ometimes, you know a car is going to fare well at All-Stars just by watching our editors’ faces as they climb out of it. By midafternoon on day one at the track, as many of us got our first-ever taste of the new M2 Competition, the collective grin on Team Automobile’s mug stretched across the Antelope Valley from Willow Springs all the way to Palmdale. We still had days of driving to go, but already it was clear: BMW’s brilliant new M2 was a shoo-in.
“A return to form for the M Division,” contributor Jethro Bovingdon said. “I love pretty much everything about this car.” Fellow writer Basem Wasef agreed: “Immensely satisfying to drive, even back to back against the supercars.” Detroit editor Todd Lassa dubbed the M2 Competition “the BMW that best captures the spirit of the 2002 era more than anything in the marque’s stable.”
Few other performance coupes deserve such a gleaming coat of wax rhapsodic. The joy begins under the hood. Unlike last year’s M2, the new Competition does away with the 365-hp N55 3.0-liter turbo I-6 in favor of the S55 variant from the M3 and M4. Here it’s slightly detuned—to “only” 405 hp—but that bothered precisely no one. “I prefer the S55 in the M2 to the same basic engine in the M3/M4—probably due to the weight and feel of the M2,” contributing writer Marc Noordeloos said. “The S55 is miles better than the N55. It’s much happier to rev and feels like a proper, special engine.” Our test car was equipped with the optional seven-speed dual-clutch transmission (a six-speed manual is standard); so equipped, BMW claims, the Competition can sprint to 60 mph in just 4 seconds flat. Redline is a sizzling 7,600 rpm. Features editor Rory Jurnecka dubbed the exhaust note “fantastic at full throttle.”
The Competition may scorch the asphalt like a hot rod, but it dances like a member of the Joffrey Ballet. The ride is conspicuously taut—enough so that several of us wondered if it might become punishing away from the track and Southern California’s generally smooth roadways—but thanks to reworked springs and dampers and upgraded structural bracing up front, the suspension is even more playful and precise than the 2018 M2’s. “Pretty firm at low speed but has real fluency as you start to go a bit harder,” Bovingdon said. “Very little understeer, really strong midcorner grip, and all the adjustability you could ever want. Wonderful handling delicacy.” Resident hot shoe Andy Pilgrim concurred: “Lively rear end, with connected steering that allows consistent corner-entry rotation, apex scraping, and really quick exit speeds. Big smiles, top fun!”
Compared with the M2, the Competition’s kidney grille is wider and the front air intakes are enlarged. Inside the 19-inch wheels you’ll find beefier brakes, which provide superb stopping power and zero fade—though Noordeloos claimed they “don’t have the best feel” and the “pedal travel is long.”
You’ll spy four seats inside, but don’t expect to travel with three adult passengers for more than a few miles. In practice, this is a two-seater with a back seat for stuff, and there’s also a generously sized trunk. That said, you and your lucky copilot want for little; the Competition is modest in size but richly appointed. Both front M Sport seats have 14-way power adjustment—including power side bolsters. The iDrive infotainment system—which is intuitive to use and quick in response—includes an 8.8-inch high-res display, 3-D navigation maps, and a 200-gigabyte hard drive with 20 GB available for audio files. Standard features include keyless entry and start, front and rear park-distance control, a 360-watt Harman Kardon audio system with 12 speakers, and a leather-wrapped, three-spoke M Sport steering wheel. A $1,200 Executive package adds wireless phone charging and Wi-Fi, a heated steering wheel, and adaptive LED headlights. A moonroof is available à la carte for $1,050.
There’s probably no greater compliment for a test car than for auto critics to start picturing one in their own garages. The M2 Competition sparked more than a few buying fantasies among our crew. “Hilarious fun on the track, composed and entertaining on the road . . . in short, I want one,” Bovingdon said. Noordeloos admitted he’d “love to own an M2 Competition.”
Yet it was veteran scribe Steven Cole Smith who summed up the new BMW’s virtues best: “When a colleague asks what you’d improve on the M2 Competition and you can’t come up with an answer, they’ve done something right.”