2023 BMW M2 Prototype First Drive Review: Who Needs an M4?

2023 BMW M2 Prototype First Drive Review: Who Needs an M4?

The new BMW M2 puts the engine, chassis and braking hardware from the excellent M4 in a smaller, lighter and more playful package. Sounds good? You betcha. But where will that leave the M4?

This M car commonality isn’t really a surprise, considering the current G42-generation 2 Series rides on the same modular CLAR platform that underpins the 3 Series and 4 Series. Compared to the M4, the new M2 has a 4.3-inch shorter wheelbase, but the main structural chassis components are the same. Even the staggered 19-inch front and 20-inch wheels carry over, as do the Michelin Pilot Sport 4S summer tires.

The M2 has a 4.3-inch shorter wheelbase than the M4.

BMW

The differences largely come down to individual tuning. The M2’s front springs are stiffer while the rear ones are softer, which gives the coupe quicker turn-in and a more lively back end. In fact, the M2 borrows its rear dampers from the upcoming M3 Touringas greater damping forces are required due to the softer springs.

BMW tweaked the M4’s traction control, electronic limited-slip differential and adaptive suspension systems to be better in line with the M2’s improved agility, and the smaller coupe gets a unique steering tune too. Meanwhile, the M4’s brake-by-wire system carries over unchanged, and the M2 will have two brake feel settings, though the differences between them aren’t super noticeable in practice.

But ripping around Austria’s Salzburgring, it doesn’t take long to notice the M2’s agility. It’s way more entertaining to chuck into a corner, the traction control letting the rear axle slip just enough for controlled moments of oversteer during tight turns. At the same time, the M2 never feels like a handful or too difficult to rein in, and that’s as true on dry pavement as it is after a brief spring showers soaks the Salzburgring surface.

You’ll be able to fit the M2 with the M4’s carbon bucket seats, and BMW’s curved infotainment display will be standard.

BMW

There’s more than enough power to keep the M2 pulling hard, since it uses the fantastic 3.0-liter twin-turbo I6 from the M3 and M4. BMW has yet to confirm the M2’s official power specs, but in the M4, this engine puts out 473 horsepower and 406 pound-feet of torque. That’s a 68-hp bump over the current M2 Competition but an equal amount of torque. It’s also a modest increase over the 444-hp M2 C.

Like the current M2, the new coupe will be offered with a six-speed manual transmission, though you can also get it with the eight-speed automatic found in the M4 Competition. Both setups have their benefits: The manual is super fun with a notchy shifter and a perfectly weighted clutch, while the automatic fires off instantaneous, well-timed gear changes and gives you the option to choose your own adventure with steering wheel-mounted paddles.

As far as I can tell, the M4 only has two major advantages. First, you can get it in Competition spec, where the I6 has a more powerful state of tune (503 hp, 479 lb-ft). You can also get the M4 Competition with BMW’s xDrive AWD system, which adds to the coupe’s handling prowess and makes it foul-weather friendly — with the right tires, natch.

The new M2 is expected to go on sale in April 2023.

BMW

From a daily livability standpoint, the M2 won’t be all that different from the M4. Its back seat is smaller, but who’s actually using that on the regular? You’ll be able to option the M2 with the M4’s carbon front bucket seats, and BMW’s new curved dashboard display and iDrive 8 infotainment tech will come standard.

My theory is that the arrival of the 2023 M2 next April will allow the M4 to move slightly more upmarket, leaning more heavily into the grand tourer side of the equation. Or maybe BMW will kill off the base, rear-drive, manual M4 since it’ll have the biggest overlap with the M2. But that’s just my own wild speculation. Don’t quote me unless I end up being right.

If any of that does come to fruition, that’ll give the M2 some more breathing room to be the purest driver’s car in BMW’s compact M space. Everything about the new M2 seems pretty rad at first blush. But considering the M4 linkage, I’m not exactly surprised.

Editors’ note: Travel costs related to this story were covered by the manufacturer, which is common in the auto industry. The judgments and opinions of CNET’s staff are our own and we do not accept paid editorial content.

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