2023 BMW M2

  • July 29, 2023

What could be better than a more-than-400-horsepower twin-turbo six, paired with a manual transmission and rear-wheel-drive? 

How about paying about $12k less for it? 

In a nutshell, that’s the $62,200 BMW M2 – which is a lot like the $74,700 BMW M4. 

Just a lot less expensive.   

What It Is

The M2 is like the M4 in that both are high-performance versions of BMW four-seater coupes – the 2 and 4 Series, respectively. They are both similar in appearance and layout, but the M2 – being based on the compact-sized 2 Series coupe – is a smaller car than the M4, which is based on the larger 4-Series coupe.

There are also some differences that go beyond size – and price. 

The M2 comes only as a hardtop coupe while the M4 is available as a hardtop or a convertible. It is also available with all-wheel-drive, while the M2 comes only with rear-wheel-drive. 

In a nutshell, the M2 is the more distilled essence of the M4. Both are intoxicating cars – but the M2 will get you there for less.

What’s New For 2023

The M2 returns after a year’s absence with more power and an updated body/chassis based on the updated 2 Series that came out last year.

What’s Good

An M4 in a slightly smaller package – for a lot less money.

A true driver’s car that has room for passengers.

More trunk (13.8 cubic feet) than you get in the larger M4 (12 cubic feet).

What’s Not So Good

No convertible option.

Less tank – just 13.7 gallons – vs. 15.6 gallons in the M4.

Back seats are a tighter squeeze for passengers.

Under The Hood

Both the M2 and the M4 have a twin-turbo 3.0 liter in-line six under their hoods. This engine is BMW’s signature engine – much the same as the horizontally opposed six is Porsche’s signature engine. The key point being they are very different engines, unlike most of the engines available in everything else.

And that’s what makes them unlike anything else.

The inline sixes in the M2 and M4 are different, though – in terms of their output.

In the M2, the six produces 453 horsepower and 406 ft.-lbs. of torque. In the M4, the engine makes 473 horsepower though torque output remains – interestingly – the same as produced by the M2’s version of the six.

Even so, performance is nearly identical. Both cars get to 60 in about 4 seconds flat or just a bit quicker – with the automatic versions being the just-slightly-quicker versions. This is true generally – because automatics “hook up” more efficiently than manuals and shift more exactly, having been programmed to do just that.

And it’s why every other car BMW sells – even the Z4 roadster – comes only with an automatic.

Except the M cars – which are are aberrations. Which is interesting, given you’d assume the preferable layout would be the one that results in the best numbers. But numbers don’t convey emotions.

An automatic-equipped M2 or M4 might have a slight edge in quickness – and consistency – but the manual-equipped M2 or M4 has the edge when it comes to the intangibles and that’s why BMW not only offers the M2 (and the M4) with a manual – it is the standard transmission in both.

An eight speed automatic is available as a no-cost option.

Both the M2 and the M4 post almost identical gas mileage numbers – 16 city, 24 highway for the latter and 16 city, 23 highway for the former – but the M2 seems much thirstier because you’ll be stopping for gas more often. That’s because its 13.7 gallon tank carries about two gallons less gas than the M4’s 15.6 gallon tank. That difference works out to about 35-40 miles less range on a tankful, in the M2.

This means the little running-on-empty (or nearly) light will come on sooner than it does in the M4.

On the other hand, the M2 can still travel more than 300 highway miles on a tankful – and its tank can be refilled in just a  couple of minutes, which cannot be done with an electric car.

A Tesla Plaid is quicker than both the M2 and the M4 – but not for long. And then you wait.

There is one other point of difference between the M2 and the M4 and it is that BMW does not offer all-wheel-drive as an option with the M2. This helps keep the cost of the M2 lower – as well as its curb weight. An M4 with AWD weighs just shy of two tons (3,979 lbs.) vs. 3,814 lbs. for the rear-drive-only M2.

However – and very interestingly – the rear-drive M4 coupe, which is a larger car, weighs almost the same (3,830 lbs.) as the smaller (and so-you’d-think lighter) M2.

But the M4 convertible with AWD weighs an astounding (for the kind of car this is) 4,306 lbs., comparable to some of the biggest full-size American sedans of the ’70s.

On The Road

There are performance cars and there are track-day cars. The M2 is both kinds of car.

It is also another kind of car.

A fun car.

The standard manual transmission is what makes it so.

A Corvette is an equivalent car – by the numbers. It is a quicker (just slightly) car and it can run around a track as or more quickly, too. But it isn’t as fun, because there’s less to do – and it’s not just that.

Automatic-only performance cars are less challenging to drive. Almost anyone can drive them – and this takes away from the challenge of driving them. What art is there in pushing the Launch Control button and stomping on the gas? This isn’t to say it’s not fun. But it’s also not the same as holding the clutch in, your right foot bringing up the revs – and then letting out the clutch – not too much, too fast – and not too little, too late – while modulating throttle to launch the car, then stabbing the clutch in again while simultaneously pulling the shifter down for second, feeling the engagement as you let the clutch out again and feel the engine’s power connect as the rear wheels skitter just a little. The same for second and third – and so on.

To do this right takes skill – and therein lies the challenge and the satisfaction.

The M2 isn’t a car that just anyone can just get in and drive. And that is what makes it so special to drive it.

Some other fun things about this car: In Track Mode (the other two are Sport and Normal) all the noisome “advanced driver assistance technologies” are turned off – just by pushing that one button. You are also cautioned – hilariously – to not push that button “on public roads.” This is kind of like (back in the day) when you bought a catalytic converter “test pipe” (which was just a hollow tube that replaced the cat) and crossed-your-heart and hope’d-to-die that you were only buying the thing for “testing” purposes.

Now it’s fully challenging, the way a track car should be. You’re not there to watch others drive, after all. And – no – it’s not “unsafe.” It is simply a matter of knowing what you’re doing. If you do, this BMW is one of the most rewarding cars to drive you can buy. It will not only thrill you, it will – here it comes – challenge you.

And that is the fun of the thing.

You might think this track day car is a rough customer on the street – but it isn’t. Firm, yes. Harsh, no. The optional carbon package with race-type seats that have carbon dividers on the lower cushions don’t have much cushion, but that’s what you want when you’re using the car as it was designed to be used. And they’re supple enough that they are comfortable enough to sit in when you’re just driving.

The only thing that detracts from that is the becoming universal LCD gauge cluster/secondary cluster that – in the M2’s case – is a one-piece cluster that extends two-thirds of the width of the dash. The driver’s side has the usual multi-configurable display that changes with mode and according to your preferences.

The bar-type tach is a little counterintuitive vs. the perfect functionality of a round analog tach, the latter being a design that will never be improved upon, like a simple knob or thumbwheel to adjust the volume of the stereo. But it’s the other side of the one-piece LCD screen – the side that houses the displays (and tap/swipe inputs) for the stereo that can be frustrating to use while driving, because it is very difficult to accurately tap/swipe (or scroll) a screen while driving.

The good news is, who needs a stereo – even the excellent unit that comes standard in this car – when you get to drive a car like this car?

And hear it, as you drive it?

At The Curb

The M2 can be seen as a smaller M4 – or the reverse. Both looks so much alike it is hard to tell them apart unless you park them side-by-side. Then you’ll notice the M4 is longer – 189.1 inches end to end vs. 180.3 for the M2.

This difference also manifests inside, where you’ll find a bit more backseat legroom in the M4 (34.7 inches) vs. in the M2 (32.2 inches). That’s what you’d expect given the one is bigger than the other. What you might not expect is that the bigger car – the M4 – has a noticeably smaller trunk (12 cubic feet) vs. 13.8 in the M2’s. This is an odd juxtaposition in that the M4 is more comfortable for four while the M2 is more able to carry the other two people’s things.

One thing neither have is a gaping, frog-mouth grill – which is something many other BMW vehicles (and vehicles, generally) do have. Probably because they haven’t got anything else – in terms of interesting things like the M2’s smoother-than-liquified butter six – and the manual transmission that goes with it. So they gape in plasticized fury – perhaps angered by what they lack.

Something you can get – for about $10k extra – is a carbon package that includes a full length (and width) sheet for the roof as well as carbon trim all around the entire, including the backs of the cinch-you-inch sport buckets that also have a carbon covered center divided on the lower cushions that looks like the perfect spot to cinch up a racing harness.

The “instrument cluster” no longer is – in the sense that what there is now is a sheet of LCD touchscreen that extends from the left to the right of the dash – about two thirds of the way to the passenger’s side. It integrates what used to be the instrument cluster with what was – briefly – the separate center stack LCD screen that you used to access/control the secondary functions. These are Becoming One – and not just in BMWs. Probably because it looks wow – if you’ve never seen one before – and also because it’s trendy.

But is it good?

Well, it depends.

It is good for the manufacturers – in that these screens certainly cost less to install – to plug in, as the car rolls down the assembly line – and that means more profit. They are also a way to control (and display) all or at least, most, of the car’s necessary information and functions without a lot of buttons (and switches).

But, they are not easy to use without looking at what you’re tapping and swiping – as while driving. And – arguably – in a high-end car such as this as M2, they will only look high-end for as long as low-end cars lack them. That is rapidly changing as even “entry level” cars already almost universally have large LCD displays for the secondary functions just like the ones that used to be found only in the highest-end cars as not-so-long ago as ten years ago.

How much longer before even entry level cars also have full-width, one-piece LCD screens like the M2 and other high-end cars have now?

Touchscreens are the one thing that costs less each year – which is great except that it makes touchscreens ordinary. And this is an extraordinary car. It deserves real, chronograph-style analog gauges that can’t be made cheap and so are worthy of the car. A touchscreen for the apps, perhaps.

But for the driver, something better than that.

The Rest

The fact that the M2 – and M4 – still come standard with manuals shows that people who take driving seriously – and not just by the numbers – demand them. Emphasis on the latter because all other BMW models are automatic-only. Automatics allow for slightly better fuel economy numbers (on paper) and slightly better performance numbers. But manuals assure something far more important.

The Bottom Line

There are many high-performance cars to choose from, but the M2 (and M4) are true driver’s cars.

And there are very few of them left.

. . .

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