I’ve long regarded BMW’s M3 as the ultimate sports sedan.
It’s always been on my wish list, but at around $160,000 I know it’s just a dream to own one.
Regular readers will know I’m a huge sport sedan fan and I have many fond memories of each M3 drive I’ve had.
Of course, M represents a stable of cars M4, M5 and M6 are also popular for those who want extra performance from a BMW purchase.
While those four models are prohibitive for my budget, there is one M-series car which you could describe as affordable at $117k – the M2.
However, the M2 isn’t a sports sedan, but it may as well be. It’s a two-door coupe concept, and for all other reasons it is a performance car true to the M brand, and features all of the ingredients that make for blistering performance.
Under the bonnet sits a turbocharged six-cylinder engine of 2979cc. Its inline design encapsulates all of what has made the M3, and others, sought after performance models. BMW rates it at 272kW and 500Nm and it sits traditionally, longitudinally under the bonnet and drives the rear wheels.
The power outputs are dynamic, not only are they high, but they are also developed at usable points of the rev band; peak power comes in at 6500rpm, but that is almost met by an unfaltering flow of torque energy from 1400rpm to 5560rpm.
Add all those figures together and you get the speed indicative of M models, a standstill to 100km/h time of 4.5sec can be expected, and it will force a highway overtake of 3.8sec to make 120km/h from 80km/h. BMW also claims a 250km/h governed top speed.
Not only is its pace quick, the engine delivers with a howl and a shriek that is reminiscent and characteristic of the inline sixes BMW has carved out a reputation for over the years.
Inline engines develop a lot of natural torque, and if you add in the turbo boost there’s no lag nor points where the engine doesn’t want to deliver.
I took the evaluation car through the twisty pieces of road between the two main river gorges – Waimakariri and Rakaia – as you force acceleration from corner to corner the M2 uses its mid-range strength to provide a solid feeling of exhilaration.
Power is delivered through a seven-speed dual clutch transmission. Don’t let its name fool you, it operates more like an automatic than a manual, there are only two foot pedals.
However, the point is it is a quick-shifting gearbox and it will change ratios at the blink of an eye, there are steering wheel-mounted paddles or sequential shifting through the main lever, but even with a hands-off approach, the engine/gearbox management systems are always activated so that performance on an open road burst is the main priority.
Providing the grip are beautiful 19in Michelin Pilot performance tyres (245/35 and 265/35) and they have prodigious grip. Traction control obviously keeps grip well maintained, but there is a playfulness within the system that offers a slight tail-happy response if you use vigorous throttle pressure mid-corner.
It must be noted, too, that the M2 has a trick rear differential. Electronically-controlled, it manages the torque output to distribute drive between the two rear wheels so that the wheel most likely to glean grip will receive the appropriate amount of power.
When it comes to slowing down for the next corner, there’s solid reassurance from performance brakes which have strong pedal feel and retardation.
The mechanicals are what you would expect from BMW’s performance arm, and they all combine to provide a feisty drive and one which is always memorable.
However, it must also be remembered that BMW prides itself of luxury and functionality. The wee M2 isn’t a big car at 4.5m, but it equips itself well inside with beautiful appointments and a host of kit to keep all occupants happy. And while the evaluation car was almost basic spec, its $117,050 price tag is most affordable. It provides a bang-for-buck experience, along with a cabin which reeks of quality.
It’s sporty inside, but once you are seated it looks after the body with amazing seats and a driving position that oozes comfort. Bearing in mind that rear seat occupants are limited to two, it’s a bit of fiddle accessing that area over the front seats.
That aside, it’s a small price to pay for a true performance champion. It ticks all the boxes in my list of desirable motor cars. I am saving for an M2, but it may take a few years given that I’m about to draw down on my pension.
Price – BMW M2, $117,050
Dimensions – Length, 4468mm; width, 1854mm; height, 1410mm
Configuration – Six-cylinder, rear-wheel-drive, 2979cc, 272kW, 500Nm, seven-speed automatic.
Fuel usage – 7.9l/100km