M2 F87 buying and owning BMW’s popular pocket rocket

M2 F87 buying and owning BMW’s popular pocket rocket

The M2 and M2 Competition could be the last in a grand dynasty of M cars – small, agile, analogue and a hoot to drive. Buy now before it’s too late. Words: Bob Harper. Photography: Jason Dodd.

The Last Emperor?

The M2 F87 is the car of the moment – find out everything you need to know about owning this BMW M pocket rocket.

So what’s the best M car you can buy and own right now? The one that will have enthusiasts of the future going all dewy-eyed and wishing for the good old days? You could probably make a case for the majority of the current M car line up, but there’s a nagging doubt over some of the models on sale now. The SUVs, sorry SAVs, are just a little bit too big and compromised to go down in folklore as all-time greats. Very good cars, but ultimately their lofty ride heights cannot defy the laws of physics.

M2 F87 BMW

How about the M5 then? Yes, it still ticks the ultimate super saloon box but perhaps it’s just that little bit too big, and just a little bit too luxurious. M3 and M4? Dubious styling aside – I’m sure they’ll mellow with time, but like the M5 they’re getting a little bit porky and are almost too big to be truly wieldy on our small and increasingly congested roads. Whether you agree or disagree with the above sentiments we’re in no doubt which recent M cars are the ones to have – the M2 and its slightly spicier younger sibling, the M2 Competition. If you’ve got truly deep pockets then you might throw an M2 CS in there too, but for those of us with slightly more modest means the M2 and the Comp are where it’s at. Before we look at exactly what makes them so good it’s worth a quick recap of what both cars have to offer. The M2 entered the market in 2016 and was effectively the spiritual successor of the limited run 1M Coupé.

Compact two-door coupés with dramatic bodywork additions and enough M DNA to make them proper M cars, even if their engines lacked the coveted ‘S’ designation. Under the M2’s bonnet was a breathed-on version of the N55 six-pot found in the M235i but for its M2 application it added some extra pizzazz. It retained the twin scroll, single-turbo induction of the N55, but it used the S55’s pistons, high-performance spark plugs and crankshaft main bearing shells. The result is 370hp at 6,500rpm (just 500rpm shy of the rather smooth rev limiter) and a useful 343lb ft of torque. Not only does the latter come on stream from 1,400rpm and hang around until 5,560rpm, it actually spikes to 369lb ft during ECU-regulated ‘overboost’ periods. Performance was impressive – 0-62mph in 4.5-seconds (4.3-seconds in the M DCT-equipped version) with a top speed limited to 155mph. Economy was an impressive 33.2 mpg.

The reason for the M2’s blistered arches and dramatic front spoiler set up is that when compared to the M235i its front and rear tracks are 58 and 45mm wider respectively and that’s down to the use of the M3/4’s aluminium suspension and rear axle set up, and like its bigger siblings that rear axle is solidly affixed, rather than being bushed, for agile response. Bigger wheels and brakes completed the package along with some interior upgrades. All-in-all the M2 was a cracking little package. Priced at £44k when it was launched it was a bit of a bargain, too. Consider that it could comfortably outpace an E46 M3 which cost a smidgen under £40k when it was launched in 2001 and the M2 looked like conspicuous value for money.

The Competition model that joined the party in 2018 upped the ante still further. Out went the N55 straight-six to be replaced by the fullfat S55 from the M3/4 but for its M2 Comp F87 application it was rated at 410hp from 5,250 to 7,000rpm while torque swelled to 406lb ft from 2,350 to 5,200rpm. Despite the extra firepower the 0-62mph time dropped by just 0.1-seconds when compared to the regular M2 but further changes under the skin were aimed at improving the M2’s chassis. In came the M3/4s carbon fibre front strut brace along with some additional bulkhead bracing while ball joints replaced some of the bushes in the rear axle for increased agility. Software for the electronically controlled limited slip diff and DSC stability systems was tweaked too. There were some styling upgrades too, with a more dramatic front to get cooling air to the engine.

Where the M2 and M2 Competition really scored though was in their engaging personalities. No, they’re not perfect, but they’re entertaining and involving and reward the keen driver with the sort of responses that are missing in other machinery. Turn-in is excellent, resisting understeer unless you’re really over ambitious, with the quick-witted steering feeling pretty communicative and the rear end staying well planted in most situations. The ride can be a bit firm and choppy at times and this can lead to a few issues which we’ll come onto in a moment.

The changes to the M2 for the Competition model did bring a tad more fluidity to the chassis with a little bit more precision to the steering and a rear end that seems to be slightly more precise in its reactions to inputs. It also gains better seats and bigger brakes than the regular M2 and the changes made for the Competition do make it a better car. Despite this some people do still prefer the driving characteristics of the N55 powertrain in the M2 and it does perhaps have a more tuneful exhaust note, the Comp model being louder and a little brasher.

Both cars can suffer with a slightly wayward rear end in some circumstances, particularly on a typical lumpy British B-road – throw a damp surface into the equation and the M2s can become a little unruly which doesn’t inspire confidence. The Comp is slightly better in this regard, but the main issue is a lack of compliance in their set ups and many owners who have taken the plunge and fitted aftermarket suspension set ups have reported significant improvements.

Simon Watts is the owner of the rather delectable M2 Competition you can see in our pictures here and he’d definitely concur with this. He bought the car as a standard M2 Competition just before the first lockdown kicked in and is absolutely delighted with it. Straight out of the box it was excellent, but Simon knew that he’d always wanted to add to its already impressive specification. “I always wanted an M car after having owned an E36 318iS and an E46 320i and now the kids are all grown up I thought it was about time I got myself that M car,” he says with a grin. “I’ve always wanted an AC Schnitzer equipped M car ever since I saw an E46 M3 with a full Schnitzer conversion and once I’d spoken to the chaps up at Rossiters who are AC Schnitzer UK I knew that I was going to go down that road with the M2 – they’re very knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the cars and give great advice.”

As you can see the M2 sports plenty of Schnitzer equipment – Type V 20-inch forged wheels, a front splitter, side skirts, rear screen spoiler along with a bootlid spoiler and Gurney flap. Elsewhere there’s a carbon rear diff user and a Manhart exhaust system while inside there’s a set of Schnitzer pedals as well as Schnitzer’s paddles for the M DCT gearbox. Overall Simon’s delighted with the aesthetic look of the car but he’s under no illusion as to what the best upgrade on the car has been; “The guys at AC Schnitzer are very keen on suspension upgrades and to start with I wasn’t sure whether to just have the Schnitzer lowering springs or the full coilover suspension. After discussions with Lorcan and Daniel at AC Schnitzer I decided I should get the full RS suspension and I’m so pleased I did – it totally transforms the car, even on our bumpy old roads it’s an excellent option,” says Simon.

“The coilovers are by far the best modification I’ve made,” he continues, “I love the styling and aerodynamic modifications for the way they look, but dynamically the coilovers are brilliant. It improves the handling no end, it’s far more stable at the rear with so much more grip and gives you so much better traction. I’ve taken it to Bedford Autodrome and we had a bit of fun with a Porsche Cayman GT4 – it’s a much more expensive car but he couldn’t get past which I was very pleased about. He could catch me under braking but coming out of the corners I could just get the power down really well.”

Daniel Parton at AC Schnitzer UK is a big fan of the M2 and M2 Competition. “They’re fantastic cars,” he tells us, “For my money the M3 and M4 are getting too big, they’re more or less where the M5 used to be, and pretty expensive, too. But the M2 is superb, and it could become an all-time classic, one of the last of the traditional M cars. “We always like to start with suspension and we like to think that’s our strongest suit, and the RS suspension for the M2 and M2 Competition is great. It’s comfortable and dynamic – I tend to think of it as the way the car should have been from the factory. Sometimes we are of the opinion that many manufacturers – not just BMW – fall down this rabbit hole of thinking that in order for something to be sporty it needs to be hard like a race car. But as far as AC Schnitzer is concerned it doesn’t build race cars, it builds cars for people who like to drive fast road cars, and if you want to drive quickly in a road car you need some compliance in its suspension.”

While there are many companies offering upgrades for the M2, Daniel thinks AC Schnitzer goes that little bit further with its RS suspension as he tells us; “The RS suspension is fully adjustable for rebound and compression and we set it to what we feel is the best setting for the road, but there are other suggestions from Schnitzer – for smooth circuits for example, or for winter when the roads tend to be wetter and offer less grip. We try to go that extra mile to ensure customers are happy with their set ups. We try to get that compliance into the set up that’s so vital for our bumpy roads.”

Of course many owners will be happy with their M2 or M2 Competition straight out of the box and while those in the know reckon suspension upgrades are the best way to improve the car there’s also the possibility of massaging a little more power from their engines, as Daniel explains; “We offer performance upgrades for both cars – 420hp for the M2 and 500hp for the M2 Competition – and these are the sort of figures that we believe are the reliable maximums for the cars, and we offer a full warranty on these conversions provided they’re carried out before the car is three years old.” Simon admits he has been tempted to go for more power but reckons he’ll stick with the factory 410hp for the foreseeable future; “Over 400 horsepower is more than enough for the road – it’s hugely fast as it is so I find it hard to justify the additional outlay.”

The only engine change he had made is to fit an Eventuri carbon intake which not only adds some visual pizzazz under the bonnet but improves the induction noise, too.

So, what to look for when buying an M2 or M2 Competition? Obviously you’ll need to decide on which model to buy and to a certain extent that may be driven by the amount of money you want to spend. The M2 is older and therefore cheaper – used M2s can be up to £10k cheaper than an M2 Comp so for some that will be the deciding factor. There’s also the matter of which gearbox to choose as both models came as standard with a six-speed manual with the seven-speed M DCT being available as a cost option. Which to choose does come down to personal preference and we can see the argument for both transmissions. The manual does offer an additional layer of interaction between the car and driver and does also give you a little bit more control over the speed of the cog swaps. As the manual is fast becoming a gearbox that’s being consigned to the history books we may well be tempted to go the old-school route – if this is to be the last of the great traditional M cars it should surely be specced with the traditional ‘box?

On the other hand, the M DCT does offer a great compromise between bumbling along and maximum attack modes. In its softest setting, the car burbles along at low revs, conserving its fuel, while the gearbox smoothly changes up and down, making it a doddle to pootle through traffic or cruise along the motorway. With its automatic and manual modes and three different driving settings – Comfort, Sport and Sport+ – there’s a setting to match your mood, but at its most extreme it can be brutal with full-bore acceleration banging in the next gear in a manner that could cause your passengers to wince and can unsettle the back end, particularly in the wet or on bumpy and pockmarked roads.

But should you buy an M2 Competition for its supposedly enhanced chassis, improved driving dynamics and higher power output? We spoke to Kevin Bird who has been fettling BMWs for over 35-years and he’s not so sure that there’s a huge amount of difference between the M2 and M2 Competition when it comes to the chassis. “The suspension is a bit of an interesting one,” he explains, “As I’ve had a little look at these cars and I while I haven’t looked at every single component there don’t seem to be too many significant differences between the M2 and the M2 Competition. BMW has changed spring rates from time to time, but not by an awful lot, but from what I can see the shock absorbers seem to be identical throughout the range.

“Personally I can’t really feel a significant difference between the cars and on the road they feel very similar when it comes to their suspension. If you were to consider the E46 M3 for example you could feel every tangible difference between the standard M3 and the CSL but for me the differences between the M2 and the M2 Competition aren’t anywhere near as significant.”

Kevin is at pains to say that he hasn’t checked every component for differences between the two M2s and does say that differences in wheels and tyres and even the way that their engines deliver their power can have a significant effect on the way they feel to drive, but he wouldn’t necessarily view the standard M2 as being the poor relation. Having said that the N55 ‘six in the M2 might not perhaps be quite as robust in terms of reliability as the S55 in the M2 Competition. Either way our advice would be to protect yourself with a warranty – repairs can be expensive and BMW’s extended warranties are still some of the best in the business.

Perhaps the best advice is to buy the best car you can afford and not to get too hung up on which model that is. Both are brilliant and represent an age of M car which we may not see again, a purer, less complicated machine without adjustable suspension and with a slightly more analogue response than their more advanced and complicated big brothers. We don’t know what the next generation of M2 will be like – it could be the last hurrah for the M car, or it could become overly complex and uninvolving, time will tell. But for the time being the F87 M2 and M2 Competition are superb machines, buy now before it’s too late and prices start to rise – who knows in 20- or 30-years the M2 might attract similar prices to those commanded by E30 M3s today. But most of all, enjoy the drive… electromobility is coming fast and it wouldn’t do to miss out on the genius of the M2 and M2 Competition before they’re ilk become a mere footnote in motoring history.

Simon has realised his dream of owning an AC Schnitzer M car.

“We had a bit of fun with a Porsche Cayman GT4 – he couldn’t get past”

M2 & M2 Competition

  • M2 — M2 Competition
  • ENGINE: N55, six-cylinder, twin-scroll turbo — S55, six-cylinder, twin-turbo
  • CAPACITY: 2,979cc — 2,979cc
  • MAX POWER: 370bhp @ 6,500rpm — 410bhp @ 5,250-7,000rpm
  • MAX TORQUE: 343lb ft @ 1,400-5,560rpm — 406lb ft @ 2,350-5,200rpm
  • 0-62MPH: 4.5- (4.3-) seconds — 4.4- (4.2-) seconds
  • TOP SPEED: 155mph — 155mph
  • WEIGHT (EU): 1,570 (1,595) kg — 1,625 (1,650) kg
  • ECONOMY: 33.2 (35.8) MPG — 28.5 (30.7) MPG
  • EMISSIONS: 199 (185) g/km — 225 (209) g/km
  • PRICE: £44,070 (2016) — £49,285 (2018)

(Figures in brackets refer to cars with M DCT gearbox)

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