The M2 makes all of the headlines, but the base car is a hidden gem.
Let's face it, the BMW M2 is a spectacular car. There are definitely more powerful vehicles that you can buy for around $50,000, but the M2 punches well above its price bracket. Some would even say that the M2 is a better driver's car than the more expensive M4. Even Jeremy Clarkson said that the M2 was his favorite M car in recent history, and could be better than his favorite of all time, the E28 M5. Clarkson, like other journalists, was surprised that the M2 could be as good as it is.
The M2 is a lot like its predecessor, the 1 Series M. When the 1 Series M first came out, people were a bit confused as to what it was. BMW said that it was an official M car, but it didn't come with a bespoke S engine that all M cars are supposed to feature. The M2 is in a very similar situation where journalists came in thinking that the M division built a sort of "M light." When the M2 turned out to be more agile, and purer than the M3/M4, you can imagine how quickly people began singing its praises. We think that we know exactly what the cause of this phenomenon is. The M2 is good because the car that it's based off of might be the best one in BMW's lineup.
The BMW 3 Series (and 4 Series) have grown a lot over the years, making it hard to compare the newest 3 Series to a car like the E30. The modern day F30 3 Series needs to keep the sporty heritage of the E30 all while making modern customers happy. These modern customers will probably never take their cars to a race track. They really just want a comfortable vehicle to drive to work that sports the all important BMW badge. We aren't saying that the 3 Series and the 4 Series Coupe are bad cars, but they may have lost some of the sporty appeal of the models that proceeded them. Luckily, BMW may have recaptured this appeal with the 2 Series.
The base 2 Series is now badged as the 230i. The 230i starts at $33,150, and in typical BMW fashion you can drive up the price by going crazy with the options list. You can add expensive packages such as the M Sport or Premium packages which cost $2,500 and $2,950 respectively, but we like the idea of keeping things a little more basic (and cheaper). If you do want to get some nice features, the 2 Series offers some affordable a la carte options like power seats ($995), heated seats ($550), navigation ($1,950), Apple Car Play ($300), and Harmon Kardon surround sound ($875). Our favorite option by far is the no-cost six-speed manual that replaces the eight-speed automatic.
If you pick the right options, you can keep your 230i simple, and under $40,000. In today's market, that is not bad for a practical sports car. The 230i comes with a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine making 248 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. That is more than you got from the E36 M3's six-cylinder engine and this unit is a lot easier to tune. The 230i is also a much tighter package than the 4 Series which provides really nice balance. If you live in a snowy climate you can even get a 230i with xDrive, although you won't be able to get a manual. The M2 is the most "affordable" M car at $51,700, but if that is a little out of your budget, you may be just as well off buying BMW's hidden gem, the 230i.