So, you’ve thought recently that BMW has gone soft with their core M-car lineup, that the labcoat’s at Munich forgot how to build a proper drivers car like M’s of days past. As you’ve probably already read from multiple outlets, the new M2 doesn’t disappoint. It’s like a professional athlete who for years puts up numbers to lead the league, batting .300 with 30 dingers. But the moment they have an off-year, think .270 and 20 homers, everyone cries out that he’s done, trade him even they might say. But no. Next year he comes back and hits .310 and knocks out 40 out of the ballpark. That’s what happened with BMW, they just had a couple off years, but they’re back with the M2.
They took us on the actual Thermal Club North Palm layout, following instructors from the BMW Performance Center. They built up a good pace, settling at 7-8/10ths, reaching upwards of 120 on the two long straights. The North Palm, while short, has a great series of esses, straights, a double-apex hairpin, and a long sweeping carousel all in a shortened 1+ mile to get some serious lapping in. At these higher speeds and wider tarmac, the M2 feels so at home on a real track, with perfect power to fly down the straights and healthy doses of mid range surge for coming out of corners.
Now let’s be clear here. When people like us say harsh statements such as ‘BMW doesn’t know how to build an M anymore,’ this must be approached from a different, more sensible angle. Brands like M GmbH have such a high standard when it comes to building note-perfect sports cars that when they miss the mark by a nose’s width, the population raises their pitchforks and cries heresy. That’s how good M’s have been in the past. Here’s BMW M, with a rich history of building high-revving, naturally aspirated monsters with chassis balance derived from studying the Russian ballet, so it’s no surprise that their first few forays into the era of turbocharging produced these near-misses as it was such a departure from core philosophies. Character and feel were replaced with comfort and sheer performance. But this level of speed doesn’t always guarantee the fizz. Blame the EU and EPA though for that, with their ever stringent mandates on efficiency. Cars like the 435 were not the best platform to become a focused M-car anyways, being aloof and too soft to start. No, they were artificially pumped up by steroids into the M4. The performance is staggering, but it’s not real (read: steering, noise, firm ride). The M2 has a brilliant base car to work off of luckily, the M235i, already very much a driver’s car. It followed the Mike Trout path of becoming a true star; it’s the real deal.
In spite of this devolution of fun, BMW produce a quirk of a gem in 2011: the now legendary 1 Series M Coupe. Though it was turbocharged, it had a focus on feel and balance, while the engine wasn’t overly powerful to take away the ability to exploit the chassis. That’s what my problem with cars like the M4 and M5 have been. Besides the general lack of steering feel among other issues, the power is so great it can’t truly be appreciated unless on a closed circuit, given it’s inability for the rear end to cope with acceleration. Nailing it on a public road with cold tires only results in a frantically flashing traction control light with little in the way of forward momentum. And the mid range punch from the frankenflat torque curve rarely rewards, encourages or even necessitates running up to the redline. The days of the E60 M5 and E46 and E92 M3s are gone. The new M2 though is a budding example and beacon of hope that BMW M can make a truly wonderful modern, turbocharged M car in the mold of its parent, the 1M coupe. And it’s by far the my favorite BMW currently made today.