BMW’s M division has put itself in an unusual position. While it was once possible to divvy up BMW’s M models by their size, with the larger M5 and more modest M3 representing the two poles between which the German automaker’s hottest offerings revolved, today’s market is loaded down with a lot more added beef. SUVs and monster touring coupes and sedans have tilted the showroom to the point where even entry-level motorsport models have seen their proportions balloon considerably.
Into this reality is born the 2023 BMW M2. At $62,000, it’s the most affordable member of the M clan and until recently its last, best hope at avoiding the packed-on pounds that have afflicted every one of its siblings. A splice off of the same genetic tree that gives us the one-size-up M3 sedan and M4 coupe, with its latest redesign Bavaria’s deuce has swollen in stature until it just barely trails its bigger brothers on the scales.
Larger and chunkier than before by nearly every measure, on paper at least the M2 runs the risk of overwhelming the sprightly character that kept it from becoming a carbon copy of the nearly mid-size M3 and M4 grand tourers. Driving one, however, is proof positive that a shared lineage doesn’t always translate into a family resemblance — and in the case of the M2, this is one black sheep that keeps hope alive for enthusiasts craving a dyed-in-the-wool sports car experience.
More, More, More
I have to admit that the 2023 BMW M2’s punched-out dimensions do translate into a car that’s more capable in the daily grind than the model it replaces — but only for the front two riders, as previous experience with the same-platform M240i revealed a smaller rear seat in this generation car. Those shopping for a relatively small coupe are unlikely to care too much about the complaints of those unlucky enough to occasionally stuff themselves into the rear row, and I certainly welcomed the more open cockpit as part and parcel of the longer and wider car.
Still, this is now a car that weighs in at just under 3,800 pounds. Put three cinder blocks in the trunk and you’ve matched the mass of the still-larger M4 two-door (in base trim), with which the car shares its platform and many of its drivetrain details. While it’s easy to point at the M2’s longer wheelbase and bowlegged wheel track as items that enhance stability and cornering capability, it’s a little harder to put a positive spin on that kind of paunch, particularly when the previous version of the car checked in nearly 200 pounds lighter — and 300 pounds when comparing the pared-down CS edition. Then there’s the clone question: is the M2 merely a 7/8ths version of the M4, a baby GT wrapped in aggro bodywork, meant to evoke a more sporting past?
Dial Out The Weight, Dial In The Fun
It’s fortunate that the engineers at BMW have enough tricks at their disposal to seemingly disappear much of the M2’s added heft. In some cases, waving that magic wand is as simple as not adding certain options to the coupe’s build sheet. All-wheel drive, which is offered on every other M model — as well as other 2 Series trims — is nowhere to be found with the M2, an absence that improves turn-in sharpness and overall balance while reducing feel-sapping weight on the front axle.
Review: The 2023 BMW M340i xDrive Holds On to DynastyLess impressive inside, but just as exciting under the hood after its new refresh
Also out of the picture is BMW’s largely unloved dual-clutch automated manual gearbox, with a six-speed manual included as standard, and an eight-speed automatic available as an option. The M2’s third pedal adds a dimension of communion that is all too rare when sampling modern German luxury machinery, and while the shifter might not be razor sharp it’s certainly up to the task of interpreting right hand commands, forging a relationship that pays dividends difficult to measure with a stopwatch, a yardstick, or a G-meter.
If you prefer a more clinical analysis of the M2’s weight abatement capabilities, the numbers remain impressive. A straight shot to 60-mph arrives in a scant 4.2 seconds with the 6MT according to BMW, but feels quicker from behind the wheel. That’s just as rapid as the older M2 Competition model, a testament to the explosive quality of the 2023 model’s 453 hp and 406 lb-ft of torque, which are generated by a 3.0-liter turbocharged straight-six.
Tuned for somewhat less output than in the M3/M4 models with which it is shared, the S58 engine nevertheless feels mightier than its factory rating might suggest. It’s also been massaged to the point where the personality of the car strays from the always-on torque-fest common to its siblings. Reprogrammed to reward those exploring the upper reaches of its rev range, the decision to slice a few ponies from the dyno sheet — and protect more expensive M models in the process — has also had the happy side effect of encouraging further collusion between driver and machine, especially if the auto rev match feature is disabled.
Yes, the M2 still comes with a pair of buttons mounted on the steering wheel so owners can choose between two customized drive modes, with engine response, suspension, stability control, and other details available for tweaking on a sliding scale. Even so, aside from that now-common aspect of the M division’s digital dalliances, there’s not much else out there to get between the driver and the drive. If there was a drift mode, I didn’t see it, and the manual shifter eliminated the seemingly endless striations of the DCT’s shift program found in older cars. The M2’s overriding impression is that of a willing co-conspirator, the life of whatever pavement party you happen to be attending, and by a strong margin the most fun anyone can have in an M-badged automobile.
The M You Want
The new M2 is as close as anyone is going to get to pure motoring in a modern BMW. As much as I lament the technological layers that have been inserted between the road and the rider, that same expertise has helped keep much of the M2’s newfound growth from intruding too much on the driving pleasure it provides.
Kudos to BMW for avoiding the temptation to goose the coupe’s already excellent acceleration numbers with numbing all-wheel drive, and further applause for keeping a manual in the mix. This car is a blast to drive in all the ways many of its direct rivals — and a few of its supposed superiors — are not. That alone is enough to push it to the front of the pack when considering a comfortable, sporty car that can easily handle the commute without engendering too many complaints.
If one were to speak ill of the M2, it’s possible to single out its styling (less sleek than in years past, but still sizzling enough to attract huge amounts of attention from passersby), its milquetoast dashboard (a single, split-screen LCD takes the place of a true gauge binnacle), and its minimal control set (a fond farewell is bid to hard buttons for climate controls and infotainment presets).
These are minor misses when compared to the full force of the BMW M2’s endearing personality. It must have been tempting for the automaker to invest less effort in the gateway to its high performance line-up, but more than enough care has been taken here to ensure that the coupe remains the best-selling M model, despite the SUV onslaught and the associated industry-wide bulk-up that has overwhelmed so many other challengers.
This article was featured in the InsideHook newsletter. Sign up now.