The BMW M2 at Lime Rock: Still the Coupe du Jour

The market has spoken: The M2 is a certified smash. But bring cash. 

I want a BMW M2 Coupe. So does everyone else, apparently.

After falling for this tough little bugger at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca last year, I had another go-round with the brilliant, 365-horsepower M2 at Lime Rock Park this spring. After trading hot laps with deputy editor Josh Condon on a picture-perfect afternoon in woodsy northern Connecticut, I drove the M2 home to Brooklyn where our day had started. Having had my fill of speed at the historic circuit—including some enjoyably pointless drifting on a wet skidpad—I settled into a southbound convoy with Condon’s Lexus RC F. The M2 flowed from bend to bend on Route 7, in an apparent synchronized swim with the wide Housatonic River. Fast, slow, or in-between, the BMW never missed a beat.

It felt bad to bid this M2 goodbye, a sure sign of a car that's wormed its way into my brain and heart. I dropped the BMW at a Newark airport lot en route to another famous track: Imola, where I drove the Lamborghini Huracan Performante, not far from the company’s headquarters and factory in Sant'Agata Bolognese. (Check back for a full Performante review next week). Now, the M2 won’t wring out the Nürburgring like the record-setting Huracan. But it doesn’t cost $275,000, either. And like Lambo’s track-day special, you can drive this BMW from your own neighborhood to any road course and back home again, for a starting price of $52,695. 

In sharp contrast to most BMWs, there are only three factory options, two of them included on my test car: A seven-speed, dual-clutch DCT automatic transmission for $2,900, and a $1,250 Executive Package that adds heated seats, a rear-view camera, ultrasonic rear parking sensors and BMW’s Active Driving Assistant. (Metallic paint, in blue, gray or black, adds another $550.) Grand total for my tester: $56,845.

Lawrence Ulrich

The ever-playful M2 awaits its turn on the Slip 'N Slide skidpad at Lime Rock.

Between the relatively attainable price, compact footprint, and endorphin-boosting performance, the M2 has made folks nostalgic for the good old days of BMW. Adopting the ultra-wide front and rear axles of the M3 and M4, the BMW looks menacing without being overly macho and bulked up. Its dramatic, wing-shaped front air dam slips along the pavement like some graceful manta ray. This M2 is actually 8.2 inches shorter than the classic E46 M3 model, but 2.5 inches wider. 19-inch forged wheels are stuffed into those provocatively flared wheel arches, their black finish creating a stark, handsome contrast with my test car’s Alpine White paint.

The BMW is stiffly sprung, but not so stiff that I couldn’t drive it every damn day, even in the Boschian hellpits of New York. (You want to ooze down the road? Get a Lexus ES300.) The M2 is actually a perfect city car. It's small enough to park anywhere; stylish enough to turn heads and spark compliments from and conversations with Bimmer fans; and just practical enough for airport and grocery runs. When the front occupants kindly eased forward an inch or two, we even made room in back for six-foot-tall adults. Some drivers grouse about the upright driving position, but I love the BMW’s at-the-ready stance, which reminds me of a VW GTI.

If I had my druthers, I’d save $2,900 and Choose Life in the form of the optional six-speed, rev-matching manual transmission. But on Lime Rock’s short, flowing track, where preserving momentum is the difference between a fast lap and the back of the pack, the DCT automatic—including its tactile, perfectly-situated metal paddle shifters—made it easy to get shifting done before key corner entries, while keeping my concentration fully on steering and braking. I’d describe the rear limited-slip differential as a benign kick in the pants, though it’s more a boot to individual butt cheeks: The BMW’s slip-sensing computer sends the lion’s share of torque to a single inside rear wheel to help chew your way out of corners.

And how efficient is the M Division’s beefed-up 3.0-liter six, with its whirring twin-scroll turbocharger? Fire up the computerized launch control, which eschews the tail-happy, rubber-torching drama of the M3 and M4 launch programs, and the automatic M2 snarls from 0-60 mph in 4.1 seconds, 0.2 seconds quicker than the manual version. Both numbers are just 0.1 seconds behind a Corvette Stingray, which would seem to have the M2 whipped on paper. The Chevy boasts 95 additional horses, a bit less weight, and nearly double the displacement from its big pushrod V-8.

On Lime Rock’s 1.5 miles of roller-coaster plummets and curves, the BMW’s engine spins like Sean Spicer in the bushes. The inline six zings past 7,000 rpm and emits an expensive-sounding snarl through a quartet of exhaust outlets. The single turbocharger helps wind up 343 pound-feet of torque with virtually no trace of lag. Stand on the gas to access 369 pound-feet for short bursts through a turbo overboost function. As with any modern performer, the electrically assisted steering can’t quite match the pure fidelity of an old hydraulic unit. But it’s still damn good, with just enough road (or track) feedback trickling in through the chunky M steering wheel.

In the pit lane of Lime Rock, its 60th anniversary banners flashing from a pedestrian bridge, Condon and I switched back-and-forth into the driver’s seat. I peered into the BMW’s front wheels, where M Compound brakes are working overtime, to look for any traces of smoke. Not even close. Those all-day-strong brakes include blue-painted, four-piston front calipers, with aluminum hubs to trim unsprung weight. As a full-fledged M Car, the M2 also gets extra protection for its internal components. Sling the BMW into corners—or pitch it sideways on the skidpad like an especially spoiled teenager—its modified oil sump and suction system provides reliable lubrication in situations where g-forces might starve a lesser car. Ditto for the extra radiator, and a secondary transmission cooler for the DCT automatic version.

Lawrence Ulrich

More than a year after my Monterey drive, M2 resale values are incredibly strong. 

The only real bummer is a surprisingly hefty curb weight of 3,450 pounds, rising to 3,505 with the DCT gearbox. That’s just 80 fewer pounds than the larger M4 Coupe. Yet the M2 feels notably more sprightly and entertaining than its big brother. And for roughly $25,000 less than a well-equipped M4 , there’s no question which one I’d rather own.

The catch, of course, is getting your hands on an M2 for something near sticker price—a hard task, between dealer markups and the constrained production of the Leipzig, Germany factory whose output also includes the electrified i3 and i8 models.

As ever, Internet resellers tend to be optimistic, sometimes wildly so, about what their cars are actually worth. But it’s clear that there are no bargains to be had on an M2, new or used. TrueCar's data shows that owners are paying about $1,100 above sticker price, on average, for a 2017 M2, or about $3,500 above dealer invoice. Nearly 14 months after the 2016 M2 went on sale, specimens with roughly 5,000 to 12,000 miles are being listed online for roughly original sticker price, or even a few thousand dollars above. 

Owners and dealers of especially low-mileage 2016 versions are seeking about $60,000 to $64,000, for cars that maxed out at $57,000 on the sticker. And caretakers of 2017 models seem to believe their M2’s are appreciating Ferraris, seeking roughly $70,000 to $80,000 in online ads. (For that price, I’d just give up and buy a Porsche Cayman S.) Most grievously, some outfit called Century West BMW in Universal City, California is touting a 2017 M2 with 12 miles on the odometer for $105,435. That ad includes the helpful description of the BMW as “Unobtanium”! At that price, let’s hope it stays that way. Or that a Century West shopper, with a physique to match his sense of injustice, will punch the salesman responsible for setting that price in his opportunistic face—and call it the “visible hand” of the marketplace as he walks away.

Yet the remorseless state of supply-and-demand for the M2 does illustrate the market’s response to the car. The hype was justified, and BMW fans are bowing before this legitimate heir to the vintage BMW 2002ti. 

Bowing-and-scraping is another story, however. Those fans left without cars can only hope that BMW will see its way to building more M2s. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to Century West BMW to do some negotiating. I really think I can talk them down.

Lawrence Ulrich, The Drive’s chief auto critic, is an award-winning auto journalist and former chief auto critic for The New York Times and Detroit Free Press. The Detroit native and Brooklyn gentrifier owns a troubled ’93 Mazda RX-7 R1, but may want to give it a good home. Email him at Lawrence@thedrive.com.