Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: February 19, 2019
The M2 Competition is exactly the car that BMW enthusiasts have been yearning for: a compact, well-balanced, high-powered, rear-driven, three-pedal pocket rocket that not only sounds incredible but drives exceptionally well too. The M2 Competition checks all of the boxes, hits all of the high points that has troubled devotees for years, and overall, stands as a compelling alternative against the stellar Audi RS3 and perennial classic, Porsche 718 Cayman.
The M2 Competition receives a real M engine and I’m not talking about the boosted up N55 inline-six. Under the hood is the S55 engine borrowed straight (no pun intended) from the current-generation BMW M3/M4, though slightly detuned. That means a twin-turbo inline-six punching out a healthy 405 hp and 406 lb-ft, which is 40 hp and 37 lb-ft more than the standard M2, but 20 hp less than M4. The redline has also been raised from 7,000 rpm up to an intoxicating 7,600 rpm. We hear that the detune was part of a cooling issue, and in an effort to prevent the engine from overheating and imploding, the Competition receives larger kidney grill openings and front air inlets for better airflow into its volcanic heart.
Alluding to the nameplate, everything in the M2 Competition has been stiffened, retuned, rebalanced, and rewired to the elevens for a sportier drive. That includes the steering, differential, and stability control, though the suspension has been carried over unchanged. If it works, don’t fix it, am I right? Why make it stiffer when it’s stiff enough, though it may be important to mention that this is a fixed suspension, and not an adaptive setup where you can control it via a button.
The entire body of the M2 had to be stretched and widened to fit all the extra parts siphoned from its bigger M brothers, such as the oil supply and cooling system. Peek under the engine bay and you’ll notice the M4’s carbon fibre strut bar too. Huge brakes and calipers, and I mean huge - enough to nearly fill up the entire wheel well - are wrapped inside new 19-inch tires in a staggered setup, and an entirely new exhaust system has been fitted along with a new muffler, delivering an even louder noise through its quad tailpipes.
Do the upgrades from the Competition noticeably change the overall character of the M2? Not drastically. Think of it like adding chili flakes to your spaghetti and meatballs. It’s the same meal with the same taste, but kicked up a few notches on the Scoville meter. With its peppier engine, the M2 Competition revs up and down in what feels like a neverending maelstrom of torque and acceleration. Riding the tidal wave of mid-range boost is exceptionally addictive.
The only inconsistent variable up in the air is traction and whether or not the rear wheels can keep themselves from launching into the air. Flat out acceleration from idle will usually result in wheelspin - this M2 rewards gentle and gradual throttle application instead. A large rear spoiler might help here, which BMW does offer with its aftermarket M Performance Parts.
But traction or not, the M2 Competition will light up every synapse and reward pathway in the brain with just a few minutes behind the wheel. With the tires warmed up and the tarmac dry, this little Bimmer will sprint from 0-100 km/h in 4.2 seconds (with the DCT; 4.4 seconds with the manual), one-tenths of a second faster than the standard M2, and four-tenths of a second faster than the Porsche 718 Cayman GTS. It may as well be FDA approved as an antidote to cure ailments and addictions, though side effects may include restlessness when idling, an increased risk of speeding tickets, and a heavy thirst for premium fuel.
A six-speed manual remains standard fare, though a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission is available for $3,900, and is the gearbox that we had at our disposal. Surprisingly, the DCT does not exhibit low speed jerks and lunges that plagued previous iterations, and you have to give it to BMW for correcting that. When we first tested these 7-speed DCTs in the current-generation M3 and M4, gear shifts were lightning quick but at casual city speeds, the transitions between first and second gear was utterly atrocious and nearly unusable.
As lady luck would have it, we had the rare chance to drive the M2 Competition - in the same week I might add - on both dry Californian tarmac, snowy Toronto roads, and on the Thermal Club racetrack in BMW’s own Performance Centre in Palm Springs. This allowed us to truly evaluate the M2’s usability in all weather conditions on both summer and winter performance tires.
Out on the snow and equipped with Michelin Pilot Alpin PA4 tires, the M2 is playful and perhaps overly willing to fishtail. Throttle management is tricky with over 400 horses on tap and with full stability intervention, the systems will constantly cut power to keep the M2 from spinning out. Selecting MDM mode decreases the amount of intervention, and will let you play around its grip limits without turning into a hyper adolescent toddler that just woke up from an afternoon nap. Lacking is the all-wheel drive traction that you would find in the Audi TT RS and RS3, though the latter two are heavily prone to understeer due to its inherent front-heavy layout. The Audis had to be heavily coerced to spinning the way we wanted it but with the M2 Competition, it’s less about chassis control and more about careful throttle management. Being patient and waiting for the wheels to find traction before adding throttle is key.
That said, out on the South Palm Circuit at BMW’s own Performance Centre, the M2 Competition sings a different tune. Out here, even when the wheels haven’t fully regained traction, you can throttle up after a late apex and let the chassis sort itself out. Despite the wider girth, the M2 Competition behaves like a nimble rat swiftly navigating through tight and narrow sewer tunnels. While that might not be the most humbling image, the takeaway message is this: without feeling overly snappy, this lightweight BMW darts and weaves its way around corners with a kind of finesse that is hard to come by in today’s overweight and over-engineered sports cars. It’s a precision instrument with an ravenous appetite for revs, and makes the M4 feel like a warthog wearing high heels, the RS3 like a front-heavy hippopotamus, and the Cayman like a stoic and dramaless queen of attention.
The steering is well weighted for an electric setup but it doesn’t feel organic and feedback is noticeably absent. While it wasn’t much of a bother outside of a track, pushing for an aggressive lap time with numb steering that fails to relay any sort of front wheel grip to the driver is difficult. At least the steering rack doesn’t tramline with every nook and cranny on an imperfect city road, but the stiff ride does make the standard commute a bit of a chore. Constantly bouncing up and about isn’t the most elegant way of getting to your destination, and you can easily tell that this was a setup aimed for tight body control rather than daily comfort.
At least you’ll have a heavenly sounding exhaust to keep the rest of your senses occupied, and this is one Exhaust Notes video you won’t want to miss. In fact, the whole week I had the M2 Competition, not once did I turn on the radio. That sweet straight-six soundtrack is the only noise I need. Of note, the exhaust noise depends on the driving mode - Efficient is the quietest, while Sport Plus is the loudest. I wish BMW had made that into a simple exhaust button to control the flaps like they do on the M5. That would benefit drivers who want the powertrain a bit softer for an easier ride, but with the loud exhaust to keep spirits high.
I won’t talk too much about the interior - it’s largely the same as the standard M2 but with new sport bucket seats that are excellently bolstered and come with integrated headrests and an illuminated M2 logo. Blue stitching runs along the cabin, complementing the Competition’s two exclusive paint colours: Hockenheim Silver and Sunset Orange Metallic, both of which are in our photographs. It’s a relatively spartan affair in here, especially when you’ve seen what BMW has done to their revamped 3 and 5 Series. Not that I mind. The purist M2 is singularly focused to performance and does not distract you with gimmicks like Gesture Control and massaging seats.
BMW has finally answered the call and given the M2 the motor it truly deserves. As if to send a clearer message, the M2 Competition actually replaces the standard M2 Coupe, meaning you won’t be able to buy the latter anymore. We haven’t heard any rumours of a more powerful M2 but our fingers are crossed for a limited edition CS or GTS model. But in the meantime, the M2 Competition is BMW in its prime. It bites, it sings, and it dances - a splendid dancing partner that will gladly take you to the grocery store after a few laps around the track. With the new S55 motor and internal upgrades, the M2 has morphed into a recognizable but ultimately more aggressive animal, and is the best BMW I’ve driven in recent memory. It’s a pure, surgical, and hair-raising instrument that begs to be driven hard and fast no matter the weather.
Model: 2019 BMW M2 Competition
Paint Type: Hockenheim Silver ($895)
Base Price: $71,250
Price as Tested: $78,895
Engine: 3.0-litre twin-turbo inline-six
Horsepower: 405 hp @ 5,230 - 7,000 rpm
Torque: 406 lb-ft @ 2,350 - 5,230 rpm
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch automatic
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, RWD
Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 14.8
Tires: Front 245/35R19; Rear 265/35R19