2019 BMW M2 Competition Review: A Fun Little Sports Coupe Borrows a Cup of Power From the M3

It costs $4,400 more than before, but the new M2 Competition shows how seriously BMW is taking its reputation.

byLawrence Ulrich|
BMW Reviews photo

How agile and effective was the BMW M2 Coupe? Well, it almost managed to quiet the choir-preachers of the automotive press, for whom every BMW story must begin with a lazy reverie for the brand’s Good Old Days—larded with shopworn words like “iconic,” “seminal” and “E36”— followed by the shocking observation that BMW also makes SUVs now, some quite popular. Considering the satisfaction the M2 supplied auto scribes and enthusiasts in 2017, you might think BMW wouldn’t touch a thing, at least for a few years. Instead, the 2019 BMW M2 Competition is an ultimate hedge against complacency, via a Jeffersonian strategy of status improvement—referring to the sitcom family, not the founding father—that some automakers have avoided lest they muddy their own showroom waters. 

This M2 Competition moves up in BMW Welt, knocks on the door of its luxurious neighbors, the larger M3 sedan and M4 Coupe, and borrows some mechanical sugar—their rollicking twin-turbo inline-six dubbed the S55, which replaces the “old” M2’s single-turbo, N55 inline-six—for a freak-out rush. The M Division engine’s output is nominally detuned to 405 horsepower for this competitive-minded M2 (down from 425 in the M3/M4), but torque is unchanged at 406 pound-feet. Compared with the M2 Coupe that the M2 Competition flat-out replaces, those are hefty gains of 40 horsepower and 37 pound-feet. And it’s not like the M2 Coupe was ever slow; it was capable of spanking out a 4.1-second 0-60 mph run, with a 155-mph top speed.

M2 Competition is a real brute, though not as affordable as before, BMW

This 2019 M2 is fast, effing fast, with an even more rev-happy nature and a delightfully raw sound. My test version of this pocket Hercules was clad in a lovely paint, exclusive to the M2 (at a $550 upcharge), that BMW calls Hockenheim Silver Metallic; in spite of the name, it hews closer to the white-with blue-gray-undertones that’s a hot color trend in performance cars these days, from the Chevrolet Corvette to the Mazda MX-5 Miata to the Lamborghini Huracan. The M2’s chesty six-cylinder rumble immediately grabbed my Brooklyn neighbors’ attention, thanks to an all-new, dual-branch exhaust system with two electric flaps and four black-chrome tailpipes. Admitting more airflow are a new front skirt and enlarged kidney grilles—the latter trimmed in black “Shadow Line” paint, as are the gill openings on front fenders. 

Brakes aren’t just enlarged, they’re practically engorged: Rotors are bigger at all four corners than on a Corvette Grand Sport Z07, including six-piston, 15.7-inch rotors up front and four-piston, 15-inchers out back. Beautiful new 19-inch forged wheels sit wrapped in the M2's flared fenders. Fortunately, with the recent polar vortex rolling in, my car came dressed for the weather, its wheels wrapped in Bridgestone Blizzak winter tires (in staggered sizes of 245/35ZR19 front and 265/35ZR19 rear) instead of the factory-supplied Michelin Pilot Super Sports. Popping the hood, it's hard not to admire the ultra-stiff carbon-fiber shock-tower strut in the engine bay, another generous bequest from the M3 and M4.

The hand-me-downs continue with the cooling system from the M4 Competition Package, with three radiators, an engine-oil cooler, and, for my test car with its seven-speed, M dual-clutch transmission (DCT), a transmission-oil cooler. Yes, a trusty six-speed manual transmission remains standard, and that old-school choice also saves you $2,900 on this M2. As is the style nowadays, the automatic version is a tad quicker in a straight line, with BMW citing a 4.0-second blast from 0-60 mph versus 4.2 seconds for the manual model. Those numbers seem highly conservative: My seat-of-pants suggests this explosive M2 will run the 0-60 mph dash in as little as 3.7 or 3.8 seconds.  

Big engine for the little M2: Twin-turbo inline six makes 405 hp, BMW

Inside the cabin, M Sport buckets take their deep-welled shape from BMW Motorsport seats, with handsomely integrated headrests. Red-and-blue stitching traces the steering wheel and seat belts, with a choice of blue or orange perforation in the seat cushion and backrest. The M2 is a driver’s car first and a luxury car second, yet it could really use a set of seatbelt “presenters,” as in some luxury coupes, to slide the unbuckled belts forward for an easier reach. (Of course, such a motorized system would add extra weight, and the M2 is already relatively stout for its size, at a touch over 3,500 pounds.) As for the coolest style addition? Check out those illuminated M2 logos on the seat backrests, the kind of fun design flourish that grouchy journalists will profess to hate, but that owners will love. Once, when I walked up to the BMW, a couple on a Manhattan street spotted the glowing logos and said, “Wow, that’s really cool.” Why yes, it is. 

BMW’s familiar chiclet switches on the console let you adjust the reactivity of the engine, steering, and transmission (for M DCT automatic versions). As ever, BMW’s Sport Plus setting is great for tweaking the powerplant or gearbox, but it makes the steering feel thicker than Dinty Moore beef stew; the wheel feels lighter and more natural in Sport. Fortunately, this Competition model lets you save two separate individual performance settings on a pair of steering-wheel buttons, as on other M Division models like the M5.

Enveloping M Sport seats are inspired by BMW Motorsports, BMW

Setting off north from New York underlined why someone might choose a vastly more affordable, 335-hp M240i—itself a formidable performance car—over this M2. On the war-torn streets of cities like NYC, the M2 can feel brittle, the kind of car that’s fated to sacrifice a wheel or two to the pothole gods, especially if you drive it through the winter. The dual-clutch transmission reveals its own minor weakness in urban settings, with an occasional slip or lurch during parallel parking or other crawling-speed maneuvers. 

But once warmed up and clear of the city, the newly muscled M2 felt nearly unhinged—a stubby, slavering Tasmanian Devil, one that might well spin like a cartoon tornado if you're not mindful of the available grip. The engine is a hard-yanking marvel of turbo technology, with peak torque gushing anywhere between 2,350 and 5,230 rpm, and horsepower that plateaus between 5,230 and 7,000 rpm. Yet this motor still has more to give from there, with a snarling 7,600-rpm redline that owners are sure to become intimately acquainted with.

With rubber compounds that stay soft even in sub-freezing temperatures, my M2’s winter Bridgestone Blizzaks provided more sure-footed grip than the standard summer Michelins, which would have been disastrously ill-suited to the task. But there’s still less ultimate traction with these tires in these temperatures, as I learned when I started matting the throttle on mountainous curves; the M2 has enough grunt to get the back end squirrely even at speeds above 80 mph. (Cue sweaty palms). I can’t wait to try the BMW on track in warm weather—hopefully at Monticello Motor Club, whose M2 Racing School is one of the nation’s best driving experiences.

Yes, Virginia, there is a manual transmission, BMW

Oh, but there’s fun to be had even on salt-crusted backroads with snowy shoulders. Those Blizzaks make it child’s play—if that child had a learner’s permit—to drift the M2 on bare pavement, highlighting its brilliant chassis balance. On my own personal skidpad, deep in a northern forest, I spun a few easy circles in second gear, the BMW sliding wide or tucking neatly back in with subtle adjustments of throttle position or steering angle. That exercise also highlighted one niggle with the M2: a shortage of sensation through the steering wheel, especially as the car approaches and broaches its handling limits. Owners will have to use other sensory cues, such as shrieking tires and lateral g-forces, to judge and adjust forward progress.

As any urban apartment dweller will affirm, one downside to moving on up is the higher monthly payments. At $59,895 to start, the M2 Competition costs $4,400 more than its short-lived predecessor. That blunts the relative affordability that was part of the M2’s appeal, and makes the M240i seem a relative bargain at $46,795—more than $13,000 less than the M2. On the glass-half-full side, a larger, slightly heavier M4 Coupe starts from $70,145—$10,240 above the M2— and the more-practical M3 sedan is priced from $67,475.

Yet more than ever, this M2 is my go-to in the BMW lineup, a hardcore, track-scorching, stick-shift-available coupe that’s more capable than an Audi RS 3 or any other compact competitor. (I'll be testing the BMW Z4 and 8 Series at a track in Palm Springs soon, so my opinion may change in the near future). And I’d take this M2 Competition in a heartbeat over the roomier but far-pricier M3 or M4. If my back seat passengers started whining, I’d politely mention that they could always walk instead.

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 atLawrence.ulrich@gmail.com.