2023 BMW M2 Review: Driver’s choice

BMW/Uwe Fischer

As we looked over the sky-colored BMW M2 parked in front of us, it brought to mind other significant blues: Laguna Seca. Estoril. Interlagos. And now this hue, Zandvoort, another shade named for a famous race track. It’s an eye-catching color on a particularly eye-catching car—squat, wide-fendered, and striking from every angle. To call the new 2023 M2 pretty would be generous, but it definitely makes an impression.

Such visual presence has been increasingly important for BMW designers, but if there’s one new car that M division engineers should be proud of, this is it. The most compact and lightweight of today’s all-out M cars, the M2 remains the pure driving enthusiast’s choice in BMW’s lineup. It’s available exclusively with rear-wheel-drive and two doors, just like the original model that launched for the 2016 model year. Under the hood sits the most powerful turbocharged straight-six to ever appear in an M2, and a six-speed manual transmission is standard.

BMW M2 Zandvoort Blue interior manual shifter
BMW/Uwe Fischer

For all this, BMW fans will be thankful. Perhaps less thankful will they be that the 2023 M2 has grown in most appreciable dimensions, including an extra 4.1 inches from nose to tail. The car’s 180.3-inch length and 55.2-inch height places it in between the E46-generation (2001–06) and E92-generation (2008–13) M3 coupes. While today’s M3 sedan and M4 coupe have become genuinely large, the outgoing M2 still felt like a small performance coupe. The newest one is more like “small-ish.”

The size creep is the result of the shared platform architecture, chassis components, and common engine (codename S58) with its modern-day M3/4 siblings. At 3814 pounds with a manual transmission (the eight-speed auto adds 53 pounds), the new M2 is more than 200 pounds heavier than the outgoing generation and just 16 pounds lighter than the M4.

BMW M2 Zandvoort Blue side profile mural
BMW/Uwe Fischer

We met the new M2 at BMW’s media launch in Prescott, Arizona. All flares and nostrils, the car has a creatine-diet, race-car-like chonk going on. At the same time, it’s clean to the eye—no tacked-on clutter, no trim rings around the grille or needless fender vents. In photos the M2 appears awkward, if not a little ungainly, but its hulking stance does it a lot of favors in person.

BMW M2 Zandvoort Blue driving action front three quarter
BMW/Uwe Fischer

BMW is still figuring out how to evolve the styling of its trademark kidney grilles, and in the M2 they are better integrated with the rest of the car than in the M3 and M4. The geometric-shaped light signatures and rectangular air intakes add a techno-bulldog counterpoint to the rest of the car’s rounded, yet muscular design.

All told, our test M2’s MSRP totaled $69,695 and included $6500 worth of options. The add-ons ran the gamut of aesthetic (carbon-fiber interior trim: $800) to aesthetic and pseudo-functional (M Carbon roof: $2600) to driver aids (Active cruise control: $550). Get crazy with checking boxes and it’s easy to get north of $75,000, and that’s before you open the M Performance parts catalog for the full buffet of carbon bits, gorgeous 19-inch forged wheels, and a long list of other accessories.

The interior is airy by today’s standards, especially compared with that other BMW-built coupe, the Toyota Supra. The M2’s upright windshield angle and the shallow-depth dashboard help the front end of the car feel smaller from the driver’s perspective, and keep the cabin tidy, not cramped.

Our test car came fitted with the attractive-looking standard M Sport seats, replete with glowing M emblems nestled in the headrests. Though they’re on the firm side, and the seat bottom angle wouldn’t adjust as much as we’d like, the buckets effectively held us in place through corners and proved comfortable over a two-hour drive. Our co-driver, another journalist, was 6’4” and felt equally at ease inside the M2. Combined with sunroof delete that’s part of the aforementioned carbon-fiber roof option package, he would’ve had plenty of room to wear a helmet.

For extra support, BMW offers the same M Carbon bucket seats as in the M3/4. Skirt wearers and those who prefer to skip yoga may want to stick with the standard seats; the bolsters on the Carbons are snug, but they’re enormous and remind you of that with each ingress and egress.

BMW M2 Zandvoort Blue interior rear black leather seat
BMW/Uwe Fischer

Despite the larger footprint compared to the last M2, the rear seats are still more suited for stuff than passengers. A couple of friends would be fine in a pinch, over a short distance, but mothers-in-law may not feel the same way. The rear seats do fold down to accommodate larger items, and an extra set of wheels and tires for track days would slide in without issue.

Specs: 2023 BMW M2

  • Price: $63,195 / $69,695 (base / as-tested)
  • Engine: 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged inline-six
  • Transmission: Six-speed manual / eight-speed torque converter automatic
  • Horsepower: 453@ 6250 rpm
  • Torque: 406 lb-ft @ 2650–5870 rpm
  • Layout: Rear-wheel drive, two-door, four-passenger coupe
  • Weight: 3814 / 3867 pounds (manual / auto)
  • EPA-rated fuel economy: 16/23/19 (city/highway/combined)
  • 0 to 60 mph: 4.1 / 3.9 seconds (manual / auto)
  • Top speed: 155 mph (177 mph with M Driver’s Package)

The interior is cleanly laid out. Gone are the analog gauges and binnacle from the prior M2, replaced with BMW’s curved display that seamlessly features a 12.3-inch screen ahead of the driver and 14.9-inch screen for the navigation and infotainment. The iDrive 8 interface is reasonably intuitive; aside from a time-consuming effort to reset a confused navigation system after we doubled back on one of the more fun sections of road, everything was easy to control on the fly. Plenty of physical buttons that serve as shortcuts helped.

The dash and door materials look and feel … fine. That’s par for the course in the 2 Series’ entry-level luxury segment, which at this performance tier and price point ($63,195, to start) includes the Audi RS3 and Mercedes-AMG CLA 45. BMW says that it prioritized the driving experience over material panache in the M2—a decision on the other end of the M scale from the $167,000 XM plug-in hybrid.

BMW M2 Zandvoort Blue engine bay angle
BMW/Uwe Fischer

If that’s the trade-off, we’re on board. Under the M2’s hood resides a detuned version of the same magnificent twin-turbo straight-six as in the base M4. In this guise it produces 453 hp and 406 lb-ft of torque, besting the previous-generation M2 Competition by 48 horses and equaling it on torque. A six-speed manual transmission is standard, but it won’t cost you any extra dough to choose a ZF-sourced eight-speed automatic instead. Between the rear wheels sits an electronically-controlled limited-slip differential.

We hit the road and headed for the twisty mountain routes in and around Prescott. In some cars, an outstanding trait or dominant personality quirk makes itself plain within a few miles, or even feet. That wasn’t the case with the M2. Everything felt easy-going and smooth at first, with lots of usable torque at lower revs; Prescott sits a mile above sea level, at 5367 feet, but you wouldn’t know it with how well the S58 breathes all across the tach. Peak power comes at 6250 rpm, just a grand or so below the roaring 7200-rpm redline. Those upper two thousand rpm is where the M2 starts to come alive—willing in its response yet always linear in its delivery, much like the best naturally aspirated BMW straight-sixes.

BMW M2 Zandvoort Blue driving action rear three quarter
BMW/Uwe Fischer

Winding through Arizona’s rock-strewn hillsides, the M2’s chassis mostly kept up with its fabulous engine. Through the thick steering wheel we got a clear sense of the car’s copious front-end grip and quickly trusted the M2’s nose. Despite that, steering feel and feedback isn’t quite as granular as in the Cadillac CT4-V Blackwing. The relatively short wheelbase (2.1 inches longer than the prior M2’s, but still 4.3 inches shorter than the M4’s) enables confident pivots and controllable rotation. There’s also just enough roll to communicate to the driver when and how the M2 takes a set. Damper control, however, is where this chassis falls short; some undulations bring out too much rebound, occasionally keeping the car from feeling fully planted.

We spent the most time in an M2 with the eight-speed automatic. With the drivetrain left in its most relaxed setting, Comfort the ZF gearbox occasionally behaved as if it were a little too comfortable. Even the calmest transmission mode in a car like this should be adroit enough to react with downshifts when necessary. That’s a minor gripe for what is otherwise a very responsive and crisp automatic, at least on public roads.

We briefly sampled a manual M2, as well. There’s an argument for modern automatics, especially when paired with torquey turbocharged engines, but three pedals suits this kind of car. The shifter is precise and gear selection is well-defined, if a little notchy. To this author’s right hand and left foot, it’s a more mechanical, direct interaction than in the current M3. BMW wouldn’t provide its the anticipated take rate for the manual other than to say it would be “significant.” Here’s hoping it’s enough that the suits in Munich see the wisdom in keeping it around for us drivers.

Whether you row your own or not, the M2 experience is at its best when the engine, chassis, and steering settings are dialed in to your liking. For us, that meant Comfort for the brakes; Sport for the dampers and steering; and Sport Plus for the powertrain. Regardless, these settings do a good job occupying a clear space on their relative spectra, never getting too soft or too firm. A ten-stage traction control system, not fundamentally different in philosophy to GM’s Performance Traction Management system, effectively and easily scales the degree to which the M2’s electronic saviors look over your shoulder. You can still get away with a little tail wiggle with them fully enabled.

BMW M2 Zandvoort Blue driving action front three quarter sun flare
BMW/Uwe Fischer

That playfulness is what really separates the 2023 BMW M2 from its bigger M3 and M4 siblings. It remains the most driver-oriented, most engaging, most focused car in the M stable. Cadillac’s CT4-V Blackwing may have the more eager and agile chassis, and the Audi RS3’s five-cylinder may be the more special engine, but the the latest M2 is a good reminder that there’s still a lot of Motorsport know-how in the halls of BMW M. We’ll take ours in blue, or rather, Zandvoort.

2023 BMW M2

Price: $63,195 / $69,695 (base / as-tested)

Highs: Jewel of an engine, confident and poises chassis, excellent overall balance.

Lows: Suspension could be more controlled, steering lacks nuanced feedback, interior surfaces don’t impress.

Takeaway: The M car to get, and the one that tracks most closely to enthusiasts’ image of the brand.


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    Wow 3800+ lbs and ugly to boot. I owned an E92 and it was such an understated looker. This, though…I don’t know what happened to Bmw.

    3,800 lbs! BMW cars are getting like humans – too many on-board gizmos and gadgets that add weight. Some of which are never used or are too difficult to bother to learn. There’s a lot to say about “analog” cars

    Too angular for my taste. The grille is better than the Bucky Beaver of the 4-series, but not by much. And the dash is gawdawful. I truly do not understand BMW’s designers these days… ugh!

    The styling is blah. That front end looks like it came from another car. It is quite generic but better than the super ugly M3/M4 snouts. A wall of screens propped up on the dash? No thank you. What a confused mess on those screens.

    I will concede the grill is “better” than the obnoxious ones on other recent BMWs, but that is a very low bar to clear to achieve better than those.

    Colin Chapman proved the performance advantage of low weight and modest horsepower. This current M2 is certainly chunky. At 3814 pounds for the manual it is 400 pounds heavier than my E46 M3. And doesn’t look as good. And costs more. Headed in the wrong direction.

    BMW a once great marque. It appears their target market is the buyer who is totally clueless as to what great automotive engineering and ergonomics are all about. Soon this vehicle will be seen in every grocery store parking lot along with Costco and Sam’s Club. Not impressed, extremely disappointed. BMW cars has been going down hill since the “Dame Edna” look was released! I think I’ll buy a Ducati

    Well, shoot. The side profile isn’t too bad. The rear end is…meh. But the front end looks like a squared plastic model of a Pontiac. Nah. Kind of sad.

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