Stepping into the 2023 BMW M2 was a bit of an odd moment. This job requires objectivity. Unflinching, unwavering objectivity. How can you ever trust the words I write if there’s personal bias behind them? However, it was hard to not slide into the M2’s hilariously compromised, but effortlessly cool, carbon fiber-backed bucket seats and not hope that it was great. As perhaps the last ever purely front-engine, manual, rear-wheel drive sports coupe in BMW M history, I wanted it to go out on a screaming high note. One last 7,000 rpm guitar solo before the curtain drops. But that pesky objectivity had to ruin it for me.
To be fair to the G87 M2, it has large shoes to fill. The outgoing F87 M2 was beloved by BMW enthusiasts for its nimble handling, tail-happy antics, and proper M car feeling. It also went out with a bang, as the final M2 CS was an absolute masterstroke. So the G87 needed to be great if it was going to follow that act. And while it’s good, is it really good enough to replace an already beloved car, while also acting as the swan song for small piston-powered M cars?
2023 BMW M2 6-Speed
- The option of a manual gearbox
- Great performance from S58 engine
- The last ICE M car
- Engine not suited for the manual
- Less playful than F87 M2
- Steering is a bit numb
Does it Look Like an M Car?
Let’s start with the looks because it sort of sets the tone for the entire car. The outgoing F87 M2 was almost the perfect looking M car. Proportionally, it had all the things a good M car should have: short overhangs, a short wheelbase, a wide wheel track, and tall, upright glass. This new one, though, just looks… odd. It isn’t ugly, nor is it offensive, it just looks like something isn’t right. It’s like when ChatGPT designs people—sure, they look like people but you can tell something is off.
At a glance, it isn’t bad looking, especially in person. But its oddly upright fender flares don’t match the smooth design of its flanks, making the side profile seem disjointed. I like the idea of its boxy fenders, as they’re reminiscent of the E30 M3’s. But nostalgia can’t cure odd execution and they just don’t seem to fit well. It’s also oddly rectangluar in some areas, such as its grilles and front air intakes, which look like a 14 year old’s mustache that’s just starting to grow in. It’s mostly fine but just not quite there, and that’s sort of how the whole car feels.
Inside, there’s nothing to complain about. My test car was fitted with BMW’s new carbon-backed buckets, which are either loved or hated. I love them but I understand why some people hate them. Aside from those cool M-colored seats, there really isn’t too much different from the standard 2 Series. It does get an M version of BMW’s new iDrive 8, which is fine but it’s a bit too gimmicky, with all of the M colored icons and graphics. Functionally, though, it’s fine and complaint with it isn’t M2-specific.
Does it Feel Like an M Car?
This is where I struggled to pin the new BMW M2 down. I’d like to think that I have a pretty good feel for cars, after reviewing countless vehicles, of all types, from all sorts of different manufacturers. But I had a hard time with the M2. And I think that’s because it feels like a halfway point between the old F87 M2 and the new G82 M4 but isn’t as good as either. It seems to be in this no-man’s land. Let me explain.
When you drive the new BMW M4, it doesn’t feel like an old-school M car. At all. In fact, it doesn’t even feel like a BMW product. It feels like a Nissan GT-R with a better quality interior. But that isn’t exactly a bad thing. The M4 is brutal, violent, and—despite not being very M-like—completely addictive. It may not be what M cars are supposed to be but it’s a new style of M car and it’s a riot to drive in its own right. And it seems BMW wanted to go in a similar direction with the M2 but then lost its nerve halfway through.
Under the skin, the M2 uses the same subframes and much of the same suspension geometry as the BMW M4, which is why it’s so wide. And you can feel that it has the M4’s level of grip and competency. But what it lacks is the M4’s razor-sharp, almost unflappable front end. Instead, its steering is slower and less precise but every bit as numb. I know Horatiu had a different experience in his initial review, but he was also pushing the car a lot harder on some of the curvy roads in Arizona. This demonstrates the unique variations in our perspectives when it comes to evaluating cars. Each individual possesses distinct preferences and/or expectations, highlighting the diversity among us.
In the M2’s defense, slower steering isn’t a bad thing, so long as it builds weight nicely and feels accurate. The previous-gen M2 had slower steering than modern M cars but it also provided a decent sense of what the front end was doing. The new M2 has the slower steering of the older M cars but none of the feel, while having the numbness of modern M cars but none of the razor-sharpness. See, no-man’s land.
The new BMW M2 might be the last bastion of front-engine, rear-drive, compact M cars but it doesn’t feel like it. Instead, it sort of feels like an Audi RS car, fast, incredibly capable, but also detached from its driver. It’s fun when you push it but you have to push it or it just feels like any other 2 Series.
Is it Really All Bad?
It sounds like I’m picking on it, and maybe I am, but it truly isn’t all bad. In fact, it isn’t bad at all. There’s a lot to really like about the new BMW M2. Under the hood is BMW’s S58 engine, an M-ified version of the standard B58 found in most BMWs. So it’s a 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged inline-six with 453 horsepower and 406 lb-ft of torque. All of that power goes only to the rear wheels, via a choice of transmission. There’s a six-speed manual or an eight-speed auto. My test car had the former.
Once the engine is on boil, and it’s using max boost from its twin-turbos, the M2 is a little rocket ship. It’s shockingly quick once it’s in the ‘s power band and, if you give it a boot full of throttle mid-corner, it will step out on you. Once it does, its fantastically capable chassis is controllable and makes it easy to reign back it. Or hold a smokey drift. Whichever you prefer.
There’s a powertrain issue but it’s one that isn’t M2-specific and also spec-related. With the manual transmission, its gearing is such that the engine feels gutless under 3,500 rpm, which neuters its thrill. In fairness, though, I noticed the same thing on the standard G80 M3, which uses a detuned version of the same S58 engine (473 horsepower) and a six-speed manual.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get to try the M2 with an auto ‘box, which I’d very much like to do because I felt that the same S58 engine truly came alive in the M3 Competition, with its eight-speed auto. The standard M3 is decent—it’s quick enough and still handles well—but the M3 Competition is a stellar, kick ass sedan that feels far more immediate. And I have a sneaking suspicion that the BMW M2 will be much the same. Many BMW enthusiasts will prefer the manual regardless, as manuals are rare in this era of sport scars, and I appreciate that. If it were my choice, though, I might choose the automatic, which felt weird just to type. There’s that pesky objectivity again.
What’s the Deal, Then?
I can’t completely check the BMW M2 off my review list without driving the automatic version. It’d be unfair to give it a blank good or bad review without driving both transmissions. However, at least with the manual transmission, I can feel that there’s a good car in there but it hasn’t risen to the surface. It feels like a car that doesn’t know what it wants to be. Its power and performance say it’s a no-compromise sports car but its comfy ride, quiet cabin, refined powertrain, and dead steering say otherwise. It has all of the unflappability of the BMW M4 but without that car’s razor sharp responses. It also lacks the character than the previous-gen M2 had.
For better or worse, though, this is the end of the line. The G87 M2 will be the car with which BMW’s small sports cars use to ride off into the sunset. It’s far from perfect but I’m still glad it’s here.
|2023 BMW M2||Specs|
|Top Speed||155 mph|
|Curb Weight||3714 lbs|
|Layout||Front-engine, rear-wheel drive, 2-door coupe|