With a base, Competition and CS to choose from, the M2 range is surprisingly comprehensive – and attainable
By Tony Middlehurst / Sunday, December 13, 2020
- M2s available for £25,000
- 3.0 straight-six, single turbo (M2) or twin turbo (Comp & CS), rear-wheel drive
- Feels quick at any engine speed
- Cabin not that special
- Driving experience is, though, especially in the dearer models
- Genuine four-seat capability
- CS is expensive but won't lose money
Search for a BMW M2 here
Once upon a time, engineers could submit requests to the boards of big car companies asking to be allowed to build something mad. It might still happen now for all we know, but it feels kind of unlikely.
Anyway, one of the best begging memos of recent times was the one that resulted in the BMW 1 Series M Coupe, or as it came to be known, the 1M Coupe, or as that came to be known, the 1M. Technically the car should have been called the M1, but BMW had already nicked that name thirty-odd years earlier for its own mid-engined supercar, and also, why would you want to name a really nice car after a horrid motorway?
As a condition for being indulged in their wish to do something silly with the E82 1 Series platform, the men in white coats were told to keep the costs down by using as many M3 bits as possible. They also used BMWs multiple-award winning N54 3.0 straight six, its twin turbochargers (which made the 1M the first turbocharged non-SUV M car) routing 335hp and up to 369lb ft through a six-speed manual gearbox, a limited slip diff and a widened back axle.
The stubby, pumped-out Frankenstein creation that was the 2011 1M had a 4-second 0-60 time, a 155mph limit that didn’t always cut in and a 52 per cent front-biased weight distribution that demanded vintage levels of care on greasy roads. All these character traits were exactly what thrill-seekers loved about it. Just 2,700 1Ms were supposed to have been built, but by the time the run finished in mid-2012 the number had risen to more than 6,300. Even so, the 1M is now a stone-cold classic that will cost you between £40,000 and £50,000.
Fortunately, the 1M didn’t mark the end of the line as far as manually-gearboxed, front-engined, rear-wheel drive BMW Q-cars went. Four years after its demise, after the release of M235i and M240i performance derivatives of the F22/F23 2 Series (brought out at the end of 2013 to succeed the coupe and convertible versions of the E82/E88 1 Series), the M2 was launched, despite that motorway being almost as annoying as the M1.
2016’s F87 M2 weighed the same as the 1M and was attractively wider than the M240i, courtesy of 71mm extra track at the rear and 64mm at the front. It featured BMW’s superb aluminium N55 engine. Already well loved by M enthusiasts since its 2011 debut, this was comprehensively freshened up for the M2 with parts from the M3/M4 S55 engine including forged conrods, pistons and crankshaft, a redesigned sump and oil drain pump, and extra oil coolers. The old spray-on liners were replaced by cast iron ones for stronger reliability in hard use.
The upshot of it all was an engine that produced thirty more horsepower than the 1M, at 365hp. The overboost max torque figure of 369lb ft was the same, but the torque the M2 did have was spread over a wider rev range. Given the 1M’s performance, there was little reason to complain about its 29.4mpg combined fuel consumption figure, but the M2’s more sophisticated electronics lifted that to an even more impressive 33.2mpg.
When new, the M2 manual’s asking price of just under £44,000 made it a full £12,000 cheaper than the cheapest M4, but in August 2018 the M2 was replaced by the Competition, which at nearer to £52,000 closed the M2-M4 gap to just £4,000. The big change was in the Competition’s engine bay, where the single-turbo 2,975cc N55 straight six made way for the 2,963cc S55 straight six with twin turbos, as seen in the M3 and M4. Power went up from 365hp at 6,500rpm to a detuned (compared to the 425hp M3 and M4) 404hp from 5,250-7,000rpm, while torque rose from 363lb ft from 1,450-4,750rpm to 405lb ft from 2,350-5,200rpm. A 55kg weight increase meant that the Competition’s 0-62mph times were only one-tenth quicker than the M2’s in both manual and auto formats.
A CS model went on sale in summer of 2020 as a classic ‘grab it while it lasts’ offering from BMW before the next-gen M2 comes out sometime in 2021. For a hefty premium (£75,355 for the manual and £77,455 for the DCT auto) the CS had plenty of carbon, superior aero, and a 444hp variant of the Competition’s 404hp S55 engine. Unusually, the manual CS was accredited with a slightly shorter 0-62 time than the DCT, at 4.0sec and 4.1sec respectively, although that could be an internet mistake. The M Driver package was standard, limiting the CS’s top speed to 174mph.
After its Sachsenring launch the CS was hailed by at least one experienced journo as the best driver’s car in the 2020 BMW range. Better still, as far as we know there are no Competition or CS motorways in either the UK or elsewhere.
What are the M2’s rivals? You’d think they would be the RS 3 or the AMG A45, both of which are less expensive than the BMW, but those who have driven an M2 and a Porsche Cayman reckon that’s a closer comparison, even if the Cayman is more obviously a sports car. With 281hp per tonne, the CS with the DCT gearbox isn't far short of the Cayman GT4 on power to weight. Its 0-62mph time is actually 0.4sec shorter than the Porsche’s.
Let’s have a stroll through what the M2 was and what it became, with half an eye on what you wouldn’t want it to become, ie an unreliable old heap.
SPECIFICATION | BMW M2 (2016-on)
Engine: 2,979cc straight six 24v
Transmission: 6-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): [email protected],500rpm
Torque (lb ft): [email protected],400-5,560rpm (363lb ft on overboost 1,450-4,750rpm)
0-62mph: 4.5 secs (man), 4.3 secs (DCT)
Top speed: 155mph (limited)
MPG (official combined): 33.2
Wheels: 9 x 19in (f), 10 x 19in (r)
Tyres: 245/35 (f), 265/35 (r)
On sale: 2016 – 2020 (including 2018-on Competition)
Price new: £43,770 (man), £46,415 (DCT) (Competition £51,860 and £54,505)
Price now: from £25,000
Note for reference: car weight and power data is hard to pin down with absolute certainty. For consistency, we use the same source for all our guides. We hope the data we use is right more often than it’s wrong. Our advice is to treat it as relative rather than definitive.
ENGINE AND GEARBOX
The single-turbo N55 engine is a beautiful piece of work, ticking just about every box a BMW enthusiast might dream up. Power, noise, flexibility, refinement – you name it, the N55 has it. Only the delivery of peak torque from just 1,450rpm gives away the presence of a turbocharger, so well integrated is it.
In manual M2s the 0-100mph came up a second quicker than it did in the 1M. The removal of 10kg of sound deadening relative to the M240i brought good advances in both weight and sporty noise. An M Performance exhaust system was available as an option with valves that could be twiddled via a neat Bluetooth controller. Some warranty claims have been put in on these systems.
You never got the sensation that you were light on power with the N55 M2, but nevertheless the S55 engine from the M3 and M4 was brought in for both the Competition (the M2’s 2018 successor) and the 2020 CS. We’ve detailed the statistical differences in the Overview, but away from the numbers the S55 delivered the usual BMW six-pot refinement and muscularity at lower revs with sharp response and that classic BMW zing at higher ones, even if many thought that it didn’t sound quite as good as the N55. To achieve peak power in the 444hp CS you needed to hang on for another 1000rpm but that was very much a pleasure rather than a chore.
The M2’s six-speed manual came with an auto-blip function. The shift action was firm but perhaps not as slick as the 1M’s manual, giving the edge to the DCT 7-speeder for those who were going to be spending most of their time in a city rather than on a track. For some, the balance shifted back towards the manual in the 2018-on Competition, and a bit further again in that direction in the CS. Launch control was available in the DCT by pressing the traction button to the side of the shifter until DSC (Dynamic Stability Control) was deactivated, sticking it into first, holding down the brake, pressing hard on the throttle and releasing the brake. Presettable M buttons on the steering wheel allowed you to disable the driver aids with a single press.
Even the M2 is a relatively new car with most of them still being under warranty, so time will tell on mechanical reliability, but so far the signs are good. Some owners have reported faulty coils on the pre-Comp N55-engined M2s, which is a bit of a thing on turbo BMWs, and more than one has had the electric water pump go. Generic N55 issues can include leaking gaskets for the valve covers, oil filter housing and oil pan, broken charge pipes and splitting coolant overflow hoses. If the fan belt snaps it can wrap itself around the crank pulley and create a bad oil leak, but that would be a freak sort of occurrence. On the positive side N55s are much less prone to the carbon buildup issues that plagued the N54.
There is a known problem with ‘stuttery’ first gears on the auto transmissions (particularly when cold) which some have put down to the unusually short nature of that first ratio and the DCT’s tendency to hunt around for the bite point. Stepping hard on the throttle helps the trans to engage more completely in 1st, lifting off at around 2000rpm to provoke a shift up to 2nd.
Good quality petrol works well in these cars, and there’s no downside in changing the oil every 5,000 miles (apart from the cost). Spark plugs should be changed every 50,000 miles, or less if you're going down the tuning road. N55s will take up to 600hp on the standard block.
Just as the original 1M did, so the M2 nicked nice suspension parts from the M3. The wheel carriers and control arms were made of forged aluminium, there was extra intra-tower bracing, and the rear subframe was fixed directly to the body with no bushes to introduce any suspicion of wobble. Staggered 19in rims were 9in wide at the front and 10in at the back. Brakes were M compound steels. The brake dust shields in early cars trapped stones, causing noise. Updated shields were issued under warranty to correct this.
An electronically controlled Active M Differential modulated torque at the back axle, locking by anything between zero and 100 percent to permit highly controllable slides on demand. Although the stability control system was described as ‘unsympathetic’ by one magazine on account of its occasional over-intrusion even in Dynamic mode, the overall take on the M2’s passively-sprung handling was of an agile and fluent car with a stable front end and a healthy appetite for power deployment. The ride was good too, if a little stiffer than the M240i’s, but the win bonus came in great straightline stability and rapid direction-changing ability. Servotronic steering wasn’t a benchmark in feel but there was no shortage of info pouring through the chassis.
The Competition made some good strides forward on chassis control, changes to the spring and damper settings combining with a new front turret brace and rose joints in the rear suspension to purge the M2’s slight bounciness at the limit without taking the firmness too far. The extra 55kg the Comp was carrying was neatly spirited away by a meatier steering map and the stability control was modded too to allow for a bit more oppo in Dynamic mode. The Comp got bigger brakes, which were still steel with no carbon option, though there was a £1,350 M Performance brake package with 400mm/380mm discs clamped by six-pot calipers. There were also new choices in the wheel and M seat departments.
The main chassis aim with the Competition was to deliver handling that was more accurate generally and more progressive on the limit, and it very much succeeded in both areas. It was a great A- and B-roads rear-wheel drive car, irrespective of whether you played with the gears or simply surfed on the torque in third or fourth.
Although the original M2 retained the 1M’s 52/48 front/rear weight distribution, by the time the CS arrived BMW had achieved a near 50/50 mix, not that surprising in view of the engine’s position behind the front axle which made it if not mid-engined at the very least front/mid. As well as extra bracing the CS had forged aluminium wheels with 245/35 and 285/35 tyres in either Michelin Pilot Super Sports or the more tracky soft-compound Pilot Sport Cups. The suspension was substantially revised with, for the first time in an M2, adaptive dampers, while a camber change introduced more positive self-centring to the steering. A little understeer was built into the chassis to help the driver in fast corners: trail-braking or a throttle lift reined it in. The M Performance braking that was an option on the Competition became standard, with carbon ceramics becoming the option.
The result of it all was an outstanding handler that lapped the Nürburgring eight seconds faster than the M2 Competition while capable of delivering a combined fuel consumption figure that was still in the 30s. Impressive.
We wouldn’t blame you for not wanting to get involved in the dry debate on whether an M2 is a two-door saloon or a coupe. What’s less debatable is the positive effect that M treatment generally if not always has on a car’s styling. You might wish that the standard 2 Series body looked like the M2’s, but then of course there’d be no point of differentiation and a pumped-up, big-tyred 2 Series with a range-bottoming engine would be a travesty. Let’s just be content with relishing the look of all three of these M variants.
The Competition’s new front end was designed to allow more cooling air to get at the more powerful engine. It offered just five no-cost paint choices. The CS had a vented carbon fibre reinforced plastic bonnet as per the CS versions of the M3 and M4, a carbon front splitter and bigger rear spoiler and new diffuser crafted from the same material, and a carbon-sandwich roof panel to lower the centre of gravity. Even with all that exotic stuff, which reputedly reduced lift at 124mph to as near to zero as made no difference, the CS weighed the same as the 1,575kg Competition.
Some of these cars have suffered from condensation in the LED tail light assemblies.
The M2 does sport a slew of M-badged instrumentation, but the overall dash design, the odd rattle and the lingering feeling of it not having much ‘posh car quality’ don’t help to disguise the car’s humble ancestry. Still, the extra usability of the 2 Series’s cabin space soon takes your mind off that, enabling normal four-passenger trips without the sort of scrunching and wincing that would go on in an Audi TT.
The M4-style high-back front seats are comfortable and combine with the excellent M steering wheel to create an M4-like driving position. You can fold the rear seats down to boost the already more than acceptable 390 litre boot space. The M2 got the latest iDrive infotainment package with 8.8in touchscreen, digital radio, Professional Navigation and Media and the usual online services, with ConnectedDrive adding a laptimer and GoPro video app. Most of the other stuff you’d want in a car like this – cruise, parking sensors, dual-zone climate control – was supplied in the standard spec. Popular options included keyless access at £350 and heated seats and wheel at £295 and £160 respectively.
The CS celebration runout model is pretty much the same as the Competition on the inside with the exception of its carbon fibre central console (without armrest), its thickly-rimmed Alcantara steering wheel and the M Competition Sport front seats from the M4 CS.
There have been instances of intermittent M2 horn and indicator malfunctions, and of iDrive screens turning black or going a bit bonkers in cold weather (navigating through all the menus, changing the radio station or calling your special friend without being asked). Sound system amplifier failure is another known thing, usually signalled by a nasty screeching sound that, it turns out, isn’t to do with the track that’s being played at the time. Outside temperature sensors can fail.
The M2 coupe may not have had the 1M’s limited-run unhinged skunkworks appeal, but it did have a hell of a lot of other stuff going for it, namely its retention of a high-character six-cylinder engine in a world of turbo fours and of course that genuine M car ‘pocket supercar’ feel, now temptingly on offer in the used car market at prices starting from £25,000. The driving experience starts off great in the M2 and just gets better with the Competition and then the CS, which is a stoating bit of kit.
2018-on Competitions start at £40,000, while a CS will be hard to find under £80,000. Here’s a delivery mileage Misano Blue one from the PH Classifieds with ceramic brakes and just about everything else you might want in one of these for £89,950. At the more affordable end of things, what about this privately owned 2016 M2 in white with just 11,000 miles recorded for £29,250?
The middle choice between these two extremes would naturally be a Competition like this first-year specimen from 2018 with just 5,000 miles and carbon interior trim. Yours for £40k on the nose.
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