There are certain universal truths when it comes to birth order. Firstborns are overachieving and riddled with anxiety. Middle children are fiercely sociable balls of chaos. The oldest sister is always the shortest sister. And the free-spirited baby of the family will always be the most fun to be around. Bayerische Motoren Werke's high-performance baby, the 2023 BMW M2, still fits into this mold.
Now in its second generation, though, it isn't quite the chubby-cheeked, wide-eyed tornado of youth you once knew. It's gained a few pounds, wears cleaner-cut clothes, and—don't say this in its presence—isn't quite as cute in the face as it was before. Deep down, though, it's still the fun-loving baby you fell in love with all those years ago. It's still rear-drive only. You can still get it with a manual. There’s a drawing of an M1 in the tire pressure readout as an Easter egg. It's still the BMW you hang out with when all you wanna do is laugh.
|2023 BMW M2 Specs
|Base Price (MT Canadian-spec as tested)
|$63,195 ($79,600 CAD)
|3.0-liter twin-turbo straight-six | 6-speed manual | rear-wheel drive
|453 @ 6,250 rpm
|406 lb-ft @ 2,650-5,870 rpm
|155 mph (177 with M Driver's Package)
|13.8 cubic feet
|EPA Fuel Economy
|16 mpg city | 24 highway | 19 combined
|The happiest BMW, for what that's worth.
Hard Act to Follow, Harder Seats
A bit like the original Audi R8, that first-gen M2 was always going to be a tough act to follow in terms of exterior design. So, naturally, this Mk.2 M2 does indeed look kinda awkward (read: worse) next to its predecessor. Taken on its own and in the metal, though, it's not too bad. It's wide, boxy, and punchy like a modern-day E30 M3.
Inside, it's typical BMW. Nice materials, great build quality, and iDrive 8 plastered across two big screens (12.3 inches in the gauges, 14.9 inches in the center) masquerading as one curved unit. I'm a sucker for the squat, square M-specific font in the screens, but the light-up M flags in the door cards are a little silly while the gloss black trim in this particular example got smudgy and dusty real quick.
Another, less superficial beef I have with the M2's interior has to do with the base seats that came in this tester. They're hard, not very well-sculpted or bolstered, and simply aren't very comfortable even for short drives. Also, there's no shoulder strap for the seatbelt so you have to reach real far back to grab it every time you set off. Your mileage may vary, but as a relatively svelte Asian man, I've lived with the optional and ridiculous-looking carbon buckets that BMW offers with this car (y'know, the ones with the carbon crotch guards) and would honestly prefer those in the interest of comfort.
Under the hood sits BMW's 3.0-liter twin-turbo S58 straight-six with 3D-printed cylinder head cores. It's the same engine found in the current M3 and M4, but here it's detuned to make 453 horsepower and 406 lb-ft of torque, practically matching figures with the last-gen M2 CS and representing a power bump of 48 hp over its direct, non-CS predecessor.
Equipped with the six-speed manual, the M2 gets to 60 mph in 4.1 seconds (it'll do it in 3.9 with the eight-speed auto) and hit a top speed of 155 mph (or 177 mph if you spring for the $2,500 M Driver's Package). Arguably more than any other BMW M car, though, the M2 was never about the speed or power, it's all about the handling.
Naysayers will tell you that this M2 has grown too heavy, and at 3,814 pounds, it's not exactly a featherweight. That's practically just as heavy as an M4 which weighs in at 3,830 pounds in base, manual form. But I think it's important to remember that the outgoing M2 Competition was already 3,600 pounds, which makes the new M2 just 6% heavier. Not exactly a night and day difference.
As a result, this M2 still feels like the lightest and most nimble BMW M car short of anything called CS or CSL. The whole car feels alert and malleable. The steering is real precise, real quick, real intuitive, and, in its lightest Comfort setting, moves with a pleasant, almost wafery crispness. In Sport mode, of course, this weighs up and is recommended for more stable highway cruising. I suspect its smaller wheelbase has something to do with this—M2 measures 4.4 inches shorter than M4 between wheels—but it does feel notably lighter than it is and exhibits a more agile, chuckable energy not present with the M4.
Don't think this is a case of slow-car-fast though because, in terms of sheer grip and cornering speeds, it feels every bit as capable as a red-blooded M car should. 453 hp and 406 lb-ft is more than enough to excite and even frighten a bit on the street and is accompanied by a sonorous straight-six noise along with subtle burbles on the overrun in Sport driving modes.
Get The Auto
This M2 may be the last BMW to be available with a manual transmission, but—hold onto your pearls, purists—I genuinely think this car would be better served with the eight-speed automatic. I wrote a whole article about this but I believe most BMW manuals just aren't very good. The shifters tend to feel rubbery to use, stop-and-go traffic somehow always feels like more of a hassle compared to other manuals, and the clutch pedal is usually too close to the brake.
To quote myself, "On more than one occasion during my time with the M2, I found myself inadvertently either left-foot braking on the way in or getting my shoe caught on some trim on the side of the dead pedal letting the thing out. That third pedal is never really where you want it to be and the margin for error is way too small."
Here's a tip, though: When configuring your M settings, keep the "Engine" (read: throttle map) on Efficient for the smoothest clutch-gas interactions. In fact, I found this car to be most enjoyable with all of its settings in their softest modes. Thankfully, the M2 defaults to these when you start it up. M Compound brakes slow things down admirably but Sport calibration is too jerky for street use. Suspension is, naturally, on the stiff side but not egregiously so as long as you keep it in Comfort. For a daily driver, I would not want this to be any stiffer than it already is.
Youngest Child Syndrome
Set to its most docile modes and even with the wrong transmission, though, the BMW M2 is one of the more entertaining cars I've driven in a while on the back of its handling and straight-six engine. Direction changes feel joyful in a way they just do not with this brand's bigger, badder, more serious cars.
Sure, it may come off as very "poser spec," but I'd get mine with the auto gearbox and carbon seats. Besides, what's wrong with a little posing? Look, if you're buying a new BMW, a whole lot of people are going to think you're a poser anyway. Might as well lean into it.
As far as modern performance Bimmers go, then, the M2 is firmly one of the better ones. It’s nimbler and scrappier than its bigger siblings while remaining quite livable day-to-day, uncomfy base seats notwithstanding. At the same time, it also feels a tad more special than them—less robotic—without being as punishing or unobtainable as something with a CS or CSL badge.
It truly is the baby of the BMW M clan. I wouldn't go as far as saying it's the best M car available since the brilliant M4 CSL does indeed exist, but it is the one with the most endearing personality. And unlike that CSL—who's a bit like that mysterious, wealthy cousin you only ever see at funerals and select weddings—that personality doesn’t boil down to “asshole.”
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