TWO TENTHS of a second. That’s all that split the BMW M2 Competition and M5 Competition around one lap of the West Circuit.
When Rick Kelly revealed this, jaws should have hit the concrete. But the M2 Competition had enchanted so many at this point, we more wondered if it could squash BMW’s 17-year-long drought at Performance Car of the Year. It was clear this is one of Munich’s most potent weapons in a while.
The M2 has barely passed puberty in its life cycle, but the Competition badge changes much more than its name. BMW now bolts the M3 and M4’s twin-turbo inline six into the M2’s little snout to raise power from 272kW to 302kW. Meanwhile, torque swells to an M3/M4-matching 550Nm.
Despite gaining 55kg, an injection of an extra 30kW/85Nm means it still punches as hard as a rapper’s security guard and a 2.5 second burst from 80-120km/h reveals it’s three tenths faster than the old car on a roll. Drop the hammer and thrust builds instantly before its mid-range hurls you into a meaningful top-end rush.
It sounds all right, too, as even though the new engine replaces the N55’s soulful timbre with a coarser note, its growl is more natural approaching its 7600rpm redline.
Celebrating driver's cars: BMW M3 CS
We’ll admit we were nervous to uncork this power where South Australia’s Gorge Road straddles Cudlee Creek, especially in something as wide and short as a go-kart. Those corners dotted with cracks, lumps and elevation changes aren’t forgiving.
Yet, few could have kept up with the M2. New engine mapping calms the S55’s outputs so they build more progressively and make its throttle more usable than the original M3 or M4 could ever dream.
Turn in and it holds on as if its Michelins double in width. The suspension soaks any big lumps and, crucially, it’s an M-car that wants to talk to you. You can feel the grip of each tyre patch through those nice, big-winged M4 Competition seats. The steering, too, relies on new software and a reinforced front-end to cut corners with the kind of precision a surgeon would envy.
Make room on your bucket list to drive this thing on track because its dynamics are bewitching on, and beyond, its limit. It’ll happily shift its angle of attack into a corner on the brakes or pivot around at the apex with more lock.
Meanwhile, stability software lifted from the M4 CS softly guides, rather than snaps, you back in line if you overcook it. Switch off the stability and not only does it now have the power to now match, and overcome, its prodigious grip, it gives you the confidence to hang the tail out at a desired angle.
Throughout the event you’d exit the M2 Competition wanting more for all the right reasons. Only a crowbar would pry Messrs Newman and Campbell from the driver’s seat after their drift shots. Even Rick found it difficult to move onto the next car.
Hunting down its big bro so convincingly on a track with a straight as long as an airstrip shows how deep its talents reach, and only Max Verstappen on a qualifier would care about the whiff of understeer or high-speed instability.
Few cars have felt as involving, exciting and confidence inspiring. That rings true even outside the walls of PCOTY where its price, practicality and pedigree attract a span of rivals. It might not accelerate like an Audi RS3, or poise itself like a Porsche 718 Cayman, but it comes close, and offers more options than either.
It’s hard to grasp this breadth of ability when you first hop in. You still sit high and it’s clear much of the Competition’s budget was spent on things deep underneath the leather. Its ride, too, is firm. Do we wish it had adaptive damping? Not if it compromised its simplicity, because that’s what allows it to focus on mastering one thing – driving.
As for improvements, we do wish 400mm and 380mm brake discs combined with 20 pistons worth of caliper bit harder. But the real value in the optional brakes, that inflate its $104,990 price by $3000, is they’ll outlast Iron Man’s armour suit. And even though its seven-speed dual clutch proved faultless, there’s a good chance the no-cost six-speed manual would sweeten its package even further.
Slaying what finished in first place was always going to be a colossal challenge, yet at the top of three judges’ score sheets and a tight second on another, it came very close to joining the E36 and E46 M3 in BMW’s PCOTY trophy cabinet. However, swiping a silver medal in a field of this calibre is a solid achievement and helps the little fella make a point loud and clear. BMW M is back.
Top steer of 2019 at Performance Car of the Year 2019
2019 BMW M2 COMPETITION SPECS:
Engine: 2979cc inline-6, twin-turbo, DOHC, 24v
Power: 302kW @ 5250–7000rpm
Torque: 550Nm @ 2350-5200rpm
0-400m: 12.52sec @ 182.57km/h
The Bend lap time: 1min 31.0sec
Dylan Campbell - 1st
"Love at first slide... my Performance Car of the Year."
Louis Cordony - 2nd
"Like a well-trained pitbull, it’s both your best friend and a viscious giant killer"
David Morley - 1st
"My favourite BMW just got even favouritier. Come to Daddy."
Scott Newman - 1st
"A new entrant to BMW’s pantheon of greats. Would happily drive this forever. "
Rick Kelly - =5th
"A nice road car that turns into a monster when it needs to."
PCOTY 2019 Scoring