by Karl Furlong
It's impossible not to love the BMW M2. Playing to the traditional strengths of the BMW brand, the M2 blends a powerful six-cylinder engine with a manual gearbox, rear-wheel drive, and sporty styling to emerge as a riotously fun driver's car that turns every trip to the office into an event to savor. Not much has changed since last year, with the M4-derived 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged inline-six engine used here in a detuned state, although it still makes a strong 405 horsepower. It'll sprint to 60 mph in as little as four seconds; as premium sports coupes go, this places it in similar territory to high-performance versions of the Audi TT while offering more performance than a base Porsche 718 Cayman for less money. The M2 exhibits fantastic body control and precision through the corners, but it'll also rattle your bones on even slightly scarred surfaces. If you don't mind emerging from the driver's seat with sweaty palms and a few aches, there's little reason not to recommend the M2, and it'll be a tough act to follow for its successor.
With an all-new BMW 2 Series - and inevitably a new BMW M2 - on the horizon, BMW hasn't made any major changes to the M2 Competition for the 2021 model year. Even the $58,900 starting price is exactly the same as before. Last year, a black kidney grille and standard rain-sensing wipers were among the additions.
3.0-liter Twin-Turbo Inline-6 Gas
Years after the current 2 Series generation launched, the beefed-up M2 still looks great. Its compact dimensions and that short, stubby rear end successfully conjures up images of the E46 M3 of the early 2000s. From the squat proportions to the angry face, it appears ready to play. As standard, it gets a kidney grille with high-gloss black slats, 19-inch M forged bi-color alloy wheels, and extended Shadowline trim. Moving to the back, an M rear spoiler and the obligatory quad-exit tailpipes provide drivers of less potent vehicles with a nice exterior view as the M2 jets off into the distance. LED headlights and LED daytime running lights are standard.
At 176.2 inches in length, the M2 is a few inches longer than the Porsche 718 Cayman, but it's a whole 8.3 inches shorter than the outgoing BMW M4. Other key dimensions see the M2 measure in with a width of 73 inches and a height of 55.5 inches, while the wheelbase stretches to just 106 inches. At 3,600 pounds, the M2 with the manual gearbox has a lighter curb weight than the M2 DCT, which weighs in at 3,655 lbs.
A limited color palette for the M2 Competition spans just five shades, of which only Alpine White doesn't cost extra. However, this color contrasts nicely with the dark Shadowline trim. For an additional $550, customers can opt for four metallic hues: Black Sapphire, Long Beach Blue, Sunset Orange, and Hockenheim Silver.
Even though the M2 CS has more power, it's hard to imagine that you need it when you plant the throttle in the M2 Competition for the first time. It sounds and feels viciously quick, with 0 to 60 mph coming up in 4.2 seconds when equipped with the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox. With the six-speed manual 'box, that time drops to four seconds dead - yes, with careful clutch modulation, the manual is marginally quicker off the mark. As in every other M2 review we've done over the last few years, we love the fact that the smallest M still powers the rear wheels, whereas the Audi TT sends power to all four corners. In acceleration terms, the base Porsche 718 Cayman (which starts at a higher price than the M2) takes at least 4.5 seconds to complete the benchmark sprint. With 405 horsepower and 406 lb-ft of torque, the 3.0-liter twin-turbo six-cylinder engine in the M2 has gobs of torque from low down, but, pushed to its limits, it'll continue on all the way to a top speed of 174 mph when equipped with performance tires and an increased speed limiter as part of the optional M Driver's Package.
The M2 shares its S55 3.0-liter inline-six twin-turbo engine with the outgoing M4. In the smaller M2, the unit has been tuned to deliver 405 hp and 406 lb-ft of torque. The standard transmission choice is a six-speed manual, but customers can upgrade to the slick-shifting seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. Both transmissions have their advantages; the manual is naturally more involving, managing precise shifts and with well-placed pedals that make heel-and-toe driving loads of fun, whereas the DCT enables even quicker and smoother shifts on the move. However, the manual requires just a single shift to get to 60 mph and is better for containing all that torque off the mark, which is why it is a tad quicker off the line. In town on our test drive, the M2 strained at the leash and begged to be driven with anger, so it's hardly what you'd call relaxing. But once there's more space to exploit - and preferably a few acute curves - it morphs into one of the most enjoyable new BMWs to drive.
The BMW M2 Competition shares similar steering characteristics to some other M products in the marque's range, which is both a good and bad thing. On the plus side, the electric steering is both fast and accurate, and with loads of lateral grip, the M2 can carry high speeds through the corners with confidence. The active M differential works together with the coupe's compact size to engender a sense of agility and a chuckable persona that reminds one of earlier (and smaller) M3s. However, unlike those M3s, the M2 doesn't communicate much through the steering wheel rim. It's about the only significant black mark against the M2 as a high-performance coupe.
The firm suspension transmits surface imperfections into the cabin more readily than some will be prepared to live with, but we can forgive the M2 for this considering what it is. Besides, there's always the M240i for customers who want nearly as much performance but with a more soft-natured approach. M Sport brakes (with six-piston calipers in front and four-piston calipers at the back) provide good feel and strong stopping power.
According to the EPA, the BMW M2 Competition manual will return 18/24/20 miles per gallon on the city/highway/combined cycles. Driven as it was designed to be, expect those numbers to take a dive. With a gas tank size of 13.7 gallons, that equates to combined gas mileage of around 274 miles between visits to the pumps. For a more efficient sports coupe, consider the M240i, which returns up to 21/30/24 mpg.
The M2's interior doesn't thrill as much as its drivetrain, but the fuss-free approach to layout and design allows one to focus on the task of driving. There are more physical dials and buttons than are typical of some newer premium-badged cars, and we appreciate the round dials in the instrument cluster more than the reverse-swinging tachometer used in other BMWs. The steering wheel is sportily designed, although the especially thick rim won't be to all tastes. While build quality is generally solid, materials aren't as rich as in some competitors. Along with leather-upholstered seats, the standard specification includes the likes of ambient interior lighting, 14-way power-adjustable front seats with heating, an 8.8-inch central touchscreen display, and automatic climate control. Safety items include frontal collision warning, blind-spot detection, and lane departure warning.
The four-seater M2 offers generous space and good comfort for those in front, but things are a lot tighter in the back seats, which require more effort to climb into. In front, the widely adjustable and heated front seats provide adequate support and enough bolstering, while headroom and legroom will only be a problem for especially tall occupants. At the back, headroom remains fine, but legroom drops by a whole 8.5 inches from front to back. As the M2 sits quite low to the ground, ingress and egress are a bit more challenging than in a 3 Series, but it's not unexpected in a sports coupe of this kind. Visibility is good even though the front pillars are fairly broad.
As standard, the M2 gets Dakota leather seats in black with contrast stitching in either blue or orange, along with carbon fiber trim and an anthracite headliner. M-specific design elements like the door-sill finishers and the footrest are reminders that this is no regular 2 Series. High-gloss black Pearl Chrome accent trim can replace the carbon fiber, although we'd stick with the latter. It's all quite dark inside the M2's cabin, and there are no alternative primary interior colors to choose from, but the contrast stitching and the use of brushed aluminum trim pieces do just enough to keep the environment from feeling too gloomy. As expected, the steering wheel is wrapped in leather.
Despite its short rump, the M2's trunk space measures 13.8 cubic feet, which isn't bad at all considering the coupe's compact size. As with last year's BMW M2 review, we noted that the opening isn't the widest, but two suitcases and some smaller soft bags should be able to fit quite easily. In the cabin, storage space is not quite as generous as the center console and door pockets aren't especially large. There are well-sized cupholders in front and a shallow rear center storage compartment in the middle of the rear seats, but otherwise, the M2 is ideally suited to a couple rather than a small family with extra luggage.
BMW has equipped the M2 to a reasonable standard straight out of the box. Both front seats offer three-stage heating and are 14-way power-adjustable, including four-way power lumbar support and power side bolsters. For the driver, there is a memory system for the seat and the outside mirrors. Additional comfort and convenience items include automatic dual-zone climate control, rain-sensing windshield wipers, push-button start, power-folding side mirrors, keyless entry with hands-free trunk lid opening, a backup camera, and a universal garage door opener. On the safety front, BMW has equipped the M2 with a tire pressure monitoring system, frontal collision warning, active blind-spot detection, lane departure warning, and programmable LED daytime running lights. Front and rear parking sensors are standard as well. A power glass moonroof is available as one of the M2's few options.
BMW's familiar iDrive system pairs a touchpad controller with an 8.8-inch touchscreen display. Other BMWs have a more modern iDrive system with a larger screen, but few will find an issue with the M2's system, which is fast and user-friendly to operate. Although Android Auto has begun making its way into new BMWs, the M2 makes do with just Apple CarPlay compatibility for now. The infotainment system also comprises Bluetooth connectivity, a USB audio connection, BMW Connected App compatibility, navigation, voice commands with natural language processing, and BMW ConnectedDrive services. The sound system is a 12-speaker Harman Kardon unit that generates decent sound quality, thanks to a 360-watt amplifier. A nod to the M2's slightly old-school feel is the standard CD/MP3 player, but more modern SiriusXM satellite radio (with a one-year all-access subscription) and HD Radio are included as well.
The 2021 BMW M2 Competition was free of recalls at the time of writing, but according to the NHTSA, the 2020 model was subject to a single recall for knee airbags that may not properly deploy. Overall, the M2 has appeared to rate reasonably well for reliability, and we haven't heard of any catastrophic issues, which hasn't always been the case with M-badged cars.
BMW's four-year/50,000-mile limited warranty comes as standard along with four years of roadside assistance. A 12-year rust perforation limited warranty applies regardless of miles covered. Adding to buyer peace of mind is three years or 36,000 miles of maintenance coverage that includes items like engine oil, spark plugs, and brake fluid.
The BMW M2 Coupe doesn't have an NHTSA safety rating yet. However, the BMW 2 Series on which it is based managed a spread of Good scores last year for crashworthiness according to the IIHS, so this is an indicator that the M2 is a safe vehicle. As a brand, BMW has a strong safety record, so even though this is the brand's smallest coupe, we expect it to uphold this reputation.
A comprehensive eight-airbag system provides extensive protection for occupants in the event of a crash and includes dual front airbags, knee airbags for both front occupants, and a front/rear head protection system. Essential safety features that are expected are all in place, from a backup camera to tire pressure monitoring, dynamic stability control, and ABS brakes.
The M2 also gets BMW's Active Driving Assistant suite comprising frontal collision warning, active blind-spot detection, lane departure warning, and speed limit information. Although parking such a small car won't be a problem for most, the standard front/rear parking sensors certainly will come in handy.
Any new car is only as good or as bad as the purpose for which it was designed. So, while the M2 falls short in terms of comfort, practicality, and even luxury, these aspects will matter less to the buyer seeking a fast, agile, and exciting driving tool. In that respect, the BMW M2 is magnificent. Over the years, the M2 has been improved and gained more power to the point that one has to question whether spending the extra money on the M4 is really necessary. Like many cars that evolve during the course of a single life cycle, the M2 is better than it has ever been, and its appeal has not been diminished despite it being up for replacement imminently. As rivals go, the Porsche Cayman is even more adept dynamically but lacks the firepower of the M2 at the same price, while the Audi TT RS is faster but not necessarily more fun. The smallest M car remains the purest modern-day interpretation of BMW Motorsport, and we can only hope that its spirit lives on in its successor.
In the US, the 2021 BMW M2 Competition has a starting price of $58,900 for the base six-speed manual before any options are added. This price excludes tax, licensing, registration, and a destination/handling charge of $995. Opting for the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission adds a further $2,900 to the base price. With this option and all other extras added to the spec sheet, a fully loaded M2 Competition will carry an MSRP of $68,095, including destination. At the starting price of the BMW M2, you could also drive off in a base Chevrolet Corvette Stingray C8 Coupe and, for just a little more, a base Porsche 718 Cayman. In other configurations, the Cayman is just as quick but far pricier.
The 2021 BMW M2 is offered in just one trim in the USA: the M2 Competition. It comes with a 3.0-liter twin-turbo six-cylinder engine that produces 405 horsepower and 406 lb-ft of torque. Power goes to the rear wheels exclusively via either a six-speed manual or a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic. Dynamically, the coupe is enhanced with a standard active M differential.
Outside, a black kidney grille, quad-exit tailpipes, and 19-inch alloy wheels distinguish this as a true M car. The interior is kitted out with leather-upholstered seats, which are power-adjustable and heated in front. Other specs include a 12-speaker Harman Kardon sound system, dual-zone automatic climate control, an 8.8-inch color touchscreen display, and front/rear parking sensors. Forward collision warning and active blind-spot detection increase driver awareness and overall safety.
Unlike many other BMWs, the M2's options list is surprisingly thin. Perhaps the brand doesn't want this focused sports coupe's performance to be affected by too many superfluous options. Nevertheless, the Executive Package is a fairly useful upgrade and adds wireless charging, a heated steering wheel, adaptive full LED lights, and speed limit information. How much is it, though? Expect to add another $1,200 to your bill. Among the standalone upgrades is a power moonroof at $1,050 and the DCT gearbox at $2,900. For $2,500 more, the M Driver's Package includes a one-day high-performance driving class and a raised top speed limiter.
The BMW M2 doesn't need any options to feel like a properly sorted sports coupe, so we're tempted to go for the base manual and perhaps tick the box for metallic paint, but that's about it. The M Driver's Package may raise the top speed, but how often will you be able to use that legally and safely? Depending on your preferred driving style, you may hanker after the excellent dual-clutch gearbox, which has its own appeal. For most, the base model M2 is all you'll need.
At the time of writing, not every detail about the all-new, second-generation M4 had yet been confirmed, but it should be a bruiser of note. In Competition spec, it'll crank out 510 horsepower from the same 3.0-liter twin-turbo straight-six engine that powers the X3 M and the X4 M, so it will likely be significantly quicker than the M2 Competition by comparison. The new M4 will come with all-wheel drive as well, setting it apart from the RWD-only M2. This may not be what purists want to hear, but it'll make the M4 more effective at covering ground in different conditions. Inside, the M4 should be a significant step up in quality and technology over the current M2 if the regular 4 Series is anything to go by. On a less flattering note, that giant M4 grille may never attain the universal appeal of the M2's taut and sporty look. Expected to cost at least $10,000 or so more than the M2, will the new M4 be worth the extra money? We'll let you know as soon as we get behind the wheel.
Audi is cooking up a newly updated RS3 which will once more provide a more practical alternative to the M2, although we don't know exactly when it will arrive yet. However, the 2020 edition is equally up to the challenge of rivaling the M2 Competition. With an extra pair of doors, the RS3 sedan is the more versatile option, although it possibly doesn't have the same youthful appeal as the M2 coupe. There's nothing wrong with what's under the hood, though: a 2.5-liter five-cylinder turbo producing 394 hp. Considering that the 2020 RS3 already does 0-60 mph in under four seconds, it's the faster car here, no doubt benefitting from that quattro all-wheel-drive system. Our reviews of the RS3 reveal that it already has the BMW beaten for interior style and quality, so the upcoming new RS3 should be even better. That said, when it comes to pure theatre, the M2 Competition remains our pick between these two.
Check out some informative BMW M2 video reviews below.