Earlier this year, my colleague Jon Wong had a chance to drive theon a race track in Spain. He came back raving about the car, , “I still got nothing when it comes to finding major flaws with the M2.” But would my experience driving the Competition on regular Midwestern roads — often cold, damp roads at that — lead me to the same conclusion as a blast on a sunny circuit?
Too often, cars that excel on the track are a bore on the street: the tuning that makes them so capable at full tilt can dilute driving fun and pleasure at road-legal velocities. That does not, fortunately, apply to the M2 Competition. Instead, it delights in communicating with its driver and excels in putting all its power to the road. I’m quite happy to report that the M2 Competition remains a stellar tool for driving pleasure no matter where you take it.
Built for speed
The transformation into the M2 Competition was a serious affair, with the car ditching its old single-turbo, 365-horsepower engine in favor of a 405-horsepower, twin-turbo 3.0-liter inline-six derived from that in the M3 and M4. So, too, was the entire chassis upgraded, with a gorgeous carbon-fiber strut brace from the bigger M cars, as well as enlarged brakes and new suspension parts all around.
That engine delivers stupendous acceleration, with the car’s electronically controlled differential and Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires putting up a strong fight against 406 pound-feet of torque. Off the line, the M2 Competition is of course a rocket, hitting 60 miles per hour in a claimed 4.0 seconds as the tires scrabble on pavement.
But it’s just as brutal at speed, dispatching passing maneuvers in the blink of an eye. Turbo lag is practically nonexistent, with the engine serving up near-instantaneous reactions to the throttle pedal. Still, horsepower builds and surges as revs rise; even though peak torque arrives at just 2,350 rpm, there’s big satisfaction in winding out the tachometer toward its 7,600 rpm redline.
You got lots of auditory feedback, too, with growling and snarling from the quad exhausts as the engine builds speed. Still, it’s not the sort of engine note I’ll dream about and remember for years to come, but it is a fair bit more exotic — and less vacuum cleaner-like — than some other BMW M cars. Think less Adele belting out a ballad and more Rage Against The Machine shouting into their mics. Which isn’t a criticism, as performance cars are supposed to sound angry.
While there are several settings for the engine response, dual-clutch transmission performance and traction control, you won’t find a button for the suspension. Unlike nearly all modern performance cars, the M2 Competition does without adaptive dampers. I appreciate the simplicity: here’s one ideal suspension setup that’s ready to go from the moment you get in the car.
The suspension works wonders, too, keeping the BMW flat and planted no matter what the road throws at it. There’s very little dive or roll, but there is enough compliance that the rear tires don’t skitter around at every bump or expansion joint; you can drive hard on rough roads without the suspension getting unsettled. Moreover, there’s wonderful directness from the steering, both in its responses and its feel. More than any BMW in recent memory, the leather-wrapped steering wheel is chatty, twitching and weighting up in response to what the front tires are doing. All that feedback gives me more confidence to push the M2 harder.
My test car’s optional seven-speed dual-clutch transmission does a remarkably good job of smoothing out stop-and-go driving while also serving up lightning-fast shifts when I tug the paddles. (It doesn’t, however, creep in traffic like a torque-converter transmission, which takes a bit of adjustment.) Yet as good as it is, I wouldn’t spend the $2,900 for it when I know a six-speed manual transmission is standard.
It’s perplexing that a performance car wouldn’t have an engine-temperature gauge anywhere in its cabin. But otherwise the inside of the M2 looks sufficiently Competition-spec, with matte-finish carbon fiber, lots of orange stitching, just-snug-enough bucket seats and, yes, even “M2” seat badges that illuminate when you unlock the car at night. The paddle shifters are easy to reach with my fingertips and move with a satisfying click. As ever, BMW’s M-specific shift lever is unnecessarily fiddly, with no “Park” position: simply leave the car in “Drive” and turn it off. And there’s an empty switch blank where the adaptive-damper button would be in other 2 Series models, which looks a tad cheap on a car costing north of $60K.
There is no free lunch when it comes to building performance cars, and thus like so many of its rivals, the M2 Competition is abrasive when you’re not driving at maximum attack. For starters, it’s loud, with roaring from the Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires and constant droning from the engine. If you’ve got the engine stop-start feature enabled, you’ll also enjoy big clunks from the dual-clutch transmission each time the engine slumbers and reawakes. (Fortunately, if you disable the stop-start system it stays off permanently — unlike most modern cars, which automatically re-enable the fuel-saving tech on every drive.)
But you may want to leave that button enabled, because the M2 Competition delivers much worse fuel economy than its predecessor. It’s rated for 17 miles per gallon city and 23 mpg highway (with the dual-clutch transmission), decreases of 3 in both measure compared to the 2018 M2. For a point of comparison, consider that those are the same EPA ratings as thecoupe — a car which has two extra cylinders and 93 additional horsepower.
The BMW also rides with all the compliance of a skateboard over cobblestones; its chassis is constantly in motion, bouncing and jiggling over even the smallest road imperfections. It’s tiresome and makes me wonder if the M2 Competition actually could have used some adaptive dampers with a Comfort mode. And, of course, like many performance cars with wide tires and feelsome steering, you get plenty of tramlining and bumpsteer; the M2 needs constant steering correction on highway drives.
Of course, most buyers probably don’t care that the M2 is a bit rougher to live with than a 230i. I sure don’t: it’s worth the trade-offs for me to have so much fun behind the wheel. But the Competition is stiffer and louder than many comparable sports coupes, so if you have a long commute, it might grate on you after a while.
Modest tech complement
There’s a modest amount of onboard tech to keep you entertained. An 8.8-inch infotainment display is standard. Operable either by touching the screen or using the rotary control knob (on which you can also write letters or numbers), the system works swiftly and simply. As with other modern BMWs that use this system, allow me to gripe that while Apple CarPlay is included, you’ll need to pay an annual subscription fee; Android Auto is not supported at all. Navigation is built-in, as are M-specific displays for the engine’s instantaneous horsepower and torque output.
The level of active-safety technology of offer is about average, with precollision warning and braking and lane-departure warning standard. But there are no option packs for adding, say, blind-spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control or lane-keep assist. My tester also boasts a Wi-Fi hotspot and a wireless phone-charging pad, both of which are part of the $1,200 Executive package that also includes LED headlights and a heated steering wheel.
Pay to play
Sure, the BMW M2 Competition isn’t cheap, at $59,895 with destination to start; my tester rings in at $64,545. That’s pricier than, uh, competition like the 400-hp ($54,900) and even the 526-hp ($60,135). But it is a decent discount versus BMW’s larger M cars, with the M3 sedan starting at $68,445 and the M4 coupe coming in at $70,145. Frankly, it’s better to drive than the M3/M4, too: the M2 is just more engaging, better able to use all its power and more exciting on public roads.
The M2 Competition is an unabashed performance machine, with heroic acceleration, mighty grip and a fantastic amount of driver involvement. While it can be a bit of a brute for the daily commute, I appreciate a sports car that doesn’t make too many compromises to appeal to a wider audience. If you want to go fast and have fun doing so, the M2 Competition is here to help.
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