A compact performance coupe doesn't have to cost over $50,000.
Even though it is just the "baby M car," we think the BMW M2 may be the best model the company makes at the moment. The M2 certainly offers the best purist experience of the current M lineup, since the other M cars have all become larger and heavier. Even though it is the cheapest M car on the market, the M2 still starts at a whopping $54,500 and will only get more expensive with the addition of a Competition version. Nearly $55,000 sounds like a lot to pay for a 365 horsepower sport coupe. Thankfully, there are plenty of cheaper used alternatives.
The M2 sits at the bottom of the M car lineup, but for much less, budget conscious buyers can scoop up a flagship Porsche. For less than $40,000, it is possible to find a 997.1 generation 911 Carrera or Carrera S. The base 3.6-liter flat-six produces less power than the M2: just 325 hp. We also found more powerful Carrera S models with the larger 3.8-liter flat-six, producing 355 hp. Though it won't match the M2 on interior technology, the 911 is one of the purest driving experiences on the market and the 997 generation is arguably one of the best. You may want to invest in a mount for your smartphone because Porsche's infotainment was pretty lackluster in this generation.
Buyers who want something a little more modern can opt for our next choice, the Cadillac ATS-V coupe. The ATS-V has only been around since 2016, but prices have already plummeted to just above $40,000. We found ATS-V coupe and sedans in the low $40,000 price range with the six-speed manual and eight-speed automatic. Power comes from a 3.6-liter twin-turbo V6 producing 464 hp. Not even the upcoming M2 Competition will be able to match the ATS-V on power, and the Cadillac is larger if you need more space.
Even though they are actually very different, the Audi TT RS is often compared to the BMW M2. The current TT RS is more powerful than the M2 thanks to its 400 hp 2.5-liter turbocharged five-cylinder engine, but it is more expensive starting at around $65,000. Luckily, used examples of the previous generation TT RS can be found starting at around half the price. The old TT RS still produces 360 hp from its five-cylinder engine, and unlike the new model it is only available with a six-speed manual transmission.
If you go crazy with the options sheet, it is possible to buy a Nissan 370Z for around the same price as the M2. We like the 370Z, but it is starting to feel old and we wouldn't recommend buying a brand-new one. A used one is a different story. The cheapest examples we found started at less than $15,000, and the prices went higher as the age and mileage shrank. The 3.7-liter V6 engine produces 332 hp, or 350 hp in the Nismo version. Unlike the M2, the 370Z is strictly a two-seater, which could be what certain buyers are looking for from their small coupe.
The M2 Competition will finally fix one of the biggest complains with the standard M2; it doesn't have a bespoke M engine. The N55 in the M2 is a great engine, but it is used in plenty of other BMW models, including our final used alternative. The BMW 135i was originally sold with the twin-turbo N54 inline-six, but was later upgraded to the N55. We recommend trying to find the rare 135is, which produced 320 hp and 317 lb-ft of torque. With some minor tuning, the 135is should be able to keep up with the far more expensive M2 (at least in a straight line).