Do you struggle to make sense of today's influx of heavy, absurdly powerful EVs? Does trying to discern one SUV body shape from another induce anxiety and depression? Then you may suffer from transitional automotive disorder. Ask your BMW dealer if the second-generation M2 coupe is right for you. (Side effects may include joyous laughter at extralegal speeds, an increased tolerance for g-forces, and cravings for empty, curvy roads.)
The new M2's prescription is straightforward: Take the workings of one of BMW M's finest cultures, the one-size-up M4, and scale them down to a more playful size. Based on the redesigned 2-series coupe produced in Mexico, this is still a compact rear-wheel-drive riot of a car with two confining rear seats, though its wheelbase and overall length have increased by 2.1 and 4.1 inches, respectively, to 108.1 and 180.3 inches. It's also now a little shorter in stature yet 1.3 inches broader in beam, with wider front and rear tracks that now match the M4's. You'll need to step down to the workaday M240i model if you want all-wheel drive—the M2 is rear-wheel drive only. While the ductwork on the M2's stylized bumpers appears disjointed from certain angles, prominently flared fenders lend this upright three-box coupe swagger like a handsome vintage IMSA racer. Thankfully, the larger sibling's bucktooth maw is not included.
BMW did incorporate virtually all the M4's (and mechanically identical M3 sedan's) other major bits into the M2, including its twin-turbo 3.0-liter inline-six. Though the new car's estimated curb weight has increased considerably to around 3800 pounds, BMW's S58 mill generates a stout 453 horsepower in this application—20 horses less than what it makes in the standard M4 but 48 more than the outgoing M2 Competition's S55 inline-six produced (it's a stronger dosage than even the limited-edition 444-hp M2 CS provided). A six-speed manual remains standard, with the no-cost option being a ZF-sourced eight-speed automatic in place of the previous seven-speed dual-clutch unit (we haven't driven the auto yet). The EPA pegs both setups at 19 mpg combined, roughly the same as the previous-gen M2 Competition. Not that we need any added incentives to select the DIY gearbox, but according to the EPA, it'll travel a mile farther per gallon on the highway.
Launch control should help the self-shifting M2 return an estimated 3.6-second 60-mph time, similar to the last automatic M2 CS we tested. Working the manual's precise yet somewhat rubbery shifter through its gates likely will cost a few tenths of a second, but we don't care. This transmission remains one of BMW's most potent treatments for driving boredom, and the M2's pedals are ideally spaced for the heel-and-toe dance. From the engine's melodious race toward its 7200-rpm redline to the velvety growl it emits through its quad tailpipes, it's business as usual for this awesome straight-six. The main difference is that while the M2 makes the same 406 pound-feet of torque at the same 2650 rpm as the M4's headier tune, its thrust builds more progressively as revs increase. With slightly less turbo boost to manage—17.4 psi versus the base M4's 18.9—it's easier to feed in the power without upsetting the car's hold on the road.
The M2's stiffened body shell houses the M4's rear axle with its electronically controlled limited-slip differential, as well as that car's suspension links, adaptive dampers, and brakes (15.0-inch rotors with six-piston calipers in front, 14.6-inch single-piston units out back). Minor tuning changes, such as springs that are slightly firmer in the front and softer in the back, help temper the M2's willingness to rotate on a wheelbase that's 4.4 inches shorter than big brother's. But even the M4's 19-inch front and 20-inch rear Michelin Pilot Sport 4S summer tires carry over. At least 1.0 g of skidpad grip should be possible. With a $63,195 starting price—$3300 more than the outgoing M2 Competition yet $12,500 less than the M4's initial ask—this is the entry point to the M brand, and as such, it won't offer carbon-ceramic brakes. Track-oriented Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires will be available, however, and a lighter carbon-fiber roof can also be optioned.
BMW's Curved Display (a combined 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster and 14.9-inch center touchscreen) dominates the business-casual interior and features many of the climate controls that previously had separate buttons and switches. Despite additional width inside and ample legroom up front, you still wear this car more than sit in it, especially if you opt for the $9900 Carbon package and its hard-shell M Carbon bucket seats—we'd avoid them unless you plan to attend track days regularly. Though ultrasupportive and good for a claimed 24-pound weight savings, their firm padding and lack of lumbar adjustment punished our lower backs. The softer standard sport seats, with still-generous side bolsters that held us snugly in place, are far more agreeable.
The M2's myriad drive settings can overwhelm at first, but know that the overarching Sport and Track modes (there's also a default Comfort setting) provide a simplified gauge display that's easier to read at speed. Pair the sportiest engine mapping with the softest suspension mode, as the M2's ride is still taut and short of travel, though with enough compliance not to feel brutal on smoother surfaces. We also recommend deactivating the manual's rev-matching feature, setting the steering response to Comfort (Sport increases effort but not tactility), and leaving the brake-pedal feel alone (we couldn't tell a difference between modes). The M4's Drift Analyzer is present for scoring your slides around a racetrack, but more welcome is the updated stability-control system with 10 stages of traction-control intervention.
Most important, the M2 still saturates your senses as it squirms over undulating pavement, its swell of midrange power allowing you to adjust its attitude carefully with the throttle. Turn-in response is crisp as the chassis takes a set and neatly orients itself over midcorner bumps, subtly telegraphing load transfers to your backside. Given that it shares the M4's variable steering hardware, its chunky helm is lighter on feel than, say, a Porsche 718's. But overall refinement and stability have improved to the benefit of driver confidence, making the feistiness of this Bavarian muscle coupe more enjoyable to live with.
Science has yet to find a cure for transitional automotive disorder, as it spreads naturally in the open market, spurred on by environmental and societal stressors. But thanks in large part to its bountiful raid on BMW's parts bin, the new M2 offers powerful relief, successfully targeting the areas of the brain associated with pleasure and fine motor control. This is strong medicine for the driver's soul.
2023 BMW M2
Vehicle Type: front-engine, rear-wheel-drive, 4-passenger, 2-door coupe
twin-turbocharged and intercooled DOHC 24-valve inline-6, aluminum block and head, direct fuel injection
Displacement: 183 in3, 2993 cm3
Power: 453 hp @ 6250 rpm
Torque: 406 lb-ft @ 2650 rpm
6-speed manual, 8-speed automatic
Wheelbase: 108.1 in
Length: 180.3 in
Width: 74.3 in
Height: 55.2 in
Passenger Volume, F/R: 52/33 ft3
Trunk Volume: 14 ft3
Curb Weight (C/D est): 3750–3850 lb
PERFORMANCE (C/D EST)
60 mph: 3.6–3.8 sec
100 mph: 9.0–9.2 sec
1/4-Mile: 12.1–12.3 sec
Top Speed: 155–177 mph
EPA FUEL ECONOMY
Combined/City/Highway: 19/16/23–24 mpg
Mike Sutton is an editor, writer, test driver, and general car nerd who has contributed to Car and Driver's reverent and irreverent passion for the automobile since 2008. A native Michigander from suburban Detroit, he enjoys the outdoors and complaining about the weather, has an affection for off-road vehicles, and believes in federal protection for naturally aspirated engines.