2023 BMW M2 First Drive: Cut-Copy-Paste Performance

TL;DR: The 2023 BMW M2 is awesome. But then again, that really shouldn't come as a shock. After all, the latest M2 shares a good portion of its hardware with the M3 sedan and M4 coupe – themselves two of BMW's best performance cars. In the M2, all that goodness is just wrapped in a smaller, lighter, more playful package. To quote Ina Garten, "How bad can that be?"

The M2 gets even more compelling when you consider its price tag: $63,195, including $995 for destination. That makes this two-door $10,000 to $15,000 less expensive than an equivalent M3 or M4, despite the fact that you're not sacrificing anything in the way of creature comforts or onboard technology. Sure, the M2 is slightly down on power and doesn't have as much space inside. But in nearly every other regard, this car makes few concessions. It's definitely the M car I'd buy.

Small size, bold styling

While still a compact coupe, the new M2 is a bit larger than its predecessor. That's because the new G42-generation 2 Series family rides on the same Cluster Architecture (CLAR) platform as the 3 Series and 4 Series, the end result being that the M2 is exactly as wide as the M3 and M4, with identical front and rear tracks. However, the M2 is shorter, with 4.4 inches cut from the wheelbase, which results in handling benefits I'll get to in a moment.

Visually, the M2 is polarizing to say the least. It's chonky, with pronounced wheel arches and wildly bulging fenders, though the longer I spend with this car in person, the more I warm up to the design. The coupe's best angle is definitely the profile, where you can really see the stretched dash-to-axle ratio and short rear deck. The M2 also rides on staggered 19-inch front and 20-inch rear wheels shod in Michelin Pilot Sport 4S summer tires — the same setup that's available on the M3 and M4.

Great tech headlines a compact interior

The M2's interior isn't what I'd call spacious, but for two adults, it's perfectly fine. The back seats are best used for grocery bags or luggage, and if you're a human of, shall we say, more rotund stature, you'll probably want to skip my test car's optional carbon bucket seats. They're incredibly supportive and shockingly comfortable on long drives, but the wide-hipped among us will have trouble fitting, and getting in and out of these chairs is a wholly inelegant process.

Like other modern BMW's, the M2 has great materials throughout the cabin, with soft leather surfaces and nice trim on the doors and dash. It's a cut above what you'll find in other subcompact performance cars like the Audi RS3 or Mercedes-AMG CLA45, though it's worth mentioning those competitors are sedans, making them slightly more useful day to day. Subcompact coupes are a dying breed.

BMW's tech game is better than that of Audi or Mercedes-Benz, too, with the M2 using the company's new single-piece curved display that incorporates a 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster and 14.9-inch central infotainment touchscreen. The iDrive 8 software built into these screens is feature rich and reconfigurable, though the main multimedia menu is rife with small icons that can be a bit overwhelming at first glance. If you'd rather use Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, feel free — both connect wirelessly.

Twin-turbo power and rear-wheel drive

Like the M3 and M4, the M2 uses BMW's S58 twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-6 engine, making 453 horsepower and 406 pound-feet of torque. Compared to its larger siblings, the M2 is down 20 hp, but the torque output is identical, and it's fully on boil between 2,650 and 5,870 rpm. This broad torque band means you don't really need to downshift in order to build speed, though both the six-speed manual and eight-speed automatic transmissions are fun to play with. Interestingly, regardless of transmission, the 2023 BMW M2 is rated at 19 mpg combined, and the manual car is ever so slightly more efficient on the highway, estimated to return 24 mpg compared to the automatic's 23 mpg.

Given the choice between the two, I'd for sure opt for the six-speed manual transmission, but my tester's eight-speed automatic offers plenty to like. You can adjust the transmission's responsiveness, from smooth and leisurely to quick and kick-you-in-the-seat aggressive, and while larger, steering column-mounted paddles would be a boon for tactile engagement, the carbon fiber wheel-mounted shifters are nevertheless enjoyable to use.

By the numbers, the 2023 M2 is no slouch, with BMW estimating a 0-60 mph time of 4.1 seconds for the manual-equipped coupe. Go for the automatic and the M2 is ever so slightly quicker, doing the same deed in 3.9 seconds. Regardless of gearbox, the M2 tops out at an electronically limited 155 mph. You can raise that top end to 177 mph if you wish, but it requires adding the $2,500 M Driver's Package, which also gives you access to a one-day BMW performance driving program.

Sharp and playful

Compared to an M3 or M4, the M2 is simply more eager to please. Remember that shorter wheelbase I mentioned earlier? It makes the M2 much sharper while cornering. On top of that, the M2 has stiffer front springs than its siblings for better turn-in, and the rear springs are actually a little softer, making this rear-wheel-drive coupe more prone to tail wagging. A standard limited-slip differential modulates power at the drive axle, and 10 different levels of traction control intervention can make the M2 as drifty-slidey as you desire.

There are myriad ways to customize your M2 experience, with different parameters for the engine, suspension, brakes, and steering. The deltas between the first two feel more pronounced than the latter two, with the steering nicely weighted regardless of drive mode and the brake-by-wire system offering progressive stopping power no matter what.

The M2 is of course at its best on a canyon road with tight curves, like the ones leading into Prescott, Arizona. After a while, you learn that this coupe can handle way more than you're giving it, the taut chassis keeping the M2 planted while cornering, aided by the nearly 50/50 front/rear weight distribution. But even driving in the city or just commuting down the freeway, the M2 is a sports car that isn't fatiguing to use.

2023 BMW M2 Verdict: A subcompact standout

By now you might be wondering, why bother with an M3 or M4? Aside from the fact that those models are just plain larger, they're also offered in more powerful Competition specs, with 503 hp and 479 lb-ft of torque, and you can add BMW's xDrive all-wheel-drive system on top of that power as well. But don't forget, you're also paying for the privilege. 

If we compare coupes, an M4 Competition starts at $81,935 while the xDrive variant comes in at $85,935 (including destination). Fully loaded, a Toronto Red M2 coupe like my test car comes in around $77,000. Are 50 hp and 73 lb-ft of torque worth the upcharge to you?

Really, the M2 is a reminder that, while BMW's future goes heavy on electrification, the company still knows how to build a damn good old-fashioned sports car. The M2 is athletic, playful and seriously satisfying to drive. But then again, considering its foundation, should we really be surprised?