By Wayne Gorrett
First published on CARS.co.za
On the ragged edge of legal velocities somewhere deep in the English countryside, I spent a thrilling few hours piloting the 6-speed manual ‘boxed version of BMW’s sensational M2.
As I park up, my wrists feel like numb stumps on aching forearms, fingers still grip the steering wheel like frozen bear claws. My skull rides blancmange-like atop my spine. What remains of my innards have morphed to mush and the pounding of my racing heart could awaken the dead. I’ve never felt so alive in my life!
Some cars should only be sold with stick shifts – BMW’s fabulous M2 is one such car and in 6-speed manual guise, is stupendously the better for it.
Manufacturers sing the praises of their automatic gearboxes, with some dual-clutch systems able not only to shift faster than a human ever could, but return marginally better fuel economy figures too. I don’t have an issue with that as that’s the way technology should advance…on a VW Passat.
Some brands hardly bother with manuals at all; Ferrari doesn’t sell a single manual model and news that Jaguar was to offer a manual ‘box in the F-Type was considered quite a big deal not that long ago.
BMW’s M2 occupies unusual territory in the automotive market. As the German automaker has evolved, filling its line-up with gargantuan crossbred models, single-purpose performance vehicles mean nothing to the brand’s luxury buyer base. However, to the shrinking yet vocal group of BMW traditionalists, the M2 embodies hope for the future of driver-focused engineering.
The M2 differentiates itself from the rest of BMW’s line-up with a ‘less is more’ philosophy. Though it’s possible to add a number of safety and convenience features to the M car’s interior, the standard-issue M2 is relatively fuss free. Instead of a massive infotainment screen, massaging seats, and semi-autonomous technologies, drivers engage with a 6-speed manual transmission, a thick-rimmed steering wheel, and sport driving modes.
The beauty of the M2 is in its agility, responsiveness, and precision. Extracting these elements requires driver finesse and attention; Unnecessary ‘amenities’ tend only to muddy the experience.
While the BMW M2 may pretty much only be a 1-Series in an inflatable Feltz suit, its flared wheel arches (4cm in the front and 7cm over the rear), and stretched low profile rubber look the business. Its short wheelbase adds purpose and aerodynamic front styling oozes menace.
With an output of 370 bhp at 6,500 rpm and maximum revs of 7,000 rpm, the three-litre V6 engine in the BMW M2 fires a warning shot across the bows of its rivals in the high-performance compact sports car segment.
Fuel consumption with the six-speed manual gearbox is a reasonable 33.2 mpg, while the CO2 emissions are tagged at a tree-felling 199g/km. However, it’s the Germanic efficiency of the engine’s peak torque that really leads the way here; a thumping 465 Nm is on tap between 1,400 and 5,560 rpm, with the overboost setup increasing this by 35 Nm to 500 Nm between 1,450 and 4,750 rpm.
From a standing start, 62 mph arrives in just 4.2 seconds with the speed topping out at an electronically limited 155 mph.
Along with most performance cars of this calibre, it’s often about the noise. The soundtrack of the M2’s stirring six-pot was engaging but not overstated, with only a whisper of turbo plumbing evident: the mechanical serenade and rousing quad-outlet exhaust dominated the on-road orchestra.
The six-speed manual gearbox stands out with its compact design and low weight. Throws are perfectly short and the gates are narrow. The use of a new type of carbon-fibre friction lining enhances shift comfort. An engagement speed control function, which blips the throttle on downshifts and lowers the engine’s revs on upshifts, makes urgent gear changes smoother and affords the car greater stability during hard driving.
The lighter manual ‘box balances the axle load distribution to nearly 50:50, enabling the car to give more neutral and stabilised driving characteristics in pretty much every situation. When the argument in favour of the stick shift is based on how much fun it is, it’s undeniable.
So, finally…let’s get out on the road.
It’s the M2’s cornering tenacity that stands out on the road. On occasional broken and greasy surfaces, the M2’s grip and communication saw its electronic nannies rarely disturbed.
At a recent McLaren track day, a pro racer advised me to ‘trust the grip, Wayne. Just trust the grip’. Such sage advice is all well and good when proffered around a track with forgiving run-offs, but our narrow British roads are an entirely different story. They’re policed for a start!
The accurate and perfectly weighted steering is brilliant, allowing the front-end to cleanly telegraph its intent to my hands, while the perfectly executed throttle-blip during manual downshifts made me appear rev-perfect. Thanks BMW.
Pushed to its limit in corners, the BMW M2 can generate 0.99g of grip, about the equivalent of being tackled by a tight-head prop with toothache. In its element on a winding road, the M2 ushers its nimble body through corners with unending confidence. Its athletic handling stems from M’s suspension tuning mastery, plus the sticky rubber which measure a chunky 265mm wide at the rear.
Though the M2’s Sport+ driving mode dials in a bit of tail-happy compliance, skilled drivers can choose to turn off the M2’s stability control system entirely. While some cars transform into widow-making machines without electronic policing, the manual M2 breaks away in calculable precision. Rear-end rotation can therefore be used as a tool rather than a scare tactic.
At present, the only direct rival to the BMW M2 is the redesigned Audi TT-S. While the Audi is truly a magnificent blend of performance and technology, it simply can’t match the power and precision of the M2. BMW’s migration away from bare-bones performance machines raised doubt that its M division could still churn out a no-frills sports car, but the M2 has resolutely silenced the naysayers.
While blisteringly quick, the M2 was surprisingly comfortable in the ride department, considering the standard set-up may best be described as firm. It’s a very liveable hard charger, but was slightly let down by excessive road noise from the front-end and poor attenuation of tyre noise on all but the smoothest surfaces.
The manual-geared M2’s performance is thankfully still analogue in nature – a product of driver manipulation, not computer-actuated manoeuvres. It doesn’t politely ask for driver co-operation, it demands focus, skill, and precision to extrapolate the depths of its ability.
When discovered, the overwhelming sense of satisfaction is immense. I quickly came to terms with the fact that far smarter men than me have designed the car to make me feel like a world-class driver, rather than building a car that only a skilled driver could make the most of.
Anyway, feeling has returned to my wrists, my fingers have reassumed their natural shape and my stomach and heart have finally stabilised, so I’m off for a well-earned cup of tea, two biscuits and a bit of lie down.
Because you’re this far, thanks for reading.