By: Jesse Adams

Johannesburg - My word, there’s a lot of gushing going on. Even before it was launched earlier this year, BMW’s M2 was touted as an M-car to rival all before it. And now that it’s on the streets, an international jury of petrohedonists has unanimously decided that Beemer’s latest performance coupé is the closest thing on four wheels to handling nirvana.

Okay, I made that last part up. But seriously, if you scour the internet for M2 reviews, you’ll be hard pressed to find one not dishing up full marks at the end of lyrically waxed reviews. The general consensus among those in the know, is that this car corrects most of its M4 sibling’s imperfections, and delivers a more driver focussed feel than any M derivative in nearly two decades.

BMW creates modern-day 2002 turbo

We had the M2 on test last week, and on one journey home from the office a guy in an E36 M3 coupé with what looked like a genuine AC Schnitzer conversion made bowing gestures toward me through his side window at a robot. Clearly a man of taste, but with hierarchical confusions.

So what’s all the fuss about? Is this latest creation truly worthy of such high praise? Or is it just another case of hot today, not tomorrow?

Size counts in its favour

To be honest, I myself waxed lyrical after driving the M2 at its international press launch at Laguna Seca in February. For me, it’s mostly about dimension. It’s based on an ordinary 2 Series, which is already a compact and fair handling package, but with much of the bigger M4’s suspension grafted onto its four corners. A much wider track necessitates wheel arches blistered by 55mm at the front and 80mm at the rear, and with its newfound stance it looks like an angry touring car with an appetite for racetrack kerbs.

Make no mistake, an M4 (M3) is a fine performer. But it’s become a big, almost GT-like car in its latest iteration. I know I’ll be lambasted for saying so, but an M4’s skill set is more in tune with fast, long-distance mileage than millimetre perfect apex precision. The M2 is a wieldy weapon in comparison.

Its relatively short wheelbase means it can pivot on a tighter axis, and it reacts to mid-corner adjustments with immediacy and pinpoint precision. Steering feel is extrasensory. At our handling test track there’s a tightening right-hander perfect for assessing front-end grip, and the very moment its 19-inch tyres lose adhesion it sends the message in an almost telepathic way. At which point, you can choose to regain traction via brief throttle lift or, better yet, tease the tail around with a right foot prompt. Its Active M Differential, also taken from the M4, is happy to produce a powerslide when you are.

Beefy brakes, snappy gearbox

The brakes too are direct M4 transplants, and after repeated hard laps showed zero sign of fade. They’re of conventional steel construction (not carbon ceramic), but are cross-drilled and beefy in size – 380mm front and 370mm rear. BMW can also sell you some competition pads if weekend hot-lapping is your vibe, but standard equipment seems very up to the task as is.

A seven-speed twin-clutch autobox (yep, also lifted from the M4) does gear duty and does it well. Changes are short and sharp, and can happen either by way of steering paddles or auto mode. A six-speed manual is also available for the purists out there, but its downshift auto-blip feature (only defeatable with ESP switched completely off) is a cheesy inclusion in my opinion. Trust me, the M DCT is a better choice, especially if outright performance is bottom line.

Just the right amount of power

And, in terms of outright performance, the M2’s no slouch. Its built-in launch-control system was a bit ornery, activating once in every six attempts at our test track, but eventually we secured a best 0-100km/h acceleration figure of 4.6 seconds with a quarter- mile time of 12.9. These numbers square it up almost exactly with the latest Audi RS3 (as confirmed by our Vbox test equipment) – a car with an obvious traction advantage but a bit short of torque compared to the Beemer.

The M2’s 3-litre straight six is good for 272kW and 500Nm (the Audi’s 2.5 comes with 270/465), and while it’s shy of the M4’s 317kW and 550Nm we feel it’s an output nicely suited to the M2’s size. The engine here is a single turbo unit closely related to the twin-turbo version in the M4 but, interestingly, and despite shared internals (ie. pistons, crank) the M2 and M4 come with very different exhaust notes. The M2’s is deeper, gruffer and better if you ask me, but still BMW insists on supplementing genuine tailpipe noise with piped-in electronic fakery. A mild annoyance on a nearly perfect package.

VERDICT

The best BMW ever? Of course not. The best M-car in two decades? I’d say so.

FACTS

BMW M2 coupe auto

Engine: 3-litre, 6-cylinder turbopetrol

Gearbox: 7-speed automated dual-clutch

Power: 272kW @ 6500rpm

Torque: 465Nm (500Nm on overboost) @ 1400-5560rpm

0-100km/h (tested, Gauteng): 4.6 seconds

Top speed (claimed): 250km/h std, 270km/h opt

Price: R914 010

Warranty: 2-year / unlimited km

Maintenance plan: 5-year / 100 000km

ALTERNATIVES

Audi RS3 Sportback quattro - 270kW/465Nm - R775 500

Ford Focus RS - 257kW/440Nm - R699 900

Mercedes-AMG CLA45 - 280kW/475Nm - R838 714

Mercedes-AMG C43 Coupe - 270kW/520Nm - R901 582

Porsche 718 Cayman S auto - 257kW/420Nm - R934 000

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