BMW has beefed up its M2 with a few more go-faster bits – and a whole new engine. Does it make what's already the best M car (in our opinion) even better? We drove it on the track and on the roads in the south of Spain to find out.
The M2 Competition keeps the formula the same, but adds a dollop of extra power in the form of the M3/4 twin-turbo motor.
What is it?
The M2 is widely acclaimed as an exceptional M car and, quite possibly, the best M car in BMW's entire product line-up. Suffice to say that it won the title of Best Performance Car title in both the 2016/17 and 2017/18 Cars.co.za Consumer Awards – powered by WesBank.
So why mess with the winning formula? Well, because BMW always believes it can do more, and better. And so, to catapult its littlest M car into another league, BMW has tossed out the 135i-based single-turbo engine and dropped in a (detuned) twin-turbo motor from the M3/M4, improved the chassis rigidity by fitting a carbon-fibre engine brace, added a set of special M mirrors, recalibrated the DSC software that controls the Active M Differential (to offer a bit more leniency) and enlarged the air intakes in the front skirt aid to the cooling system (lifted from the M4 Competition).
The new more powerful motor for the M2 Competition, or a detuned M3/4 motor if you look at it differently.
So it goes like the clappers?
Yep, like it's fleeing from an axe murderer! The M2 Competition produces 30 kW (302 kW) and 50 Nm (550 Nm) more than the first M2, which was launched here in 2016. But it's not just about piling on more power to make the newcomer faster, there are distinct differences in the characters of the 2 engines. The single-turbo unit delivered linear power, especially for a turbo, it revved cleanly and strongly right up to the 7 500 rpm redline.
Now, with the twin-turbo straight 6 unit, there's a distinct kick in power and torque early on in the rev range. BMW said it wanted the M2 Competition to feel like it was decidedly more powerful than its predecessor and that the extra surge would be physically perceptible. Indeed, whether out on the track or on the road, the power increase is noticeable, not by a sensation of speed, but by the sudden impact of boost being sent to the rear wheels.
The Competition only launches to 100 kph 0.1s faster than the standard M2.
The stats suggest a (claimed) zero to 100 kph time of 4.2 sec (auto, manual is 4.4 sec), which is enough to hold an Audi RS3 to task, even with the Quattro's advantage of tractable (all-wheel-drive) launch starts. But bear in mind this engine usually appears in a higher state of tune, 317 kW in the M3/M4 and 331 kW in their respective Competition derivatives. It's quite obvious the drop in power is to not step on the toes of its bigger brothers.
Is it competitive when the road isn't straight?
We first sampled the M2 Competition on the Ascari private track before heading into the hills surrounding the circuit to get a balanced feel for the newcomer. Ascari has plenty of corners, which were famously copied from those of great tracks around the world (it features names such as Bathurst, Copse, Spa and Daytona). That renders Ascari more than suitable as a proving ground on which to find the M2 Competition's limits.
The new engine delivers more of a torque thump than the previous engine, but is that a good thing?
It doesn't take long to understand this M2 Competition needs to be driven differently to its predecessor. You now ride the wave of torque rather than revving the motor to its limits. Second-gear corners become 3rd with the torque providing more meaningful acceleration and forward momentum. Yes, some of the fun has gone from a really revvy engine, but the extra torque provides its own challenge.
The M2 Competition begins to squirm and wriggle under hefty throttle applications far earlier and requires more quick countersteering inputs from the driver on corner exits than before. It's not a brutal wallop of torque that requires armfuls of lock... quick but small balances of the steering are enough to gather up the rear and accelerate cleanly.
It's the same out on the road where traction isn't always as consistent. The rear-end is playful (prone to sliding) and easily controlled when provoked; the short wheelbase provides that immediate response from steering to axle that makes the M2 Competition brilliantly reactive.
The manual may be slower than the auto, but it's serious fun to drive if you're not in search of ultimate lap times.
That's the core of the M2, a trigger-happy tail that's easily manipulated but without that knife-edge limit that often accompanies a pinched wheelbase. The M2 Competition still retains the almost instinctive handling facets that made the original so fun to drive in the first place. BMW didn't change the M2's suspension; make it lower or stiffer. The recipe was perfect, it just found a different way of cooking it.
What's not great?
While the front end darts into corners with attacking intent, it could do with a bit more feel through the steering. The M2 Competition's tiller never quite communicates enough feedback to give you that 6th sense of where the ultimate limit is, at least at the front.
These 2-tone mirrors are part of the Competition kits modifications.
When I asked BMW’s engineers why they didn't further develop the rev-happy 135i engine, they said that they had achieved the limit (in terms of reliable power output) of that motor and felt the extra kick from the twin-turbo would give the M2 Competition a more muscular driving experience. That makes sense, but a report suggests the first M2's motor would not comply with the new Worldwide Harmonised Light Vehicle Test Procedure (WLTP) for emissions, whereas the M3/M4 motor does, which is why the one was swapped for the other.
It's true that the extra torque gives the rear tyres more to think about when they're groping the asphalt, but that also makes the newcomer more akin to its mercurial M3/M4 siblings when you mash its throttle pedal. It gives up a bit of that pliable, even-tempered M2 character we enjoyed so much.
Thankfully, the M2 Competition’s chassis is good enough to steal the show on its own. It's fun in a way that's not as threatening as when you're at the wheel of an M3/M4 at (or near) the limit; the thrills are more accessible and it still feels fast, plenty fast in fact. You don't need to take your big and brave pills to have a little fun in the corners, the MDM mode will allow you enough slide and angle to not mute the enjoyment or reign you in.
The M2 Competition is a great BMW M car, it ticks all the boxes for a driver who takes driving seriously and wants to have fun. But is it better than the M2 that preceded it? Nope, unfortunately, the initial excitement of having an M3/4 motor under the bonnet subsides as the fierce torque distribution (to get the tyres working under power) take something away from the M2's purity. That said, the M2 Competition is still the best M car available (because it replaces the outgoing M2). In spite of its engine it's still an M2 – its sweetly-balanced handling characteristics remain.
The M2 Competition will be available in SA from September 2018 and is priced at:
BMW M2 Competition 6-Speed manual: R972 029
BMW M2 Competition M-DCT (7-Speed): R1 026 505