2019 BMW M2 Competition First Drive Review: German Hot Rod

First Drive

The M2 Competition punches well beyond its weight.

When a manufacturer launches a new car they always hold something back in reserve for additional models and facelifts. With BMW M the structure of new model rollout is pretty clear, and we were not surprised when the M2 Competition was announced to sharpen the ‘baby’ M cars edge.

The normal M2 impressed us greatly when it made its debut in early 2016, not least because BMW M had the faith to hold the launch event at Laguna Seca, a track that really separates the men from the boys. In a world where most performance cars have paddle shift gearboxes, BMW realizes that many enthusiast customers still want to select gears the old-fashioned way. So the choice is left to their customers and a roughly even number of manual and DCT M2s have been sold.

What also makes the M2 special is the number of M3/M4 components in its hardware mix. For starters, the M2 shell was given muscular wheel arches to cover the bespoke inner wings that accommodate the wider front and rear axles and wheels and tires from big brother M3.

Next, its N55 motor was tuned for 370hp and 343 lb-ft of torque using some parts from the M3/M4 S55 motor. With such radical changes wrought to the lowly 2 Series Coupe the M2 could legitimately be called a hot rod. The new M2 Competition digs even deeper into the M car parts bin and now the entire M3/M4 motor has been transplanted into the smaller car, its two small turbos and other hardware providing a solid push with a healthy 410hp and 369 lb-ft of torque.

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“The M2 Competition tilts the focus more towards race track performance so we have increased the amount of content from the M3/M4 models,” explained Dirk Häcker, BMW M’s VP of Engineering. Given that the bodyshell and front and rear inner structure was already modified to accept the M3/M4 suspension and wide rubber no further work was required here apart from stiffening the front end.

“Since the track is identical to the M3/M4 carbon-fiber engine compartment brace bolted straight in. This significantly reduces torsional flex in the engine compartment ‘box’ and keeps the front suspension geometry closer to spec under load,” he said. “We experimented with variations of the M2 spring and damper rates but found that with the improved front-end stiffness the original settings were ideal,” explained Peter Schmid, Project Manager for Driving Dynamics. “This is the first time ever in my career that this has happened, and all we needed, in the end, was some software recalibration of the control electronics.”

On that score, the biggest mechanical change is under the hood, where the modified N55 TwinPower Turbo engine has been replaced with the actual S55 M motor from the M3/M4, detuned to 410hp for the smaller, lighter, and cheaper M2 Competition. In parenthesis, this engine makes 431hp in the M3/M4, 450hp in the M3/M4 Competition, and 460hp in the M4 CS.

The M2 Coupe tips the scales at 3,296 lbs as a six-speed manual and 3,351 lbs with the seven-speed M DCT dual clutch transmission, which features Drivelogic. With its more powerful engine and other upgrades, the Competition version weighs 121 lbs more.

With Launch Control activated, the M2 scorches to 62mph in the same 4.3 (manual 4.5 sec) as the M3/M4, and is also electronically reined in at 155mph. The M Driver’s Package opens this up to 168mph and comes with a BMW Driving Experience track-training course. Despite carrying extra weight the more powerful Competition model manages to hit 62mph in 4.2 seconds and tops out at the same limited 155 mph Vmax. The M Drivers Package raises this to 174mph.

As it is a brand new model the M2 Competition has to meet the latest EU6D emission regulations that come into force on 1st September. It does so by using a ceramic based, self-cleaning, exhaust gas particulate filter mounted in the exhaust system behind the secondary catalytic convertor. “We thought this might have an adverse effect on engine output, but in the end this turned out to be minimal,” said Axel Theiling, the Drivetrain Project Manager. “We just had to increase the turbo boost pressure by 0.1 bar on the M3/M4 (S55 engine), and 0.2 bar on the M2 (N55 engine) to compensate for the extra restriction in the exhaust.”

The more powerful M3/M4 engine requires more air so the telltale visual difference from the front between the M2 Competition and the less powerful M2 is the larger intake grilles. On road and track the M2 Competition is perceptibly more rapid, its matched pair of small turbos blowing forcefully into its 2,979cc straight-six motor also delivering keener throttle response. Despite the increased output, the torque curve is actually more linear, making for a smoother delivery sans the slight step that marks the arrival of peak torque in the less potent M2 motor.

I drove the manual and then the DCT versions of the M2 Competition at the Ascari track near Ronda in Spain, and came away mightily impressed by both. The manual gearbox has relatively short throws and the kind of slick and positive action that is often spoken of but seldom experienced. Importantly, the progressive throttle, medium weighted clutch, and intuitive steering are all on the same page. With the pedals perfectly set up for heel and toe action, it is clear that the engineers who set this car up are enthusiasts who enjoy driving.

Turn One (The Screw) of the 26-corner Ascari circuit is a downhill 180-degree left-hander that does no favors to a car that tends towards understeer. Like its base M2 sister the Competition has its front end well nailed down and you can feed power in progressively here as you open the steering for a fast exit onto straight tarmac.

In MDM1 the electronics still have a say to keep tyros out of trouble and I noticed a touch of understeer through the fast left-right Senna S sequence, and the even faster right-left sequence of The Kink and Mike Greenhalgh bends.

Knowing the inherent good balance of the M2 chassis from Laguna Seca where I had yearned for more power, I was eager to see what the Competition version could do in MDM2 mode with the electronic nanny disengaged. My faith in the engineers’ chassis calibration was rewarded with much-reduced understeer where it counts, and the ability to throttle steer the car to a much greater extent.

With the M Diff in the rear axle now able to fully strut its stuff, my high point in MDM2 was a lovely long drift through Mike Greenhalgh bend, with the progressive characteristic velocity of the chassis making it easy to hold and then stop the slide exactly as I exited onto the straight. Then I went out and did it all again in the DCT (Double Clutch Transmission) paddle shift version.

Given the effectiveness of the M2 Competition as a track day tool, the million-dollar question has to be which gearbox is best? As much as I liked the manual six-speeder on the road I definitely felt that the DCT equipped car was both faster and calmer on track. When I was following BMW pro driver, Nico Menzel, in his DCT equipped pace car it was clear that the milliseconds more it takes the manual shifter to engage the gears was allowing him to draw ahead a couple of meters each time.

This equates to a couple of seconds per lap, or 20 seconds across a 10-lap race. So if you are a track day or time attack junkie, choosing the DCT version is a no-brainer.

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