Rapidity and driver immersion can cohabitate, as Ray Leathern discovers on Ascari race track in Spain at the wheel of a BMW M2 Competition
A distinct straight-six, M-car purr ricochets off the banked ‘Daytona’ bend at Ascari – as does an equally familiar, gravelly drone on overrun as the M2 Competition I’m driving dips into the off-camber ‘Laguna’ turn. I double check the pace car ahead, driven by BMW works driver, Nico Mensel, to see if it’s not in fact an M4 providing that soundtrack. It isn’t. And despite appearances, neither is the car I’m in, an M2 Coupe like never before. Gone is the regular N55 turbo motor, and B58 in the latest 240i, engine-code geeks. In its place is the M4-sourced S55 twin-turbo. Seriously, who drove an M2 and found it lacking motivation? Nevertheless, power is slightly down on the big-daddy M4, but a power bump from 272 kW to 302 kW does the job nicely, and the motor is just as responsive and aurally distinct. Meet the M2 Competition tiger to the M2 tabby cat.
Up ahead, GT4 racer, Mensel, leads our two-car convoy at a furious pace around the 26-cornered, 5.4 km circuit. The 20-year-old firebrand has just landed in Spain from an endurance race at Silverstone, and he’s clearly got his eye in – clipping the grass inside the ‘Senna S’ and ‘Copse’ corners, using all the runoff on the exit, and then some. And those are the straight-forward corners. What line is he going to use at ‘Pif-Paf’ and ‘Petit Ea Rouge,’ that actually demand you run the kerbs!? Thankfully, I and my companion on track, fellow journo and GT Academy winner, Ashley, are sticking with him for now thanks to the M2 Competition’s muscly demeanor. On throttle there’s so much torque from the twin turbo, you swear you could spread it over toast, all 550 Nm from 2350 – 5200 rpm. That’s the same twist as an M4 Competition, just dished up in a punchier, more compact package. It responds just as well to short shifting at 5000 rpm to keep you within prime rpm. But buyer beware, fail to show iron-willed self-restraint on the throttle at corner exit and a feeding frenzy of Michelin Pilot Sports will quickly ensue, in tandem with armfuls of opposite lock. It’s loads of fun but not the quickest way around this track. Perhaps that’s why we’re going so damn quickly, so we stay focussed and don’t fool around.
Going back into pit lane to take a breather between stints allows me two things. 1, to appreciate how deeply handsome the M2 Competition is, with its restyled kidney grille, blacked-out Competition badges, new M mirrors and agro front-bumper treatment. We bet it won’t be a million years before they’re available as knock-off 2 Series parts. And 2, to pour over the spec sheet and realise its tighter dimensions don’t actually translate into any weight saving. A base M4 M-DCT and M2 Competition M-DCT weigh exactly the same: 1625 kg, blame that on extra plumbing for the second turbo I guess. So 195 kW per ton (M4) plays 185 kW per ton (M2 Competition), but those at least best 170 kW per ton for the regular M2, otherwise, what’s the point? Fear not, because there are many points and they’re not just hidden away in a wedge of diminishing returns. The Competition’s shorter wheelbase (2693mm) makes it edgier and racier than an M4 (2812mm). If you don’t believe me, just ponder what motor-sport engineers do to make a car turn harder, better, faster? Correct, they shorten the wheelbase. Doing so provides ample reward. Chassis componentry is largely carried over, the ride is firm, well-honed and devoid of any idiosyncratic M4 hop.
Back on track and back up to speed, it all falls into place. It’s not driving so much as marveling at the innate rightness of everything. Nico is leading the convoy even faster this time, and the childish urge to oversteer out of slower corners is long gone (much like his pace car). We’re in a race now. It’s DTM 1992. Das ist gut! In this very moment… this track, this car – the M2 Competition drives like a repressed memory of the way cars ought to drive: unfiltered and with a knife-edged sensitivity only a ‘Smokin’ Jo Winkelhock or Steve Soper might’ve experienced taking touring cars to the very limit in competition. For the longest time it seemed like genuine drivers’ cars were dying out, threatened by the myth of accessible performance, cars that were quick, easy and flattered the driver like a malevolent blesser. Watch the POV lap of Ascari below.
It turns out drivers’ cars didn’t die – they just slipped out for a smoke – Michelin Pilot Sport Extra Milds, presumably. At the wheel of the BMW M2 Competition it’s apparent that they’re most definitely making a comeback. At R1 026 505 for the M-DCT and R972 029 for the six-speed manual, or to put it another way, half-a-bar less than a less powerful and slower Porsche 911 Carrera T, this is the driver’s-car bargain of the decade.
In a nutshell –
BMW M2 Competition
Knife-edged handling. Driving purely on your wits
Still carries some bulk, but we look forward to the banishment of flab in the upcoming M2 CS
Engine: 2 979 cc, 6-cylinder, twin-turbo petrol
Power: 302 kW @ 7 000 rpm, 550 Nm @ 2 350 – 5200 rpm
Performance: 0-100km/h 4.2 sec, top speed 280 km/h (with M Driver’s package)
Tyres: 19-inch, 245/35 front, 19-inch 265/35 rear – Michelin Pilot Sports
Economy: 9.2 l/100 km (claimed)
Transmission: 7-speed dual clutch
CO2 emissions: 209 g/km
Price: R1 026 505