Before the BMW M2 even hit the market, it was already being dubbed the savior of BMW. For so long, BMWs had been getting bigger, heavier, more complicated and less pure. Cars like the BMW M3 and M5 were almost stepping up a size and luxury class, leaving their former driving dynamics behind. Sure, they got more powerful and were much faster than their predecessors but they both lacked the positive feel and feedback of those older cars. So the BMW M2 needed to be the car that brought the Bavarian brand back to glory. Talk about having a lot of weight on your shoulders, huh?
Fortunately, the M2 delivered on its promises, mostly. Being based on the 2 Series chassis, the M2 had a good start. It’s the right size, with small, compact dimensions, a short wheelbase and a wide wheel-track. It has a turbocharged straight-six engine under its hood and power goes to the back. So it has the right recipe for good, old-fashioned driving fun. It’s highly considered to be the best driving BMW on the market, as well. But is there any room for improvement? Any room to make it sharper, more dynamic and more exciting? The folks at BMW M Performance Parts thought so. Which is why they let me borrow a fully kitted-out M Performance BMW M2 for a week.
From the moment you lay eyes on the Alpine White M2, it looks like a track car. The flat white paint, M-colored livery, 19″ black wheels, carbon fiber aerodynamics and slammed stance all make it seem ready for a day on hot tarmac. If it were sitting on a racetrack, it would look awesome and perfectly at home. Though, we didn’t take it to a racetrack. We had it on public roads, parked in my driveway and in the parking lot of shopping malls. In normal suburban life, it’s not exactly inconspicuous. That’s being nice. While cool looking, the reactions from passersby were mixed. We either got thumbs up and waves or middle fingers and mean stares. And a lot of both. So, if you don’t like being noticed, maybe M Performance kit isn’t for you.
In fairness, our car wasn’t very tame. I’m not sure there was an exterior M Performance option left off our test car. You can be a bit more restrained with the options list and come away with a car that looks cooler than a standard M2 without looking like you’re trying too hard. For instance, our car had stripes literally everywhere. On the sides, in the bumper, at the back. Everywhere. Then there were the carbon fiber aerodynamic bits, which included front winglets, side-skirt winglets and a carbon fiber rear decklid spoiler. It also had carbon fiber mirror caps and blacked out Kidney Grilles. Quiet wasn’t in our car’s vocabulary.
To be honest, if I were speccing this car, I’d forgo the stripes but keep the carbon bits. The latter are subtle enough to look great without being too shouty. The stripes are cool but should only be had if this is a weekend toy or track car. Though, I’d definitely keep the wheels. The new Style 763M wheels are stunning and, though expensive at $5,500, they come wrapped in Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires. So they’re absolutely worth the money.
On the inside of a standard BMW M2, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was a 230i. There isn’t much else going on the M2, aside from some carbon trim and blue stitching. However, as previously mentioned, our test car was no standard M2. The M Performance bits that adorned the cabin of our tester made it seem quite sporty, though bordering on childish. The M Performance steering wheel looks really cool. We even had it on our BMW M3 tester from a few weeks back. But despite it’s looks, I can’t much like it, due to the way it feels. It’s just odd feeling, as the rim isn’t completely round, so holding it feels like you’re holding a block of wood wrapped in leather. Also, the hand bolsters at the 9 and 3 positions are far too thick, even by BMW standards. So it’s not the most comfortable helm in the world to hold. Though, it looks pretty cool.
I can live with the weird feeling steering wheel thanks to its cool looks, but if there was one part of the car’s cabin I didn’t like it was the shift knob. I didn’t like the way it looks, as it looked a bit like a Transformer’s foot, and I didn’t like the way it felt. The front of the knob, where your fingers go, is plastic and quite slippery, so my hand actually slipped off the shifter a couple of times, which is infuriating when you’re trying to drive quickly. But the back is Alcantara and gets sweaty in the summer. Both BMW and M Performance make better options than this one, so choose either just the standard leather knob (my personal choice) or a different M Performance knob, as they both offer other great ones.
Now, if you’re thinking that M Performance slapped some stripes and a slippery knob on the M2 and called it a day, you’d be wrong. There were quite a few mechanical upgrades that made this car feel very different from a standard M2. Firstly, the suspension. M Performance offers a three-way, manually-adjustable suspension setup for the M2, very much like the one found on the M4 GTS. So it’s adjustable in height, damper and rebound, all with a cool little tool kit like you get on a GTS. We didn’t get the tool kit with our test car, so we had to live with the setup that they had on it already. And it was slammed.
BMW had just had this specific M2 at Circuit of the Americas, in Austin, Texas, a few weeks prior to me driving it. Our own Editor-In-Chief, Horatiu, was out there to sample it on the track:
“The biggest reason why the M2 is an enthusiast-darling is that it’s about as simple and pure as you’re going to get from a modern BMW. It’s the most engaging and entertaining car in BMW M’s lineup and was the car most enjoyed driving at COTA. If there’s a complaint about the M2 it’s that it’s not as visually exciting as the M3 or M4.
The M Performance livery helps with that, adding M-colored stripes down the shoulder line and around the rear diffuser. It makes the M2 look racy and exciting. Also, the Style 763 M wheels look incredible. They’re probably the best additions to the M2, as the car’s standard wheels look a bit humdrum. The wheels are wrapped in the Michelin Sport Cup 2 tires, which shine on a track like COTA.
The exhaust helps, too, though it’s not a fully titanium exhaust like on the M3. Though, it does sound fantastic and the M2 equipped with the upgraded exhaust was the best sounding car at COTA. It has the natural advantage of using BMW’s N55 engine, which sounds better than the M3/M4’s S55. So with the upgrade it sounds unreal.
Again, the upgraded suspension is what shines on the M2 as well. The recommended lowering of the M Performance coilover chassis compared to the standard chassis is -15 mm, but a further lowering of -5 mm is possible as well. There are also 16 setting options for tension stage attenuation / 12 setting options for compression stage attenuation.
The “tuned up” M2 was a blast in both the tight and fast corners, gave me the confidence to be more aggressive. Confidence came also from the brake system which gets some love via more-aggressive M Performance brake pads, which BMW says utilize a compound derived from endurance-racing setups.
The suspension upgrade is, in my opinion, the best aftermarket upgrade on the M2, especially if you occasionally track the car. It changes the character of the M2, much more fun to drive and more planted on the track. It also somewhat makes you a better driver, you feel faster with each passing lap.
What blew me away was how much more the M2 can be improved, with the right parts. Gives me hopes that the rumored M2 CS will be a proper track monster, in the compact segment.”
So being that it was on the track prior to me driving it, it was set up for hard track use. Meaning it was slammed as low as it could go and set to its stiffest settings. Which also means that it was too firm for daily use. Though, to be honest, I was pleasantly surprised at how well damped it was. Sure, it was firm enough to rattle your fillings out of your teeth but it never felt harsh. Bumps were felt, and there didn’t feel like there was much suspension travel being used, but they were dealt with really well, with one smooth motion. So it always felt composed and tidy, never fidgety or overly stiff. It’s a really great setup. It also looks kick-ass, slammed like that.
Our car also had an M Performance exhaust fitted to it, which was remote-controlled. So it came with a little button, which was fitted to a little lanyard and stuck into the cupholder with a little foam circle. It seems simple but it’s effective. On the button, it says to tap it twice to engage loud mode and tap it twice again to put it back into normal mode. In normal mode, it’s crazy loud. In loud mode, it will deafen. Cold starts woke my neighborhood, for sure. Which is why I liked it so much. Although, I have to say, it’s only recommended for track use. If you’re going to daily your M2, skip the M Performance exhaust, as even in its normal mode, it’s seriously loud.
So are the people from M Performance right? Do their parts really make the M2 even sharper, more exciting and more dynamic than normal? Yes and no. I was sort of struggling with the idea of our test car during my entire time with it. I’ve finally settled on the conclusion that if you’re going to track the car or use it as a weekend toy, go for the full beans and get all of the M Performance parts you can, because they definitely make it more of an event. But if you’re going to daily it, maybe skip most of them. Let me explain.
You walk up to it giddy, like a schoolkid. It just looks so crazy and exciting and childish, all the things us car enthusiasts love. It’s absurd but if you’re only using it every once in a while, that absurdity is fun. Open the door and slink into the low seat and you see that funky steering wheel and M Performance badges everywhere. It looks exciting. Thumb the starter button and you’re met with audible fire and brimstone, the sort of debaucherous noise that lets you know you’re about to have some fun, even though it’s a bit naughty. It’s obnoxious and will certainly get annoying after awhile, but if you’re only using it sparingly, it’s great fun.
On the road, that low, firm suspension makes it feel that much more planted, that much more connected to the road. Turn-in is immediate and there isn’t a hint of body roll. It’s reactions are violently quick. You soon realize that this car wants to eat corners for breakfast. Open the exhaust valves with the nifty little button and you realize the car wants to devour entire racetracks, not just corners. It’s angry and violent and that’s sort of why you should only get these parts if you’re only going to use the car for that sort of behavior.
The standard BMW M2 is a superb handling car, with excellent chassis balance and impressive performance. These M Performance cars do sharpen it up, making it even more dynamic when you can really push it. But therein lies the problem. It feels too sharp, too dynamic and too exciting all the time, it never knows how to switch off. That exhaust is insanely loud, all of the time, even in its quiet setting and, at around 3,000 rpm, it drones so loud it feels like your eardrums will burst. The suspension is so stiff that it simply cannot be used everyday without frequent trips to a chiropractor. And it looks so vibrant that it’s constantly garnering stares.
One of the best parts about the standard M2 is that it can switch off and do so very well. It can be a quiet, calm everyday car and it really is a spiritual BMW M3 in that respect, as it can be used everyday, all the time for any sort of driving, both fast and slow. Adding these go-fast bits just make it good at being fast. So it takes a really well-rounded car and turns it into a singular tool. A very good singular tool but singular nevertheless.
If you’re buying a BMW M2 to be your weekend toy or track car, I’d say go for the full kit and get as many M Performance bits as you can afford. They look great, really make the car feel more exciting and add a presence that make it feel more special than Joe-Schmoe’s BMW next door. As a track car, you’ll have an absolute blast with an M2 fully decked out in M Performance bits. But if you want to use your M2 as a daily, there are still some M Performance parts worth getting, like some of the carbon and some interior bits but just avoid the suspension and the exhaust.
So do these M Performance parts improve the BMW M2? They turn it into a bonafide track-day special and are excellent at that. Just don’t expect a daily driver afterward.