If you've not been properly excited about an M car since the pugnacious 1M, we don’t entirely blame you – they’ve all been existing somewhat in the long shadows cast by cars like the atmo V8-powered E92 M3, howling straight-six E46 M3, right back to E39 V8 M5 and beyond. It seemed M Division’s golden era was one in the past. However, time to get excited again – the new M2 Competition is utterly, surprisingly brilliant.
Effectively replacing the ‘base’ M2 in the range – the N55 hasn’t survived the new WLTP fuel economy regulations – the Competition is not a new variant, it is the new M2. There’s an even greater quantity of parts from its bigger brother M3/M4.
Geek Speak: The WLTP explained
The single twin-scroll turbo N55, supposedly nearing its limit for output and efficiency (it has been around for nearly 10 years after all) is out, replaced with the twin-turbo 3.0-litre S55 from M3/M4, slightly detuned to 302kW/550Nm (compared to the 317kW/550Nm of the very first F80/F82 M3/M4s). This represents a 30kW/85Nm increase over the outgoing ‘base’ M2; claimed 0-100km/h time improves, in the case of the DCT anyway, by ‘just’ 0.1sec, 4.3 to 4.2.
With its closed-deck block, lightened crankshaft, strengthened pistons and track-optimised oil system, the S55 is very much a step-up for the baby M car, the Competition more of a 1M on paper than the M2.
To cope with extra cooling requirements of the water-to-air-intercooled S55 – the DCT M2 Competition has four heat exchangers excluding the air-con condenser – there is a new front bar with bigger kidney grilles and lower openings.
Rear bar, incorporating quad exhausts, remains the same. The new engine nestles in the same hoop-shaped carbon-fibre strut brace of M3/M4; there is also extra bracing in the front, said to improve steering response and feel. Solid lateral suspension joints also promise improved driver connection, if at potential cost to refinement.
There is a brand new bi-modal exhaust system and new software for DCT, computer-controlled locking differential and electric steering. Lastly, the Competition scores the M3/M4 seats – with a neat illuminated M2 logo – and the same, classic M ‘double arm’ side vision mirrors.
The M2 Competition is available in both six-speed manual and seven-speed dual-clutch auto, for the same price, $104,900 – about $5K more than the base M2 it replaces, although there’s also a simpler-spec Pure model for $99,900. Tyres are Michelin Pilot Super Sports, 245/35 ZR19 front, 265/35 ZR19 rear.
Driving around at low speeds, you’d think the Competition was just an M2 with more grip and more power. Ride from the passive dampers (unlike M240i, the M2 has never been offered with adaptive dampers) is sporting but not unbearable. The interior would feel old if not for the fitment of the latest iDrive6 and 8.8-inch touchscreen. There are M1/M2 buttons on the steering wheel for the first time for the M2.
Much like the M3/M4, you are initially blown away by the giant invisible hand of torque that seems to pick up the car and peg it down the road. The DSC light flickers away as the rear Pilot Super Sports do their best, conjuring up scary memories of the old twin-turbo 1M.
The twin-clutch DCT of our test car is satisfyingly responsive up and down the gears, the 3.0-litre straight-six emitting a meaty snarl to its 7600rpm redline. The S55 somehow sounds better in the M2 than it does the bigger cars, replacing a weird flat technical acquired-taste noise with something a bit more conventional.
It’s not until you start really uncorking the M2 Competition that you have your first ‘aha’ moment. The front end of the M2/M3/M4 has always been plentifully direct, and extremely tenacious, however, now in the case of the M2 Competition there’s actually some decent feel. The steering wheel itself remains a little too chunky and large in diameter for my taste, but at last pointing the M2 is a bit of a joy.
Push on again and you wonder if you’ll ever find the limits of those wide Michelins, the car leaning harder and harder into its passive dampers, like you’re both looking at each other and shrugging as to when the tyres are going to give.
Lateral grip, and traction, are impressive. As are the brakes – just be sure to grab the optional $3000 jobbies which, on paper, share identical dimensions (400mm six-pot front; 380mm four-pot rear) to that of an M4 GTS, although not carbon ceramic.
On a track, things improve yet again – the M2 Competition’s on-limit handling is utterly magic, inviting you to back it in to every corner on the brakes with clean, predictable oversteer defying the wheelbase. Post-apex, you can then plumb the huge reserves of turbocharged torque within the throttle for seriously easy and smoky power slides on exit. It’s a total hoot.
The recalibrated MDM halfway electronic setting is also slack to a welcome degree, almost leaving you entirely alone in first gear, giving a quarter turn corrective lock in second gear and then sensibly only allowing flashes of excitement beyond that as it deems safe. It lets you enjoy the car.
On the whole, the M2 Competition is so surprisingly good, it has elevated itself to the plane of cars that miss out on perfection by the most annoyingly slim of margins – if only the steering wheel rim was a bit thinner, if only the pedals were better placed for left-foot brakers in the DCT car, if only it had adaptive dampers and rode a bit better around town... but then you recall it’s offering almost M4 levels of performance for $35K less.
In fact, better-than-M4 performance, as the M2 Competition has a character and friendliness to it that has infamously eluded its larger siblings.
We really like this car, don’t we? Yes, indeed – we can’t quite believe just how good an application the S55 is in the 2 Series Coupe body. We wonder if one day it may be included in the same breath as E46 M3, E39 M5, E92 M3. Time will tell, but based on our early, relatively short first experiences with the M2 Competition, it’s certainly being included in the same thoughts. And that gets us properly excited.
Testing the mettle of the latest metal on MOTOR reviews
2018 BMW M2 COMPETITION SPECS:
Engine: 2979cc inline-6, twin-turbo, DOHC, 24v
Power: 302kW @ 5250–7000rpm
Torque: 550Nm @ 2350-5200rpm
0-100km/h: 4.2sec (w/ DCT; claimed)
Like: S55 and M2 go together very nicely; huge grunt; magic on-the-limit handling; value
Dislike: ‘Sporting’ ride; slightly drab/dated overall interior; DCT pedal placement
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
2019 Alpine A110
1.8-litre turbo inline-4; RWD; 185kW/320Nm; 0-100km/h 4.5sec; 1103kg; $106,500
We could have put a Porsche Cayman here but it’s a fair bit pricier. A110 offers similar acceleration to M2 Comp but completely different handling. Both are compared at the imminent PCOTY 2019