Next year's new BMW M2 Coupe could be one of the last new BMW M car to use purely internal combustion engined power. Ahead of the car's full unveiling later this year we got the opportunity to take a couple of pre-production prototypes for a blast on track to get a taste of its high-speed dynamics and discuss the car's creation with its team of development engineers. So, is it shaping up to be a melodic swansong?
In the metal
Even under the stylised camouflage of our prototype test car it's clear that the new BMW M2 will look more muscular than the beefy 2 Series Coupe. There are widened arches front and rear, new bumpers, a new bonnet and BMW M's characteristic quad exhaust layout at the back. The squat stance that made the old car so attractive is carried over, but new to the 2 Series - and shared with the BMW M3/M4 - is the use of mixed size tyres. Up front, there are 19-inch wheels, while the rear alloys have a 20-inch diameter. This is in the name of dynamics, not appearance, as are the Michelin Pilot Sport 4 S tyres.
Inside, despite the black tape and covers of the prototype, you can clearly see that the M2 is getting the new BMW curved display dashboard. No doubt that will eventually be rolled out to the rest of the 2 Series Coupe line-up in time. It, thankfully, retains the iDrive rotary controller (unlike the new 2 Series Active Tourer and X1), though the rest of the centre console is more or less directly lifted from the BMW M3 and M4 with the various sub-system buttons, and the shifter in the automatic model is the same as on other M cars, too.
Look closely at our image gallery, as we've included pics of both the manual and automatic M2s. The latter's paddle shifters aren't the dinky carbon items found in the M4 Competition, for starters, though it would appear that the serious carbon bucket seat option will be available on the M2. The standard sports seat looks much more sedate and is part-leather and part-microfibre, with the M2 name embossed in the seatback.
Our opportunity to test drive the new BMW M2 was limited to laps of the Salzburgring race track in Austria, so, while we can't comment on the new car's low-speed ride comfort or real-world usability, we did get to drive the prototypes flat out for dozens of laps to assess its on-the-limit capability (while trying our best to keep up with the BMW M4 Competition 'pace car' ahead, driven by none other than Dirk Häcker - Head of Development at BMW M).
The first session was at the wheel of the manual model. The six-speed gearbox retains BMW's characteristic 'springy' change quality that takes some dialling into, but it's still a joy to change gears for yourself in a car such as this, adding to the engagement. On an unfamiliar track, there's no doubt that the automatic model would be quicker, but out on the road, that's not relevant. BMW has engineered in an automatic rev-matching system for the manual-equipped model that works well and is gratuitously aggressive in its throttle blipping at times.
That gives you an excuse to hear the twin-turbocharged straight-six engine rev, and it makes a glorious noise, still clearly a six-cylinder powerplant, but somehow softer of voice than the hard-edged M3/M4. It's effectively the same 3.0-litre unit found in the M3 and M4 (and X3 M and X4 M), though its maximum outputs have been turned down a tad. BMW wouldn't confirm the numbers, but did let slip that it would have a similar power output to the outgoing M2 CS, which made 450hp. I reckon there's as much torque on tap as that car had though, meaning around 550Nm.
And while those figures are overshadowed by the M3's, the M2 is no slouch. It devours the long fast sections of the track and certainly isn't dwarfed by the wide expanses of smooth tarmac - as road cars sometimes can be. By any measure, it's seriously fast. Putting that into numbers, we managed to hit 240km/h on the longest straight before the braking zone on each lap.
Thankfully, the standard brake system is up to such abuse. The front discs are larger than before, and the pedal feel is excellent in the extreme situation we tested the car in. There wasn't a hint of fade or overheating even after several full-speed laps. BMW tells us that the M2 will not be offered with a carbon ceramic brakes option, and our time in the car would suggest that it doesn't need it anyway.
On arriving at the corners, the new M2 feels more stable than before, with a neutral stance into and through the fast sweepers. The balance is superb and, despite BMW's insistence that the new car is more agile than the old one, it also feels better tied down, with no nervousness. This is likely to be partially due to the huge grip generated by the mixed-size Michelin tyres, but the variable ratio steering also helps remove edginess when just a little bit of steering lock is required.
No doubt the electronically controlled Active M differential on the rear wheels also plays a big part in this. As before, the M2 will be exclusively rear-driven - there are no plans for an all-wheel-drive xDrive variant. In the dry, there's good traction to be had out of the tighter corners and the mid-level traction control setting (MDM) is brilliantly judged. It allows a few degrees of slip at the back to remind you that it's a rear-drive sports car, but not so much as to make the driver nervous. You learn to lean on it to use all of the track and all of the grip available and it's very dependable. Naturally, the stability control can be turned off completely, though we weren't permitted to try that out on this occasion.
We did get to drive the automatic model, though, now using the M-tweaked eight-speed transmission rather than the old dual-clutch unit. As automatic gearboxes go, it's engaging enough, and it certainly makes the M2's considerable performance more accessible to more people, but those seeking maximum involvement should stick with the manual.
In theory, the M2 should feel very similar to the M3 and M4, as it shares a huge amount with those cars, though BMW made an effort to give it unique characteristics. It gets adaptive damping as standard, as in those cars, but the M2's front springs are stiffer, the rears are softer and it gets the same rear dampers as next year's BMW M3 Touring. The M2 also has a shorter wheelbase to all of those cars, which theoretically makes it more agile. A drive on the road at more sensible speeds will reveal the true nature of the car, but this track test certainly showed that the M2 is no less competent than its bigger siblings.
What you get for your money
Unsurprisingly, as the finished car has yet to be revealed, BMW Ireland hasn't confirmed pricing. By way of reference, the M240i xDrive Coupe is now priced at about €78,000, while the M3 Competition is over €141,000, so the new M2 will be somewhere between, probably starting at just about €100,000 we'd guess. It'll be well-equipped, but it's not yet clear if there will be a regular M2 and M2 Competition and if so, which will be offered for sale here. Same story for the gearboxes. Will Irish buyers get the option of manual and automatic? We'll find out later in the year.
Although this opportunity to get up close with the 2023 M2 was all about the driving dynamics, it's clear that the new coupe will also look sensational and feature an excellent cabin. On a fast track, it proves to be incredibly capable, but hopefully it has retained the sense of engagement at lower speeds that marked out the current model as something special. One thing's for certain: we are salivating at the prospect of testing this car in finished format soon.