to the chassis that is derived from the M3/M4. Ball joints in place of rubber bushes on the rear axle deliver better traction out of slow speed corners and fantastic balance and confidence through the faster stuff, especially the flat-in-fourth right-hander that is proper white-knuckle stuff. The stability and balance of the rear, not to mention the confidence that you get with its progressive breakaway, is really visible when you switch off stability control and you have the M2 steering as effectively with your right foot as with the steering; an utter and total drift maniac. Destroying rear tyres was never so easy! Over the course of the media rotations at the Ascari track, BMW probably went through an Eiffel-sized pile of Pirellis.
“The M2 is even better on the road, where you can use the entire breath of its capability, the top end zing as well as the mighty bottom end grunt”
There’s also the M Dynamic Mode setting for the stability control that lets you move the tail around without getting you into trouble. For the race track where you have the room to make and correct errors the MDM cuts in too early, but in the hills it really comes into its own making the M2 Competition… ridiculously fantastic. In fact the M2 is even better on the road, where you can use the entire breath of its capability, the top end zing as well as the mighty bottom end grunt. Squeeze the throttle around 2500rpm and both the turbo whistle and angle of the rear slip rises in unison – the breakaway is absolutely predictable, totally in control, the rear is so playful on the throttle. And then you slam the gear lever into fourth and do it all over again, at three digit speeds.
There isn’t a car at this price range that involves, engages and dances like the M2 Competition – tricks that its rivals cannot match. The 2.o-litre 718 Cayman does not have the poke to break traction, the C 43 has all-wheel drive so does the CLA 45 so forget any slides, and none of them get a manual gearbox. If you’re looking for a sports car at under a crore, here you go. Yours for Rs 79.9 lakh (Ex-showroom, India).