Disclaimer: I bought this car. I’m far from impartial when it comes right down to it.
Highs: Powertrain, visibility, interior use of space, aggressive styling, handling, size, high quality feel.
Lows: Stiff ride, ho-hum steering feel, expensive to fix, likely expensive to own long term.
I’ve owned this car for a few months now, having bought it to replace my previous daily driver, a Nissan 350Z. I’ve been waiting for the right car to come along for a while now as I’d originally planned on spending a decade in the Z, but due to its reliability, as well as a lack of interest in what was available, I ended up stretching that to around 13 years. Part of me was also keeping the Z around until the Supra came out, which obviously didn’t work out for me.
When the original M2 was released I was very nearly on board with that car. There wasn’t anything wrong with the engine, but it also wasn’t exceptionally exciting once you looked past the horsepower number (365) and the fact that it came with a manual transmission.
When the M2 Competition came out though, I immediately started lusting after it and a big part of that lust was due to the new engine. Unlike the old N55 powered M2, the S55 powered M2 Competition has an engine that feels special. Both engines are turbocharged units displacing 3.0L, and both do that modern turbocharged thing where the turbo spools quickly and the car feels like it has midrange for days. But the M2 Competition’s S55 does something relatively rare these days for a turbocharged engine: It revs.
I’m 37 years old, so I grew up in the days when turbocharged engines meant that all your power was at the top end. As a child, I’d whistfully dream of getting my hands on an R33 GT-R or a WRX STi (this was the 90's) and revving them out to almost 8,000 RPM while being forced back into my seat by the power of 276 screaming horses. While the engine in the M2 Competition doesn’t quite make it to that magical land of 8,000 RPM, it does rev all the way to 7,600 RPM, which is up quite a bit from the 6,500 or so revs available in the old M2. All while making 405 horsepower and 406 lb-ft of torque.
And while the S55 in the M3/M4 were criticized for just giving owners too much power too soon, BMW did the smart thing when they nerfed the engine for the M2 Competition: they selectively decreased power in certain parts of the powerband, rather than just copying the M3 powerband and making it 10 percent smaller. I’ve not driven an M3 or an M4, but i’m told the M2 Competition makes its power in a much more linear fashion. And to my butt, it feels very linear once you get over the initial turbo surge at low RPM.
All that said, it doesn’t sound great. And in fact, the regular old M2 sounds quite a bit better.
The gearbox is good, but not as racy and positive feeling as something like a Miata (or indeed a 350Z.) Throws in the M2 are on the long side for a sports car and very few vibrations can be felt through the shifter, it feels refined, low effort and honestly, very similar to every BMW manual i’ve ever driven. I like how it feels, but i’m dinging it a little here for not being just a touch sportier, with shorter throws.
The clutch is light and easy to use, aided by the car’s anti-stall feature. Getting away from a stop requires no gas, as the car will smoothly accelerate on its own, even up a hill, with a minimum of clutch slippage. It’s the kind of feature that would bug me if it weren’t implemented perfectly, which it is. Drive the car normally, ignoring the anti-stall and you’d never know it was there.
Auto-rev matching on the other hand, is obnoxious and I wish I could turn it off without completely disabling the traction control. Try to rev match yourself with the auto-rev matching on and the car will correct you, seeming to say “oh, you poor, poor fool. Here, let me get this for you.” It does make driving easier though, i’ll give it that.
At the end of the day it’s an honest to goodness six-speed manual that doesn’t feel like an afterthought. The pedals are positioned well and while there’s a tiny bit of rev hang (ugh) the transmission is better than most and works extremely well.
This car has 15-inch front rotors. That’s as big as the wheels on my race car. The front calipers are six piston and painted a subtle tone of light grey, just like the rest of the car. They seem to say “oh....you don’t need to look at me...oh...oh you are? THEN LET ME SHOW YOU MY SIX PISTONS AND HUUUGE ROTORS HNNNGTRRHH!!!!”
Honestly, they’re too big. That’s a ton of unsprung weight and complete and total overkill for the street. I’m sure they work great on the track, but on the street where I drive all the time, they’re grabby and squeaky. But if I’m ever feeling insecure, I can just stare at them and know that i’ve fully overcompensated for whatever insecurity I might have.
I live in Seattle where the streets are not good. They’re both very narrow and very potholey. The good news is that the car is still livable. I’d say it’s just a touch more stiff than the 350Z was suspension wise, so the car definitely lets everyone know when it has encountered a bump, small or otherwise. That said, my complete and total non-car person of a significant other has zero complaints about the ride, so I know its not that bad. But the relatively fancy interior implies a roughly 1.5x more compliant ride than the car actually delivers.
I haven’t tracked the car or driven it too hard since breaking it in, but i’ve had a couple of brief sideways moments and hit a few on/off ramps with some momentum. And so far, the M2 Competition handles like a dream.
There is much less body roll than what I’m used to after driving the 350Z, despite that car actually feeling like it has a lower center of gravity. The M2C corners flatly and with tons of communication through the chassis (but not necessarily through the steering, I’ll get to that.) Turn in is more immediate than in anything I’ve ever driven and the steering ratio is very very quick while being incredibly accurate. It’s very easy to place this car exactly where you’d like it.
The M2 Competition comes with an “MDM” mode for the traction control, which should let you play with the limits a little bit without intervening. In my experience, it hardly intervenes at all. I’ve had the car pegged at the limiter for more than a split second on several occasions while the car is in MDM mode. I’ve also had it a bit sideways without any intervention. I’m told that it essentially uses the gas pedal as a “confidence meter” meaning that if you’re in it, the car won’t engage any traction or stability control. As soon as you lift, those systems kick in. MDM mode is cool and I like it.
The steering gets it’s own section because this is my first EPS car. It feels....fine. It’s more communicative than I expected, but it still feels like a step down from the 350Z. If you drive over a rough road in the Z, you’re essentially feeling thousands of tiny little unique bumps through the wheel. Drive that road in the M2 Competition and it feels like you’re hitting the same tiny little bump a thousand times. You still feel them, but the fidelity is lower.
The steering feel is exactly as good as it needs to be to keep me from losing confidence, but it offers nothing beyond that.
I like how the 2-series looks, it’s clean and functional and sporty without being too sporty. The M2 Competition adds a huge dose of aggressiveness to the design without going full on cartoon.
Unlike the Civic Type R, there’s no giant wing, no hood scoop and a general lack of flashy “look at me” body details. Instead, the M2 just adds big ol fender flares, 19-inch wheels and blacked out body trim.
The overall look is clean, but really nothing to write home about. The boy racer in me wishes the fender flares were less subtle and curved in closer to the wheels, like a 1M, but i’m nitpicking. The car looks good, but not great to my eyes.
I’m coming from a 350Z, a car with a pretty awful interior, so the M2 Competition interior was bound to feel great to me and it does.
The dashboard material is nice and soft and there’s fuzzy alcantara in places where you’ll touch it semi-regularly, but not so much it’ll wear out. The seats are nicer than the ones in the previous M2 (The M2 Competition gets the M3 seats shod in not-as-nice leather) and there’s orange stitching everywhere, as the only other option was blue stitching. While the blue stitching looks marginally more tasteful than orange, there’s something vaugely “I wear my sunglasses in the club” feeling about blue highlights everywhere to me.
The interior is also nice and spacious feeling. The rear seats are totally usable for anyone under about 5'9". I legitimately fit back there with plenty of leg room. There’s significantly more room in the back than there was in the last Mustang I sat in, and the Mustang is a significantly larger vehicle on the outside.
As a bonus, the car has great visibility out of the driver’s seat.
I’m not really sure how to judge this, coming from a pretty spartan sports car that’s been my daily for almost a decade and a half. There are no autonomous driving features like adaptive cruise control or lane keep assist or anything. The Instrument cluster features...instrument dials (2 of em!) The front seats are heated but not cooled and there’s no rear windshield wiper.
However, it does come with an infotainment system, which let me remind you, is new to me. It seems to work pretty well, though I’m sure my SiriusXM subscription will run out, just like the Apple CarPlay compatibility (really BMW?) The standard Harmon Kardon sound system is fine, but not really amazing.
My favorite feature so far? The car has a CD player that will rip CD’s to an internal hard drive. Oh yes, I am the coolest kid in 2003.
Oh and it has parking sensors everywhere that blare incessantly at me since I refused to drill holes in my front bumper and stupidly ended up with a plate mount that blocks one of my parking sensors. The headlights also go around corners, but that’s not something I really notice in everyday driving.
This is a tough one because everyone values things differently. On the one hand the car is $60,000. That’s a lot more than a Mustang GT, which is very close on paper but actually makes more power. On the other hand, boy, does it feel much nicer than a Mustang, as well as much more controllable and playfull. And it costs significantly less than an M3 or an M4. In fact, you’d even have to order the M3/M4 with the competition package to get brakes as big as the M2 Competition or as many heat exchangers; as the M2 Competition comes with an external oil cooler that only comes with the Competition pack on M3/M4s.
I also considered a Cayman (less fast in a straight line, better handling, not as practical) a C7 Grand Sport (much less practical for daily driving, but faster and more serious about performance) and a Supra (No manual, no buy.)
At the end of the day, I kind of wanted something that was halfway between a pony car and a Miata. The modern pony car is fast and practical, but not playful, while the Miata is playful, but not fast or practical. I can’t think of anything else that splits that gap and at the end of the day, i’m planning on owning it for at least another decade, so I splurged a little to get exactly the car I wanted.
Yeah, but it’s totally rad.