THE 1 Series M Coupe was a werewolf in wolf’s clothing. Ask anyone who’s driven one and you’ll get the same low whistle of air through pursed lips. It was both great and terrifying, in unequal measures.
Five years on from that foray into the frightening, the folk at M Division have delivered its meaner but nicer successor, the BMW M2, a car so good that any genuine enthusiast who drives it back-to-back with the supposedly superior M4 would walk away wanting the cheaper option.
And thanks to its core brief to steal younger buyers from other brands, it really is a lot cheaper, with the six-speed manual M2 Pure at $89,900 or the full-fruit “just call me M2” at $98,900 with a DCT gearbox, compared with $149,900 for the more potent M4.
Yes, the bigger car is slightly quicker to 100km/h (4.1sec v 4.3), but other than off the lights the FIRST OVERSEAS DRIVE M2 beats it everywhere else.
It feels pure and old-school, and – despite having vehicle-stability systems its engineers describe as streets ahead of the scary 1M – has ditched the ridiculous multitude of settings for gearbox and throttle of recent M cars for a simple Comfort/Sport/Sport+ set-up. Basically, it feels (and almost sounds) like an M3 from the good old days of 3.0-litre straight-sixes. Which is what it has, albeit turbocharged, making a hefty 272kW and 465Nm in a car that weighs just 1570kg.
Our first taste on the legendary Laguna Seca raceway is also my first try at The Corkscrew, the scariest and most nonsensical corner in the world. In a lessbalanced, less-brilliant car, it might have ended badly for me, but the M2 is so easy to drive, so poised and direct in its steering, that you could drive it down the north face of the Eiger and survive. Probably.
While the steering is filled with feedback and excellent in almost every way – BMW claims it has two settings, “Sporty and Very Sporty” – Frank Isenberg, father of the M2 and also the Dr Frankenstein behind the M1, admits it is not as muscular as his last demonic baby.
After being blown away by the M2’s pace, balance and reardrive, slide-happy nature on the track in a DCT version – the M Dynamic Mode can turn an idiot into a drift king – we head out to one of the world’s greatest roads, California’s Highway One, in a manual and, if anything, we’re even more impressed.
While the manual M2 revs on downchanges, which is annoying and unnecessary, this increasingly rare gearbox is light and easy to use and connects you with the essence of this car in a whole different way. The power delivery is impressive, but it’s the big whack of torque, which can reach 500Nm on overboost, that really reels in the horizon.
It doesn’t have the 1M’s flared rear guards, but the M2 is still an imposing small car, with front air vents that wouldn’t look out of place on a Lamborghini.
The focus on younger buyers also means it has plenty of cool apps, including a GoPro one that runs your look-at-me camera through the iDrive system, and a lap-timer app, which allows you to examine your braking points and throttle punches, then share the results on Facebook.
BMW is not concerned about this magnificent M2 stealing buyers from the M4, or M3, because it believes it appeals to a different customer, and people who can afford an M4 will still buy one. Because they can. But when it comes to sheer driving pleasure, the new, sub-$100K entry to M world might just be the best thing that much money can buy.
The manual option might not garner many sales in Australia, where selfshifters now make up five percent of BMWs sold, but M2 project leader Frank Isenberg says the M folk aren’t about to give up on manuals, because they still make up 30 percent of sales in places like Germany and the US. He also thinks it will survive because the engineering cost is now split across M2, M3 and M4.
A stunning five-cylinder howl teamed with a capable chassis, quattro roadholding and impeccable build quality almost make $80K for a hatch acceptable. And far more elegant than AMG rivals.
Ballsy, brash and unapologetic, the all-wheel-drive CLA is mega-fun, stupidly fast and shames the BMW’s cabin for glamour. It’s Unlikely to match the M2 in the eyes of die-hard purists, though.