The Arizona Highway Patrol doesn’t mess around, and they know we’re out here in their desert, driving the all-new 2023 BMW M2. The periwinkle blue coupe with the angry-sounding exhaust can’t hide in this barren landscape, and we’re not about to try and run.
So, we’re tiptoeing around the speed limit on undulating roads that — if you close your eyes — you’d swear were a rollercoaster. The six-speed manual gearbox is getting a good workout. Dirt and sand makes the tarmac slippery but we’re making fast progress because the new, second-generation M2 inspires the kind of confidence the old model never really could.
The twin-turbo straight-six, a BMW icon at this point, is pulled straight from the larger M3/M4 and pumps out 453 horsepower. However, it’s the 406 lb-ft of torque you feel most on these roads as the car explodes out of corners. It’s not EV-fast, but it’s fast enough, and much more engaging to drive than even BMW’s excellent, electric i4.
It’s a bittersweet feeling, however, knowing that this is the beginning of the end for the M2. The writing is on the wall; the future is electric. The all-new model arrives for 2023, and you can expect it’ll be with us for seven years or so. After that? We’d bet the third-gen M2 will be all-electric. The head of BMW’s M division wouldn’t give a definitive answer, but he did think this car represents the end of an era. (M division is already working on its first purpose-built EV.)
What Is The All-New 2023 BMW M2?
The 2023 BMW M2 is the last hurrah for gas-burning little coupes from BMW. Cars like this — the 2002, the M3, the Z3M — made the brand what is it today. This M2 is as pure a distillation of what drivers love about BMW as you’ll find.
It’s a car not just for BMW’s biggest fans, but for fans of cars in general. Look at the spec sheet: rear-wheel drive, a six-speed manual gearbox as a no-cost option, a limited slip differential, and a straight-six motor with not even hybrid (let alone plug-in hybrid) system in sight.
The question is whether or not the 2023 BMW M2 is a fitting goodbye to 50 years of classic combustion-engine M cars. Is it worthy?
Make up your own mind about its looks, but we love it. The proportions are perfect. The overall design is restrained. In profile it’s reminiscent of the great M3s of early ‘00s. The kidney grille is (blessedly) small. The fender flares give the car a purposeful hunkered-down look, again, reminiscent of the earliest M3.
How’s The Cabin?
Dropping down into the driver’s seat, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how spacious it feels. Look behind you and you’ll find a pair or usable rear seats. The next-gen widescreen infotainment screen running iDrive 8 should stay fresh with its over-the-air update capability.
It’s a rare treat to press a clutch pedal and slot the notchy six-speed shifter into first. Automatic rev-matching makes it easy to drive for stick-shift novices, but veterans will appreciate that the feature can be turned off.
Okay, But What’s It Like To Drive?
The engine noise is surprisingly tame for an M car. Perhaps that’s because the whole cabin is quieter and more insulated from the outside world than before. Despite the lack of decibels, there’s no arguing with the effectiveness of BMW’s latest straight-six. Even though the M2 now weighs a porky 1,725 kg, the motor propels the car with about as much gusto as any driver could legally hope to enjoy on the road.
(If you’re worried about weight, BMW will sell you a $13,000 option package of carbon-fibre goodies to help shave off six kilos. You may be better off going to the gym, though.)
On Arizona’s twisty (and heavily policed) backroads, the M2 never really got to shine. We only scratched the surface of its talent. What is clear is that, where the old model always felt twitchy and tail-happy, the new model is just as agile but has loads more grip front and rear. It’s not as playful, at least on the road.
The newly standard adaptive dampers offer a slightly more forgiving ride. Even the trunk space is generous too for a car in this class. Compared to, say, a Porsche 718, the BMW is downright practical. This could certainly be a driver’s only car.
Overall, the new M2 is a more mature, more usable offering. In large part, that comes from the fact it is essentially an M4 that’s been shrunk in the wash. The littlest M car borrows the suspension, platform and engine from its bigger brother.
Whether you prefer the $76,500 BMW M2 or the $87,700 BMW M4 may simply come down to your personal taste.
We left Arizona and the 2023 BMW M2 wanting more. This car needs to be driven on a racetrack, far away from the Arizona Highway Patrol, to really see what it can do. We’ll reserve judgement until then. But, first impressions are promising, and let’s just appreciate the fact BMW is giving its fans what they want. Enjoy it while you can.