Good: stunning in its looks, its performance, its abilities, its handling.
Not so good: the steering, if we're being picky, could be a touch sharper.
So I guess you could say that the BMW M2 and I had a bad first date. Last year, when I first got to drive BMW's pocket rocket, it wasn't wine, flowers and the encouragingly arched eyebrow of the maître d' at the Gibson Hotel, but instead the raw, naked tarmac of the Laguna Seca race circuit.
Normally, raw and naked are good things on a first date (I guess...), but on this occasion, a combination of jet lag, over-exuberance and the crest just before Laguna's Turn 1 left me feeling a bit scared and dejected. My confidence sapped, I limped home feeling that I just wasn't up to this. So, exactly like a first date, then.
Happily, my relations with the M2 have improved since. A recent stint with the car on track, this time at Mondello Park in Kildare, has raised my confidence and now, belatedly, I've had an extended session with it on road.
And I think I'm just a little in love.
The M2 is, basically, a cut-and-shut BMW M4 (or M3 Coupe as I prefer to call it...). It takes the same turbocharged straight-six 3.0-litre engine as you get in the M4, detunes it from 450hp to 370hp, plonks it on the end of a shorter, 2,693mm wheelbase, and then wraps it in the lighter, tighter 2 Series Coupe body shell (actually not that much lighter - the M2 and M4 are separated by a handful of kilos).
The result is one of the best looking new BMWs since Bangle buggered off. The extended wheelarches and muscular stance of the M2, wrapped over 19-inch forged alloys, make a standard 2 Series Coupe look unfinished, yet the styling is still much more subtle than that of the bombastic-looking M4. You do get stares from the pavement and the seats of other cars, but only from keen petrolheads, judging from the expressions that are usually a mixture of envy and appreciation.
The engine generates a mixture of noises, ranging from the guttural to the operatic, and if there is a little bit of electronic trickery involved in some of the exhaust note, for the most part it sounds as good with the window down as up. Our test car came with the optional seven-speed M-DCT dual-clutch automatic transmission, which is perhaps a little less fun to use than the standard six-speed manual, but which knocks 20g/km off the emissions figure, and adds a few mpg to the economy, so most will come with it. You can shift either with the stubby, tactile little shift lever between the seats, or with the pleasantly solid paddles behind the wheels, which are fine, if nowhere near as good as those in an Alfa Romeo Giulia (even a basic diesel one). The gearchange is fantastic though - as quick as you could possibly need, and BMW has engineered in some slightly crude kickback and the occasional mechanical clunk as the drive disengages when holding on the brake at traffic lights, giving what is actually a very refined setup a hint of racecar edginess.
Inside, the cabin is basically stock 2 Series Coupe, which is grand, but perchance a little underwhelming in a car on which you've just spent north of €80k. Quality levels are fine, the front seats are great, the grey-faced dials lovely and space is reasonably good, but you might justifiably expect a little more than just a few splashes of carbon fibre trim for your trouble. You do get the rather lovely sensation of wearing the M2 as a closely tailored suit, though, and given the relatively compact dimensions stretching out from your seat, you do kind of wonder quite how BMW M managed to stuff an inline-six up front.
Thankfully, it did, and it's close to perfect. Quite apart from the noise, and quite apart from the cheek-rippling acceleration that propels you to 100km/h in just 4.3 seconds (0.2 seconds faster than the manual version), the M2's performance actually feels beautifully well judged. Whereas an M4 can feel rather wayward and threatening (especially if it's raining), the M2 never feels anything other than playfully faithful. You can pretty much drift it at will, with all that grunt, but even with the relatively short wheelbase, such movement at the rear happens gently at first, and it never seems to snap like an M4 can. The steering is precise, fast, direct and has some feel, but as ever with a modern M or M Sport car, you do sense that the over-stuffed rim of the three-spoke steering wheel is robbing you of a little feedback. That, however, is the nittiest of picks.
The M2's overall balance is what really impresses. It's very neutral in its cornering attitude, and has been set up to allow a whiff of understeer to stabilise the turn in, translating through to a hint of oversteer if you nail the exit right. You can thank the electronically controlled Active M Differential for that, and thank to the fact that BMW has tuned it to be understanding of any ham-fisted inputs - an M2 will never, seemingly, castigate you for getting it wrong.
All that said, attack a series of corners hard, and the M2 starts to pivot and twist like an old-school rally car. In fact, on a really twisty back road, it starts to feel like nothing more than a leather-lined MkII Escort, darting from apex to apex, albeit with that wonderful six-pot soundtrack instead of a flat blare of a BDA.
If there is a criticism, it's in the ride. Generally, the M2 isn't too aggressively set up, but it does lack adaptive dampers, which is an odd omission, and while that means stiffness that's welcome in terms of keeping the body steady during sharp manoeuvres, or through long, fast corners, on tighter, bumpier roads it just becomes wearing, with too much bounce and shake for comfort, or for that matter, for putting down power.
Again, it's a relatively minor point. The M2 is in fact a masterclass in how to make a modern, fast, fabulous, performance car. It has just enough practicality that you could conceive of using it as your sole day-to-day car (it even gets decent fuel economy, for a high-performance car), yet it's as fast and as accelerative as anyone could reasonably need on a day-to-day basis.
Best of all, in spite of all the trick electronics and clever differential, this is a car that feels resolutely analogue in a digital age. It feels like a vinyl 12-inch, compared to an M4's aiff file. And it proves that a bad first date needn't, ultimately, hinder a loving relationship.