BMW has made it a point so far to emphasize the next-gen M2’s rear-wheel drive nature. The M Division wants people to know that the M2 will be a proper driver’s car, one that won’ be burdened by the shackles of all-wheel drive. As of right now, the next-gen BMW M2 will be rear-wheel drive-only but we’ve seen plans change before and, with the growing popularity of all-wheel drive, it wouldn’t surprise us to see BMW cave under the pressure of customer demand. If it does, though, and an all-wheel drive M2 were to be made, would it be any good?
Up until this point, there’s never been an all-wheel drive small M car. Both the BMW M2 and 1 Series M were rear-drive-only, so there’s no precedent for an all-wheel drive M2. Which means, to get an idea of what such a car would be like, we need to list the pros and cons of an M2 xDrive.
Performance/Grip: The unfortunate truth about cars is that they’ll only go as fast as their tires will allow. So, as fun as rear-wheel drive is, a car with only two driven wheels will almost always be slower than a car with four, simply because the latter has more grip. The BMW M2 is going to be a handful, with well over 400 horsepower in a compact, rear-wheel drive chassis. Giving it xDrive would improve its straight-line performance dramatically.
All-Weather Stability: The main benefit of all-wheel drive is all-weather stability. With more driven wheels, it’s less likely for a car to slip in bad weather. That makes a car safer in more situations than a rear-wheel drive car would be. Of course, all-wheel drive doesn’t make a car unflappable in rain or snow but it certainly helps quite a bit. Few customers buy M2s for their year-long usability but, if it came with all-wheel drive, they’d be able to use in most climates, most of the year.
Understeer: Typically, all-wheel drive cars tend to understeer more than rear-wheel drive cars. One of the main reasons is, ironically, lack of front-end grip. Go to any racing school and the first thing the instructor teaches you is this: tires can only do one thing at a time—steer, accelerate, or stop. But if you try to make front tires do two of those things, such as steer and accelerate, they’re going to lose grip and fail at both. When the front tires lose grip, a car will understeer through corners. BMW’s current crop of M cars, the M3 and M4, don’t seem to understeer at all, so let’s keep it that way with the M2.
Weight: One of the main reasons why enthusiasts prefer rear-wheel drive is its lighter weight. All-wheel drive adds another driveshaft, another differential, and another two axles, all of which add up to more weight and complexity. More weight equals a less engaging driving experience. Sure, the added grip and performance are nice but sports cars are about driving fun and weight ruins that. The M2 is already quite heavy for a small car, if the M240i is anything to go by, so why ruin it by adding more?
Lack of Steering Feel: Overburdening your tires can have more of an effect than just understeer. Because you’re asking so much of the front tires with all-wheel drive, automakers have to fit power steering racks that filter out all the bad vibrations, help mitigate torque steer (which happens when the driven front wheels tug at the steering wheel under power), and compensate for the additional weight over the front wheels. However, doing so tends to strip steering wheel and precision from a car, making it less engaging to drive. For a car like the M2, which is supposed to be the last bastion of pure BMW goodness, that’s a bad thing.
I can see why some customers might want an all-wheel drive M2. Customers who live in the northeast, for example, only get nice weather one season a year, so they tend to buy sports cars with all-wheel drive. Customers in areas like that, who might want a BMW M2 but fear its lack of usability for them, would appreciate an all-wheel drive version. However, I think there are plenty of great all-wheel drive sports cars on the market for customers like that, such as the brilliant new Audi RS3. The BMW M2 is supposed to be a traditional sports car: front mounted six-cylinder, manual transmission, rear-wheel drive.
Which one would you pick if you had the choice?