TEST DRIVE: BMW M2 vs BMW 1 Series M

Test Drives | October 18th, 2016 by 7
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Ever since its debut, the BMW M2 has been compared to its technical predecessor, the BMW 1 Series M Coupe. Whether or not you feel …

Ever since its debut, the BMW M2 has been compared to its technical predecessor, the BMW 1 Series M Coupe. Whether or not you feel that the M2 is a proper successor to the 1M, their similarities are too great to overlook the comparison. So we decided to put both cars back-to-back and see which one is better. The matchup — the BMW M2 vs my personal BMW 1M.

These two cars need to be judged based on how they behave both on the road and on the track. What’s interesting is that, despite being very similar recipes – turbocharged 3.0 liter straight-six engines, six-speed manual, rear-wheel drive and around the same size and weight – they have very different characteristics. Thankfully, both cars we had to test came equipped with six-speed manuals. This made testing them in traffic, on windy back roads and on the rack much easier. And since we’ve already compared their looks and tech, we’re only going to focus on driving impressions here. So let’s see how they get on.

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On the Road

There’s a reason that the BMW 1M isn’t my daily driver — it isn’t a great one. It’s fun to drive around a few times a week, but it can be tough to live with every day, especially on rough pavement. The 1M is a very raw sportscar, stiffer and less friendly on uneven roads. Whereas the M2 is more refined, more balanced and also more domesticated. The M2 is easier to drive and even easier to maneuver. It’s a far better daily driver in every aspect. Even non-M fans can enjoy it, without feeling the harshness of the 1M.

But it isn’t just the ride comfort, either. Around town, the M2 is easier to drive and feels easier to control at high speeds, thanks to its lighter steering. The heavier, more direct steering of the 1M is preferred by enthusiasts, but it does make it less comfortable to drive around town. While we liked the steering on the 1M more than on the M2, the latter car’s steering is easier to live, while still being incredibly direct, with and we can appreciate that. 

The M2 is also faster than the 1M. The extra torque helps quite a bit, especially from mid-range RPMs. Even past 62mph, the M2 pulls harder and faster, thanks to all the innovations delivered by the N55 engine. The N55B30T0’s overboost torque is increased from 465 Nm/343 lb-ft to 500 Nm/369 lb-ft by a brief increase in the charging pressure of 0.1 bar above the normal charging pressure. 

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Both sound pretty good, too. Even though the M2 uses Active Sound, it still sounds great and a bit deeper across the rev range than the 1M. But even with the Active Sound, the M2 sounds much better than the M3/M4 and the difference can be heard even from outside the car. The 1M sounds great, too, and very similar but it’s a bit tamer than the M2’s. You can tell BMW went through extreme lengths to make the M2 sound better than the M3/M4, so it’s very loud and aggressive. Both car’s exhaust noise is amplified on cold start-ups and they both sound excellent.

The BMW 1 Series M is the more engaging car to drive on the road, is very fun and is much more of an event. But the BMW M2 is the better daily driver, as it’s almost as engaging and almost as fun but more comfortable and livable.

On the Track

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Where the BMW M2 is the better road car, the 1 Series M is the better track car. And that’s despite the fact that the M2 is faster around a track than the 1M. Unless you’re racing for a living, the track is about having fun and the 1M is more fun. It’s a hooligan, a fun car for the true enthusiast, and a car that will go down in history as one of the best driving cars BMW has ever made. A classic, if you will.

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The M2’s steering is good on the track and great on the road but the 1M’s is the exact opposite. While it isn’t ideal on the road, at the track it simply shines. The 1M’s mechanical steering is absolutely superb. It’s the old school steering we purists have come to love, and we’re likely the only ones to appreciate its precise inputs.

But the 1 Series M is the more difficult car to drive on the track, a reason for why we like it better. It takes a skilled hand to control it.

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The M2 is an easier car to drift, making it fun for the novice. But the experienced track driver will want the 1 Series M’s more hardcore personality, as it’s more rewarding when it’s done right. The limited-slip diff in the M2 is the technically better diff, as it allows for effortless traction when you want it or perfectly simple tail-out slides when you want that. The 1M’s is far more tail-happy and even a bit snappy. However, we like that better and find it more fun. Plus, that’s the 1M’s nature, so we can’t fault it for doing what it was made to do.

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There’s also the case of the auto rev-match feature in the M2. While it can be nice on the road, it’s more annoying than anything else on the track. It can be turned off, admittedly, but to do so you must also turn off the stability control, which isn’t necessarily a safe thing to do. On the track, it’s not so bad to do, but on the road it can be dangerous.

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If you’re going to the race track to make your money and put food on the table, we’d say the M2 is your car. It’s faster on the track, easier to drive fast and more consistently fast, which is most important. Those fast laps can easily be repeated over and over again. The 1 Series M is more difficult to tame and to learn, it takes time and skill and can sometimes bite you. This makes it the less consistent car, but definitely the more fun car. So if you’re just taking a BMW to the track to have fun with your buddies, the 1M is the better car.

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Overall

These are two great cars and there’s very little between them. While the BMW M2 is more comfortable, the 1M isn’t a penalty box either. Sure, the M2 has a nicer cabin, better interior technology and is more comfortable. But the 1M has a more special cabin, thanks to its bright orange contrast stitching and alcantara, and its tech isn’t necessarily stone-age stuff. So while the M2 is the better daily driver, the 1M isn’t terrible as one.

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On the track, things flip. The 1 Series M is certainly the more fun car, thanks to its superb mechanical steering, delicate chassis balance and tail-happy antics. But the M2 can also be very fun, just in a safer, more muted way.

It basically comes down to this — if you’re going to drive this car everyday, go to work in it, pick up groceries in it and maybe even do the school run in it, the BMW M2 is the better car. If you’re going to keep it as a weekend car and track toy, driving it only when you want to properly drive, the the BMW 1 Series M is the car for you.

Also, if you care about resale value and bragging rights, once again the 1M takes the win. It’s more rare on the road, it appreciates in value and it’s a classic already.

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