During 2011, BMW launched what turned out to be one of its most iconic, best-loved models: the 1 Series M Coupé. The company originally intended to build just 2,700 of them, but demand was such that the cap was lifted, and a year later, after production had stopped, a total of 6,309 had been sold. Today, they fetch the same kind of money that they were when new, proving that when BMW gets the M formula just right, driving enthusiasts simply can’t get enough of their cars.
Its successor, the new M2, is unlikely to be quite such a cast-iron investment, simply because it isn’t a limited-edition model. But from the moment you stamp on the throttle and feel the rear tyres struggling for purchase on hot tarmac, it’s obvious that the recipe is the same. Make no mistake, this is a riot of a car.
If you were to place an original M3 from the late 1980s next to its modern namesake, you might be shocked at just how big the new one is. The more-diminutive M2 is closer in appearance to its classic forebear, at least when talking about physical dimensions, and just looking at it, you know what to expect: huge dollops of fun.
There’s nothing subtle about its looks. From the pent up aggression in the M2’s front air intakes to its wider track, swollen wheel arches, diamond-cut 19-inch alloy wheels and its quad tailpipes, it wears its performance heart on its sleeve. Open the driver’s door, though, and the interior could initially be viewed as a let-down. It’s sombre, save for some contrast stitching here and there, and a bit ordinary-looking compared to the gruff exterior, but there’s nothing actually wrong with it.
Bare, unlacquered carbon-fibre trim has been applied to some sections, which makes an interesting and tactile change to the ubiquitous shiny stuff, and a feeling of absolute quality construction pervades. The car’s smaller footprint does affect rear seat space, but is that important when its only real rival is a two-seater Porsche? This BMW is all about driving pleasure, so how does it stack up where it really matters?
The numbers certainly impress. Its rev-happy, turbocharged, straight-six engine is shared with the lesser M235i, but is fitted with the crankshaft and pistons of the M3/M4, along with a few more bespoke bits, and it pushes out a not inconsiderable 370hp and 465Nm of twist.
From a standstill, 100kph is possible in 4.3 seconds, and it’s electronically limited to 250, with power reaching the rear wheels via a seven-speed, twin-clutch sequential transmission (a six-speed manual is also available, which would be my choice any day of the week).
So it packs a plentiful punch for a compact car, that much is obvious before the starter button is pushed. The engine note on start-up is suitably strong, but not shouty, and once on the move, the power delivery is like pouring fresh cream – deliciously progressive when you’re taking it easy. But when you decide to grab this thing by the scruff of the neck, it becomes a wildcat.
It feels blisteringly fast – faster than it actually is, to be honest – and that’s a good thing in my book. More cars should feel faster than they are – it’s a socially responsible characteristic and could save your licence from incineration. Its short wheelbase endows the M2 with nimble, often playful handling, almost encouraging you to throw it into corners with gusto. The suspension is firm, but not to the point of harshness, and it adds a feeling of solidity to proceedings.
There’s plenty of grip from the fat Michelins (they’re unique to this car), but once you do break traction, the car’s angle is easily controlled with your throttle inputs and you can slide around with confidence, if that’s what does it for you. As a weapon for attacking the roads up and down Jebel Hafeet or Jebel Jais, I can’t think of many cars that would keep their drivers quite so entertained – you can explore the limits of adhesion much more safely than in certain other M cars, and I’m sure it would be an enormously satisfying machine on track, too. BMW has fitted the M2 with a special sump to avoid oil starvation while driving hard on a circuit, so it would be rude not to try it out, given the opportunity.
The brakes (those huge discs are 380 millimetres in diameter up front) can feel a bit grabby at first, being extremely responsive and effective, so a gentler approach is required for the drive to remain smooth and fuss-free. But it’s never anything other than enormous fun. Its handling is predictable and controllable, resulting in a performance car that’s less intimidating than the M3/M4, but no less desirable. Unless I actually needed another two doors and more interior space, it’s the M car I would choose. It more than lives up to the legend.