2023 BMW M2 review, first drive - Ultimate grin machine?

Tuhin Guha Updated: June 02, 2023, 12:26 AM IST

What do you want from a good driver's car? A soulful engine, maybe a manual gearbox for that added engagement and a driving character that lets you exploit this performance as easily as possible. A package that's not too difficult to live with on the daily grind is a big positive too. BMW has usually nailed this brief, but in recent memory, you could say they've spread themselves thin to draw in a wider set of prospective owners. So does the new BMW M2, the smallest M car, bring it back for them?

2023 BMW M2: Styling and dimensions

The second generation BMW M2 may be the smallest M car, but this is only relative. At 4,580mm long, 1,887mm wide and 1,403mm tall, it's the same length as the E90 M3 from two generations ago but slightly wider and lower.

But in the way it looks there's quite a bit of athleticism, as you would want from a fast two-door sportscar. Sure, as with most new BMWs, the styling will challenge you at first. In the case of the M2, the grille is the right proportions but you are met with horizontal slats in them, there's no sign of the double-barrel light signature and the front bumper is quite a departure from BMW tradition with its large, angular openings.

Look closer and you'll realize that BMW has not left tradition completely, but has done a thoughtful job of melding it with the new. This M2 is a notable 119mm longer than the last version, along with being 33mm wider and marginally lower. The wheelbase has gone up by a good 54mm and the front track by 38mm.

So the M2's stance is still typically that of a rear-driven BMW, with its long bonnet, a simple glasshouse with a crisp Hofmeister kink and the stubby boot. There's a tautness to the bodywork like you usually find in BMWs, especially around the haunches and bonnet but again done differently here with the more angular lines. Tying in this aggressive stance are the staggered wheel sizes, at 19 and 20-inches, they're a size larger than even the current M3's. The optional carbon roof on this car, with its mild double-bubble, is another well-executed touch.

The rear facade will again give you something to think about. There's barely a hint of the wide, L-shaped lighting signatures you were used to in BMWs and more boxiness in the form of those large vertical reflectors. But there's also an exaggerated sense of aggression with the prominent ducktail spoiler built into the bodywork, that large diffuser and the closely spaced quad-exhausts. So the M2 then is like most modern BMWs. It shocks you at first glance but you warm to it sooner rather than later.

2023 BMW M2: Interiors

The interiors of the M2 though won't be casting any doubts. The dash design is very similar to that of the current 3 Series so it's got the usually simple but high-quality feel of a BMW cabin covered, the monolithic curved iDrive 8 display bringing that discreet techy feel.

But it's the M-specific adornments that fully put you in the mood for the M2's driving experience. The carbon-fibre finishes on the dash, centre console and doors are a good place to start, but it's the more nuanced touches like the back-lit M tri-colour pattern discreetly etched on the doors, the red M pre-sets on the steering wheel colour matched with the red starter button and the contrast stitching that makes you feel like you're in for a treat.

The stubby gear shifter, perfectly portioned, is this manual version's centre-piece but the seats are quite special. They're supportive and have all manner of adjustments as you'd expect but the M-highlighting and the backlit M2 badge in the headrest will catch your eye before anything else.

The M displays in the instrument cluster and touchscreen are similarly racy with their angular and M-themed colour palette. The instrument cluster, as is common with these iDrive 8 cars, gives you quite a bit of data but you also get exciting M-specific shift lights and gauges. There's even a drift analyser and lap timer in the instrumentation and some pretty cool Easter eggs like the M1 silhouette for the TPMS display. As ever, you find yourself tapping through the menus quite a bit for functions like the M setup feature and the climate controls, but this older-style BMW layout still has hard redundancies built in.

With the new M2's fairly large size, it's quite a spacious car to be in for what it is. As the driver, you have that typically sporty but comfortable BMW driving position. You sit low but not too low. The slightly oversized wheel is set just right and there's a good view out through the upright windscreen. Usefully in this manual version, the shifter is easy to reach and you can easily rest your elbow on the centre armrest to operate it.

Getting into the second row takes some contorting, especially if you are of a large frame. But once inside, the amount of space here is quite surprising. If you are of medium build, shorter journeys are easily doable here. It's a bit dark here and the seat could do with a bit more underthing support and the backrest could have been at a less upright angle, but for something that's meant for occasional use, it's more than reasonable. The boot is also large at 390 litres although you don't get a spare wheel.

2023 BMW M2: Engine, chassis and safety

The BMW M2 may be the smallest full M car but it's far from a half-measure. The S58 3.0-litre twin-turbo straight-six is lifted from the M4 but is slightly detuned in this smaller car to make 460PS and 550 Nm. That said, this M2 is more powerful than the last-gen M2 Competition. It's still purely rear-driven and aside from this six-speed manual, can also be had with an eight-speed automatic.

The weight distribution is near 50:50 and there's an M-specific rear-differential too, which can send 100 per cent of the torque to a single wheel. Chassis upgrades first seen on the M4 have trickled down here like a new M-specific front sub-frame and added strengthening to the C-pillar and rear end. The adaptive dampers too are model-specific as is the exhaust system.

The M2 further has an enhanced electronics suite. There's an M Dynamic Mode for the ESC that allows for more slip around corners and while launching as well as a ten-stage traction control system. You get three drive modes aside from this which can be extensively then finetuned.

The safety suite is good too. You get the reversing assistant, front collision avoidance and lane keeping assist as standard while other ADAS features like adaptive cruise control, lane change warning, rear traffic warning and collision avoidance can be optioned.

2023 BMW M2: Driving impressions and performance

Start driving the BMW M2 and the coupe will grow on you much before you've turned a wheel in any sort of anger. The M2 is endearingly easy to live with even in our demanding everyday driving scenarios. Its size and good visibility make it manageable in traffic. There is even enough ground clearance, so you only need to be careful over the worst of our speed breakers. The steering in its comfort setting is light but still direct and you have pretty much all the creature comforts you'd want in a BMW.

What stands out the most is the ride quality of these adaptive dampers. In the comfort setting there's still a firm edge to yet as you would expect but it still rounds off patched road surfaces and small potholes easily. Even the large-sized wheels don't seem to crash through all that much. The M2 feels more pliant than some other less focused performance BMWs. Yes, this manual version takes some work in stop-go traffic - the auto will be the better everyday car - but the clutch is light, well-placed and the travel isn't too long. You will have to get used to the brakes though, they're quite grabby and sensitive at first but start to feel natural with time behind the wheel.

But then when you hit your favourite bit of driving road, the M2 goes through quite the transformation. The BMW sheds this quite soft demeanour for something far more exciting. You notice the engine first, especially if you turn up the exhaust. There's that loud, almost synthetic growl we've come to expect from modern BMWs. Most of it is piped into the cabin but it feels quite authentic, especially with the distant pops and crackles from the exhaust.

The power delivery is as enticing as this soundtrack. The twin-turbo setup means that you don't have a big one-dimensional dollop of mid-range torque. Instead, power comes in an increasing swell from just over idle to right past 6,000 rpm, which eggs you on the rev out the engine. So the M2 does a fair approximation of a large naturally-aspirated motor while still giving you that gush of turbocharged torque. Even in the most aggressive setting, there's no real spikiness in the power delivery which makes it all the more natural.

BMW has done quite well to help you engage with this six-speed manual. It's not quite the best manual gearbox you'll operate, the throws are short but the gates could have been more precisely defined with a crisper feel. That said, the gearing isn't too tall in the first few gears, so on a flowing, open road you'll be fully able to wind the M2 up to its limiter a fair few times. The auto-blip function works naturally too, so you don't need to heel and toe to keep momentum. This manual M2 does 0 to 100 kmph in 4.3s(0.2s less than the auto) and the top speed is limited, as usual, to 250 kmph.

This is also where you notice how deft the M2 is. There's more to it than the usual rear-driver balance you find in a BMW. The near 50:50 weight distribution is a factor, but the M diff seems to help the M2 pivot around tight corners almost like something mid-engined as if most of the car's mass was centred right behind you. This immediately makes you connect better with the car. With a 1,700 kg kerb weight for this manual, the M2 isn't exactly featherweight, but the electronics do well to cover much of this heft.

The pliant ride also adds to your confidence from behind the M2's wheel. Driven briskly, the coupe doesn't snatch or skip over uneven surfaces. The car manages to stay composed even in the firmest damper setting and there's just enough lean to help get a better sense of the car's movements. As with most modern BMWs, the variable-ratio steering is a good complement with its well-managed heft and precision although it isn't the most feelsome. It weighs up in the sportier mode and becomes quicker, which can again take some getting used to but does add a further sense of agility.

This comes together to make for a surprisingly approachable package. The M2 never feels too big or too intimidating. You seem to be able to wring it out right up to your level of skill and maybe even push harder with the confidence it gives you. That it's so minutely adjustable makes this easier still.

Man in action: Rohit Paradkar

2023 BMW M2: Verdict

The M2 makes us wonder if this could be the sweet spot in the BMW M line-up and shows that BMW still makes some of the best cars for the driver. It's brilliantly engaging, its limits are easy to reach on our roads and with the manual, there is a level of interaction that's quite hard to find. All attributes that BMWs have been so good at traditionally. The good cabin and ease of everyday use only seem to broaden its appeal further. So if you are in the market for a pure, engaging sportscar, the BMW M2 should be close to the top of your list.

Text: @tuhinguha
Images: @manvstarmac

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Price (Ex-Delhi)
Starts Rs 83.4 Lakhs
Max Power(ps)
Max Torque(Nm)
10.63 Kmpl