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Simple pleasures: BMW’s 2019 M2 Competition is ‘a bad guy with a heart-of-gold character’


RONDA, Spain — Barring some catastrophic error or colossal miscalculation by BMW’s engineers, we knew this car would be good. But we didn’t expect it to be quite such a freak.

Flinging the new M2 Competition around a racetrack, every solid jab of the throttle is liable to overwhelm the rear wheels and squirt the car sideways.

It simply doesn’t want to go straight. Straight is boring. Sideways is fun.

If you’ve ever driven a go-kart on one of those slippery indoor concrete tracks, this car will feel familiar.

The Competition’s preferred method of cornering goes like this: Turn in, then powerslide.

The angle is up to you — slide a lot or a little, showboat or try to set a fast lap time — but once the rear has broken traction you can leave the steering wheel alone and adjust the car’s direction with your right foot.

It’s crazy, borderline anti-social for such an outwardly normal vehicle.

Could this be love?

The M2 Competition replaces the BMW M2, a car we thought was the best M car in a generation, and the best car in-class when it was launched in 2016. They honestly could’ve left it alone. But they didn’t.

The brief was relatively simple.

“We wanted to improve the driving fun of the car,” said Markus Schröder, project leader for the M2 Competition.

They accomplished their goal in that time-honoured hot-rod tradition of stuffing a more powerful motor under the hood.

The regular M2 — which has been discontinued with the arrival of the Competition model — used the N55 engine, a single-turbo straight-six with 365 horsepower and 343 lb.-ft. of torque.

2019 BMW M2 Competition. - BMW
2019 BMW M2 Competition. - BMW

However, the Competition gets BMW’s exotic S55 twin-turbo straight-six lifted directly from the bigger M3.

Here the motor makes 405 horsepower (all the way up to 7,000 rpm) and 406 lb.-ft. of torque, which, yes, is a little less it makes in the M3.

The company is sandbagging, slightly. Frank Van Meel — then boss of M Division who was recently promoted up the corporate ranks — said there are two reasons: The 2 Series’ smaller engine bay provides less space for cooling, and the company doesn’t want its littlest, cheapest M car upstaging its more expensive stable mates.

To make the new high-revving motor work, engineers had to change almost everything on the M2 from the windshield forward, fitting in extra chassis bracing, larger intakes and cooling ducts.

To be clear, nobody ever said the M2 was lacking giddy-up. Giving it more was either brilliant or reckless. In fact, it’s both.

“You can get into a drift easier,” Markus Schroder said, with typical German understatement.

“To control something which is out of control, on the edge, that’s the fun part of drifting. And I think that’s the fascination for people,” he added.

It’s shocking the first time it happens. With the traction control off, this lump of torque — all 406 lb.-ft. of it — hits at 2,350 rpm. The Michelin Super Sport tires have no chance. It’s as if they’ve hit a patch of ice.

On a racetrack, where the motor stays in the upper half of its rev range, the power feels more linear. You avoid that torque bomb at 2,350 rpm and the rear-end breaks traction much more predictably.

Despite the short wheelbase and over-powered motor this car feels usable, exploitable at the limit. It’s feisty, but ultimately friendly — a bad guy with a heart-of-gold character.

We often complain that modern performance cars are boring because they have too much grip. This is the exception that proves the rule.

The only real problem with the M2 Competition is the inevitable jump in price. The M2 was $61,000 in 2016. By last year, BMW had jacked it up to $65,200, mostly because of strong demand.

The 2019 M2 Competition starts at $71,250, which is a lot, and dangerously close to the $77,550 M3.

All other complaints are minor. Automatic rev-matching on the six-speed manual can only be disabled by turning traction control off. The interior is available in any colour so long as it’s black.

2019 BMW M2 Competition. -BMW
2019 BMW M2 Competition. -BMW

A lightweight carbon-fibre roof, hood and duck-tail trunk would’ve been nice, but BMW is saving things like that for the M Performance Parts catalogue.

The new M2 Competition is a radically simple sports car. What you get here is everything you need, and nothing you don’t: monster motor, manual gearbox, a limited-slip differential and a great rear-drive chassis.

It seems like such a simple formula; it’s a shame more automakers haven’t figured it out.

The 2019 M2 Competition arrives in Canada later this summer, starting at $71,250.

Tech Specs

  • Base Price: $71,250
  • Engine: 3.0-litre twin-turbo straight-six
  • Transmissions: 6-speed manual, or 7-speed dual-clutch automatic
  • Fuel economy (litres/100 km): TBD
  • Drive: Rear-wheel drive
  • Alternatives: Ford Shelby GT350, BMW M3, Porsche 718 Cayman, AMG C63 Coupe, Audi RS3

Ratings

  • Looks: ↑ Not much has changed. The M2 looks as butch as ever. The kidney grille is bigger to let in more air. There are new forged 19-inch alloy wheels, a new quad-tip exhaust, and black window trim.
  • Interior: →The non-adjustable suspension strikes a good balance between sport and comfort for daily use. You can feel the slack, a slight lack of immediacy in the steering, but it’s more than a fair sacrifice to make for daily usability. The seats with light-up M2 badges are a bit tacky though.
  • Performance: ↑ With the 6-speed manual, 0-100 km/h comes up in 4.4. It’s 0.2 seconds quicker with the dual-clutch. With such a pure driving experience on offer, the stick-shift is really the way to go here. The front brakes have been upgraded to six-piston, 400mm discs.
  • Technology: →The MDM traction control mode is more lenient than ever, allowing more slip at the rear before cutting in. Park distance control is now standard, as is a shiny red engine starter button.
  • Cargo: ↑ Unlike a Porsche Cayman, the M2 has rear seats and a generous trunk, which makes it a little easier to justify.
  • Score: 9.5 / 10: Might just be the best performance car under $100,000.

You’ll like this car if… you believe cars are more than just transportation.

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