Perhaps the best way to explain the BMW M2 to you, dear reader, is to send you on a little journey to YouTube.
Before you read this story, watch literally any Tenacious D video. Or any of Jack Black’s movie clips or many appearances on any of the late-night talk shows.
You’ll see a husky gentleman–not what you’d call movie-star handsome–who moves …
Let’s Start With the Car
Our instinctual comparison to the M2 is the Toyota Supra. While the Supra is a sports car and the M2 is a coupe, both front-line performance cars for their respective manufacturers are built around two occupants (sure, the M2 has a rear seat, but it’s not going to be regularly used) with power from turbocharged 3.0-liter BMW straight-sixes: one turbo for the Supra and a pair for the M2.
Both cars put similar amounts of rubber on the ground, too, with 275mm-wide front and 295mm-wide rear tires coming equipped from the factory.
But in many ways, they couldn’t be more different in execution.
While the Supra is low-slung, with a cozy, borderline tight interior and a long-hood/short-deck classic proportion, the M2 is far more upright. Inside, it’s almost more reminiscent of BMWs from the 1980s and 1990s, with lots of room, easy ingress and egress, and more airiness than we’re used to seeing in modern cars.
There are very few physical buttons inside the M2, but the touch panels have good haptics and almost convince you you’re using an actual button in some cases–unless you’re wearing gloves. We’d like to see HVAC controls take a bit less DIC menu diving and just be placed on buttons, but people smarter than us apparently decided it’s okay to need to select a submenu to change the fan speed.
Okay, rant over because we’ll never win that battle, and it’s really a tiny gripe given the M2’s sheer presence.
The exterior design can be divisive, we’ll admit, but downsizing the grille on the 2 Series certainly helped it look a bit less, uh, extreme. The proportions are similar to previous 2 and 1 Series coupes, and as such they kind of throw off the car’s sheer size.
When we pulled the M2 up on our trailer, the tall hood barely fit under the tire rack, and the rear hung half a foot off the rear of the deck. The 108-inch wheelbase is as long as a NASCAR Cup car’s and nearly a foot longer than the Supra’s.
As a cruiser, the M2 excels. Despite the tall hood, it has good sight lines and the seat is highly adjustable for a variety of drivers.
Our test car was equipped with the ZF eight-speed auto, so we can’t comment on clutch location or heel-toe acuity, but the two-pedal version has nicely placed pedals for sporting use, even if you feel like conscripting the left foot into the braking battle.
Enough Car, Let’s Hit the Track
The M2 is a fine BMW street car, seemingly giving up very little in terms of comfort or utility to the 3 and 4 Series–aside from the lack of availability of an additional set of doors. But as a “personal luxury sports coupe,” the M2 fits the bill nicely.
Then you take it to the track and it rips off the mask and shows you its true form, which is a cosmic anomaly that somehow becomes more than the sum of its parts.
Our drive to our official test track at the Florida International Rally & Motorsport Park is about 90 minutes. During those 90 minutes–usually spent around sunrise so we can get some laps in before the track gets too hot–our mind usually rolls over what we expect from whatever car is on our trailer that day.
In the case of the M2, our mental math couldn’t help but use the Supra as the base metric.
Although the M2’s 3.0-liter six has an extra turbo and puts out a claimed 453 horsepower versus the Supra’s 382, the M2 is also taller, sports a longer wheelbase and carries 450 or so additional pounds. The BMW also rides on Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires instead of the sportier Pilot Super Sports fitted to the Supra.
We were also expecting to test the BMW under hotter conditions, all of which conspired to convince us that the M2 would likely challenge the Supra’s lap time but still fall short, with the additional power not being able to make up for the reduced grip due to the increased mass and less sticky rubber.
Well, apparently the M2 did different math, because it flat smoked the Supra, vaulting into second place for a factory-stock vehicle. The M2 lapped the FIRM barely a half-second behind the C8 Corvette Z51.
And, as crazy as this sounds, it feels like the C8’s time is entirely attainable with the M2, even without resorting to 200tw trickery. A set of PSSs, a cooler day, a less dusty track and a few other variables could have put the M2 in the lead.
So, while the BMW’s 1:16.69 best lap is still slower than the C8’s, it certainly operates within that margin of error.
How does the BMW M2 compare against the Corvette Z51? Just look at these acceleration curves. With a single exception–the instance starting around 2000 meters, which goes from mid-third gear up into fifth–they’re nearly identical. It’s only above 100 mph that the C8, which supposedly has 50 more horsepower than the M2, pulls any gap. The M2’s excellent shocks are in evidence again over the curbs of the esses at 1200 meters, but overall you’d hardly know that these traces were from two cars of such different layout and configuration.
How does a relatively tall, heavy sedan suck up and spit out sports cars with less weight and the same contact patch gripping the ground?
Well, three primary factors contribute: power, power and, thirdly, power.
The M2 is an absolute rocket ship, sprinting down the straights and using the instant shifts and multiple gears of the ZF eight-speed to never have a dead spot in acceleration.
The Supra can hang with the M2 in the upper reaches of its third gear–the top end of third in the Supra is truly magical–but aside from that, the M2 just leaves it in the dust. When the Supra shifts to fourth and the acceleration curve trails off, the M2 just keeps pulling.
The M2’s power advantage is clear as soon as 200 meters into the lap. We can see the Supra (red trace) had a faster line through the corner, but as soon as the juice is turned back on, the M2 (blue trace) just drives right by. We can also see the M2’s excellent shock control helping it negotiate the curbs in the deceleration portion of the esses starting at the 1200-meter mark. Accelerating out of the next hairpin around the 1450-meter mark, the Supra kind of hangs with the M2 through second gear, but as soon as the Supra shifts to third, the M2 just makes like a tree and leaves. The only spot we see a real Supra advantage is the braking instance at 2400 meters. The Supra gets to max decel and overall decelerates slightly harder than the M2, likely a benefit of less mass.
In fact, except for one stretch deep into fourth and fifth gear, the M2’s acceleration curve nearly mimics that of the 505-horsepower Corvette Z51.
BMW turbo engines are notoriously underrated, and we’d estimate the true crank power output of the M2’s “453” horsepower–which is detuned by 20 horsepower from its M3/M4 trim–is closer to 500 to 520.
But the M2 is not a one-trick pony. It’s got massive thrust, but the chassis is also extremely nimble, with moves belying its size and mass.
Turn-in may actually be better than in the Supra, and the data showed some faster entrances. We were aware of the mass in the corners eventually–the car is not entirely defiant of Newton’s principles–and this shows up as the car taking a bit more time to take a set in quick transitions.
The issue that crops up here is with the car’s power and grip: It’s easy and occasionally necessary to be impatient in transitions–to the point that we spun the car under power when exiting the quick right-left flick from Turns 2 and 3.
With many cars, we can make the right-hand entry into T2, transition to the lefthander of T3, and use full or nearly full throttle exiting T3.
In the M2, getting between those corners happens much faster than the chassis can transition from turning one direction to the other, so it takes a much more sensitive throttle foot to make that exit–lest you overwhelm the rears.
But look, we’re splitting hairs here, pointing out a “flaw” that’s kind of the epitome of a “first world problem.” Even with having to wait on power delivery a bit, you’re still hustling along faster than pretty much everything else we’ve ever tested.
Overall, the M2 feels very Supra-like–unsurprising since they share a ton of mechanical DNA, but surprising because of the M2’s shape, mass and less grippy rubber.
Like the Supra, the steering can feel a bit dead, but it’s quick and nicely weighted, and feedback through the chassis is so good you don’t really miss a tiny bit of lost feedback through your hands.
We did see some notable differences on the data traces, with one of them being in hard braking. This is where we likely see evidence of the M2’s mass relative to the Supra, with the Supra hitting its peak deceleration rate quicker and harder than the M2 in braking from high speed.
But we noticed an interesting trend in the FIRM’s esses, which are essentially a set of curbs that you can hop right over in a straight line if your shocks are good enough. The M2 was consistently faster than both the Supra and the C8 in the esses, with those shocks just soaking up the bumps and allowing the car to maintain a much higher average speed through that section.
What’s It All Mean?
If the M2 outruns the Supra mostly by leaning on superior horsepower at our relatively short and slow test track, just think what could happen at Road Atlanta, Road America or Daytona.
On longer tracks, the M2’s superior power, ability to get it to the ground as long as you exercise some patience, and benign manners are going to help it run with cars that a tall, boxy coupe has no business being mentioned alongside.
And yes, the 2023 BMW M2 can, in fact, fit a duck.