2023 BMW M2 First Drive Review: The Best M Car Is Back

Even if it’s not the best-looking M2 to date, BMW M’s new coupe is a universally excellent driving experience.

byPeter Nelson|
2023 BMW M2
Peter Nelson

Ever since the latest BMW M240i debuted, BMW enthusiasts and the general enthusiast population at large wanted to know something of utmost importance to the future of fun-to-drive Bimmers: What's the new M2 going to be like? Looks-wise, the 2023 BMW M2 is … not terrible? Sure, the face is a little awkward, but it could've been a lot worse—it was better received than its larger M4 and M3 siblings, but even those are turning out to be an acquired taste. BMW has a history with this kind of stuff; remember when folks decried the E60 5 Series and almost every other Bangle-era car as homely? My, how the tables turn as time goes by.

But the key selling point of the M2 never had anything to do with the way it looks—it's the way that it harnesses all of modern M's best qualities. It comes standard with one of the best engines that the brand's ever produced, it's comparably smaller than the M4, can still be had with a manual transmission, and is rear-wheel-drive-only. Here's why it's the best BMW of its era.

2023 BMW M2 Specs

  • Base price: $63,195 ($73,095)
  • Powertrain: 3.0-liter twin-turbo straight-six | 6-speed manual | rear-wheel drive
  • Horsepower: 453 @ 6,250 rpm
  • Torque: 406 lb-ft @ 2,650-5,870 rpm
  • Seating capacity: 4
  • Curb weight: 3,814 pounds
  • Cargo volume: 13.8 cubic inches
  • 0-60 mph: 4.1 seconds
  • Top speed: 155 mph
  • EPA fuel economy: 16 mpg city | 24 highway | 19 combined 
  • Quick take: It's heavy and not the best-looking M2, but goddamn is it still incredibly athletic.
  • Score: 9/10
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The Basics

Without devoting too much time to the elephant in the room—its face—the M2 is a generally good-looking sports car. Its wide, muscular fenders look great and are nicely complimented by short overhangs. BMW says it drew a little inspiration in the headlights from the OG smol-boi 2002, and I really dig the M2’s LED design. The kidney grille is very reasonable and, in fact, doesn't look much larger proportionally than that of the previous F82 generation M3 and M4.

Those square vents that sit on either side are visually a bit much, but to be fair, they have a lot to do: provide cooling to the front brakes, as well as let in plenty of air for all of the oil and water cooling going on at the front-end of the 2's mighty twin-turbo S58 engine. This gloriously fun, near-race-level inline-six produces 453 horsepower and 406 lb-ft of torque, which reaches its rear wheels via either a six-speed manual or eight-speed ZF conventional automatic gearbox.

Inside, the new M2 is a dream for the vertically gifted. This car's very low and deep-set driving position, excellent overall visibility, and ample shoulder, head-, and legroom fit me like a glove. The steering wheel telescoped low and close to my torso, and the seat had plenty of tilt and excellent bolstering. Though, I think the main reason for fitting so well was because my tester was equipped with the optional carbon fiber roof and bucket seats that contribute to maximum passenger clearance. No annoying, weight-adding sunroofs here. Pedal positioning was quite good, too. The clutch pedal felt just a tad too forward in relation to the dead pedal, but that's splitting a very fine hair. This was all a big relief after having driven the weirdly cramped current-gen M240i and previous-gen M2 Competition.

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Elsewhere in the cabin, the backseat was basically pointless for any child or adult blessed with legs, BMW's latest iDrive 8 infotainment system functioned quite well and is among my favorite systems to operate, and I really dug the various M aesthetic touches. Especially the splash of M colors on the door cards; their design looks like it was taken from a '90s E36 STW poster.

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Easier Throttle Inputs

As I set off and made my way toward curvy, mountaintop roads, it was immediately apparent that the M2's suspension is more enthusiast-centric than its larger M3 and M4 brothers. Its adaptive M suspension is noticeably firmer, even in comfort mode, but not overly so for anyone keen on the enthusiast chassis life. You feel the bumps, divots, and cracks, but it's in no way crashy or intense, just more solid and focused.

This is mainly due to what BMW has done a lot of over the years: parts bin sharing. Under the skin, the M2 shares the same front and rear suspension as its larger siblings, though with stiffer spring rates up front. It's basically an M4 in a smaller body, and even matches the 4's track widths of 63.7 inches up front and 63.2 inches in the rear.

Getting up to speed around town and onto the highway, the 2 has meaty, readily-available torque in every gear and all across the rev range—even in sixth. While cruising along, it's a quiet, comfortable place to be and reminded me of my own E82 BMW 128i, albeit with more headroom and significantly more power at my disposal. Shifting through the gears is a snap, too; the six-speed manual ‘box possessed typical BMW rubberiness like the M4’s does, yet had good spring to it with a light action. Despite the rubberiness, I'd still prefer it over an auto. I quickly got used to the clutch's take-up point and found it easy to quickly and smoothly shift with any measure of throttle, and its auto-rev match made life even easier.

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A Very BMW Enthusiastic Drive

Turning off the main highway and onto a very fun and mildly tricky ribbon of sunbaked, desert tarmac quickly revealed the incredible level of athleticism that the new BMW M2 possesses.

Its stout torque curve was gleefully joined by a lively mid- and upper powerband with a quick downshift to third gear, and then the mighty twin-turbo S58 truly went to work. Considering the M2 weighs 3,800 pounds, 453 hp and 406 lb-ft of torque felt awfully conservative given how thrillingly it accelerates on full-throttle and the fact that zero to 60 mph passes felt much quicker than the advertised 4.1 seconds—chalk this up to BMW pulling a BMW and underrating its figures. The Bavarian brand says that this six is well up to the task for hard performance driving, too, thanks to its oil pump, specially baffled oil pan, and massive cooling inlets on the front bumper.

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The test route included a twisty backroad in the middle of the desert with massive, roller-coaster-like changes in elevation that possessed some blind crests and plenty of off-camber action. We could've easily gotten airborne, but sadly BMW doesn't set the M2 up for sick jumps from the factory. With every line item in its settings menu configured to Sport, this was a great chance to feel out the baby M's precision inputs and chassis communication.

Adaptive M suspension did an excellent job limiting body roll yet providing ample travel, and despite turning most of the traction control off, the 275/35/19 and 285/30/20 Michelin summer tires always had plenty of grip. Even while working with very awkward off-camber left and right-handers at the top of hills. Like its larger M4 sibling, the chassis relayed so much info to the driver's seat, and while steering lacked feel and was a tad too light for my liking, turn-in was very direct. The car handled incredibly neutrally and its large, six-piston front and single-piston rear brakes with M Compound pads never hinted at any inkling of fade through its solid pedal.

If you haven’t already gathered, this car essentially drives like what it is: a smaller M4. For anyone finding the current M4 to feel, and simply be, too big, the new M2 is the solution and I’m fiending to find out what it’s like on a proper racetrack.

Price and Competition

The previous M2 started at $59,895 before it went away, but parking this new model in your garage will cost around $4,500 more. That's not exactly walking around money. Neither is the brilliant $9,900 carbon package. But the fact that it shares the exact engine (just slightly detuned, but man, BMW could've fooled me) as the M4, it all seems like a deal over 2020's carbon-roofed, limited-run, $83,600 M2 CS. Granted, the CS benefits from a major deficit in curb weight, but the new car’s performance numbers and overall handling are impressive nonetheless.

As far as how it stacks up against the competition, there aren't many direct rivals at this very moment besides the Chevy Camaro and Ford Mustang in comparable specs, though the former is getting killed off and the latter will see a brand-new generation next year. Though, if we want to get pedantic, these are technically competitors to the M4, especially in the eyes of motorsports classing. For those considering other German creations with similar athleticism packing naturally aspirated powerplants instead, the Porsche 718 Cayman GTS 4.0 would be the way to go.

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The Early Verdict

Fun fact: One of the M Performance accessories BMW offers for this new M2 happens to be center-lock wheels. That’s right, hubs and wheels that are normally reserved for the Porsche 911 GT3s of the world are now optional on what is technically the “entry-level” M car. And if that’s not an indication that the suits in Munich are happily granting engineers’ wishes and making the M2 the purest M car of the modern era, I don’t know what is.

The 2023 BMW M2 is an immense amount of fun and a solid step forward for the badge. It's the right size, it possesses thrilling stats, is comfortable and has a well-thought-out interior, and features every bit of enthusiast-geared equipment that you'd want in a high-end European sports car. Whether you want a comfortable highway stormer, or a smile-inducing, day-long session in the twisties, it's a universally excellent driving experience, even if it's not the best-looking M2 to date—but really, the F87 was a tough act to follow here.

No, it's not the small and scrappy coupe that the previous 2 Series and 1 Series cars were. But the driving position is brilliant, the engine is ravenous, and the handling is solid, making it the most true-to-its-roots M car on sale today.

Got a tip or question for the author about the M2? You can reach them here: peter.nelson@thedrive.com

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