BMW’s last-remaining manual-equipped M car doesn’t disappoint on UK roads
A high general rate of inflation seems like a handy smokescreen for car makers looking to make extra profit out of every new performance model, doesn’t it? And yet here we are. The original BMW M2 that arrived in the UK in 2016 came with an opening showroom sticker price of less than £45k – and, over the full course of its lifecycle, it outsold every other M car on the books.
Correcting that price for seven years of UK inflation, it might be reasonable to expect this new second-gen M2’s price to start well below £60,000. But because it’s a more powerful, more mature and more technical M car than any of its predecessors, it actually opens for business at a whisker under £65,000. More still if you want that mechanical highlight denied on any other current M car: a manual gearbox to go with your ‘standard’ rear-wheel drive.
Can it be worth that? You know what? When a six-cylinder Porsche 718 Cayman GTS with three pedals and a stick costs north of £70k, perhaps. An opening blast on UK roads has given us plenty of very promising signs.
Now closely related to the M3 and M4, and having swollen quite a bit on overall length and kerb weight, this car was at risk of losing its dynamic identity. But BMW M appears to have managed and mitigated that risk very well – with the M2’s chassis tuning, at least, if not quite so well with the car’s more divisive styling.
A bit of the threadable compactness and spring-heeled handling agility of the first-gen BMW M2 seems to have been given up, along with some of its slightly bouncy, terrierish charm. But more sophisticated B-road body control comes by way of the trade – with no shortage of tautness and bite about the car’s primary ride when you dial up the new adaptive dampers.
Moreover, this car still manages to make its own impression – to conjure its own shtick. It’s significantly shorter of wheelbase than an M4 and, thanks to the M division’s special suspension, steering and active diff tuning, it does have an accessible handling vivacity that an M4 Coupé, as good as it undoubtedly is, narrowly misses.
It doesn’t quite goad you into chucking it around. There’s more of the maturity and precision of the modern M car here than that. It doesn’t quite dart into bends, either. But nonetheless, the M2 wants to rotate and move around underneath you that little bit more than an M4 would – to take a second directional bite at a corner as you feed power to its rear axle. Thuggish it isn’t, but fun it most definitely is.
The straight six’s wonderfully even supply of torque, its excellent response and outright range, and its tuneful, rasping audible character make it a big draw in itself. £65k certainly isn’t over the top for it, not by today’s standards.
But in order to really drink in all that engine offers, to tap synaptically into the chassis’s indulgently balanced throttle-on handling, and to have the most meaningful relationship you can with its driven rear axle, the M2’s manual gearbox is a transformative factor. You’ve simply got to have it – for the way it draws you into the driving experience both physically and mentally, if not for the M2’s slightly springy shift quality and very marginally squeezed-feeling three-pedal footwell layout.
With the manual, the M2’s driving experience is fully absorbing. It gets your brain going in thinking your way down the road ahead, where an auto might invite you to switch off. Having picked the gear for the bend you’re approaching in advance yourself, you’re also given supreme confidence over how much torque is going to hit that outside rear wheel – and precisely when. Because that’s precisely what a manual driveline that you’re fully in control of yourself does.
The M2’s manual gearbox costs £454 on its own, but because it nudges the car’s CO2 emissions up slightly, you get clobbered for nearly £700 of extra first-year UK VED showroom tax. Even so, I absolutely would.
There’s an affecting blend of the old and the new in the make-up of this latest compact M car, as well as of usability, wieldiness, performance and value. It’s pricey, sure – but it offers plenty more than old compact M cars used to, and in numerous ways.
If BMW intended to make an entry-level sports car with an evocative flavour of what has made its performance icons so special over the decades, as well as a greater helping of what’s exceptional about them today, I’d say it’s done a bang-up job.