BMW offers a wealth of performance vehicles in its lineup, but with many of their outputs pushing far north of 400 horsepower, folks who don’t go to the track will barely ever scrape the adhesive off the performance envelope. Thankfully, there’s one Bimmer that, while still eminently capable, is far better suited for drivers who want to have fun on regular old roads: the 2021 BMW M2 Competition.
- 405-hp hustle
- Sublime engine note
- Surprisingly pliant around town
- Lower-grade interior materials
- Situational rear seats
- No Android Auto
Now, that’s not to say that the M2 Competition is lagging in the power department. Its 3.0-liter, twin-turbocharged straight-six packs a 405-hp, 406 pound-foot punch. It’s the same engine found in the 425-hp M4, albeit detuned, and dare I say it, the I6 feels better in the M2 than in its bigger brother. Utilizing two small turbochargers means jamming the throttle produces a near-immediate response, and BMW’s electronic nannies do an impressive job of sorting out the traction, leaving me with nothing but a whole bunch of torque pushing me to the next corner. Slides are more than feasible by dialing the intervention back in M Dynamic mode, which lets me engage my inner hooligan without ensuring a trip into the trees, but I recommend keeping those antics to the track. Leave everything in its standard setting and there is still so much fun to be had with little risk of things spiraling out of control.
The S55 also sounds a hell of a lot better here, with the M4’s odd engine note disappearing in favor of a visceral growl that brings back memories of everybody’s favorite ivory-pedestal I6 BMW, the E46 M3. The twin-flap exhaust sounds good no matter the mode and dropping a window to enjoy the soundtrack is half the fun.
That feeling of driver engagement in the M2 Competition gets some help from a standard six-speed manual transmission. The clutch pedal communicates its bite point effectively, making for predictably smooth or sharp starts, mood depending. The lever’s short-enough throws allow for quick shifts in either direction, and while it’s a little rubbery between the gears, that’s a trait that I’ve actually come to appreciate in BMW stick shifts over the years. The M2 will automatically rev-match on downshifts with the utmost precision, which is good, because the only way to deactivate that feature in most modes is by turning the stability control off, which again, I do not recommend anywhere but the track.
Speaking of the ragged edge, there’s an available option that lets you explore those corners in a clever — and more importantly, safer — way. The $2,500 M Driver’s Package raises the car’s top speed, sure, but it also includes a one-day performance driving class that will let drivers experience their M2’s full potential on a track. For anyone getting into something this powerful for the first time, it can provide a wealth of experience that could help keep the shiny side up if things get hairy later on.
The rest of the M2’s driving experience is decidedly sporty, but that doesn’t relegate it to weekend-warrior status. It lacks adaptive dampers, but the Competition’s fixed suspension strikes a great balance, offering enough damping to cruise over bad roads in relative comfort while still keeping body roll to a minimum. Whether I’m tossing the coupe into corners or making a lunchtime run to the grocery store, I’m never uncomfortable or unsettled. Standard iron brakes fill every spare inch of space behind the wheels, and while they will scrub speed with the best of ’em, they’re still easy to modulate in around-town driving.
The M2’s electric power steering doesn’t feel as artificial and unnecessarily heavy as the M4’s, with more approachable weights in Comfort, Sport and Sport Plus modes, but it’s still a little light in the feel department. A fat strut brace under the hood means it’s plenty easy to change the nose’s direction on a whim while offering loads of grip, which is only enhanced by my tester’s Michelin Pilot Sport 4S summer tires. I only ever go through Georgia on connecting flights, but I know a peach when I see one.
There are some downsides to M2 Competition life, though. The trunk is big enough for a couple people’s worth of groceries or shopping bags, but interior storage is obviously fairly limited given the car’s size. While there’s plenty of space for those seated up front, the M2’s tiny rear seats don’t have the room for adults to be comfortable for any stretch of time. The S55 engine is also… quite thirsty, to be honest, with an EPA-estimated fuel economy of just 18 miles per gallon city and 24 mpg highway, numbers that only plummet further as the fun factor rises. Throw a diminutive 13.7-gallon tank into the mix and you’ll get to know your local gas-station attendant well enough to send them a Christmas card.
The M2 Competition looks aggressive, but not overly so. Sharp angles on the front bumper soften as they head rearward, with the aforementioned large wheels filling fatter fenders. The M2 wears one of BMW’s older faces at this point, but it’s still suitably fresh in 2020. While the M badge gussies up the interior with some supportive front seats and a matte carbon-fiber trim that’s pleasing to the touch, it’s still a 2 Series underneath the trimmings, so there’s a fair bit of lower-cost vinyl and plastic hanging out in here, which is tougher to jibe with at the M2’s $59,895 starting point.
BMW’s full complement of in-car tech isn’t on offer in the M2 Competition, but there’s a decent amount here for a bona fide sports car. Navigation comes standard on the M2’s 8.8-inch touchscreen, which runs a slightly older version of the iDrive infotainment system. It’s responsive and easy to get used to, but the system’s age means it isn’t capable of picking upconnectivity that’s finally appearing in other new BMWs, so remains the only smartphone integration on offer. Two USB ports are standard, and a $1,200 Executive Package adds wireless charging ahead of the cup holders, in addition to a Wi-Fi hotspot, a heated steering wheel and LED headlights with automatic high beams. On the safety front, standard fare includes low-speed automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning, parking sensors and forward collision warning, with no options to expand beyond that.
The M2 Competition doesn’t carry too many add-ons, so my tester is nearly fully equipped at $64,415 including destination. That gives it a properly competitive price in its segment given its high output; the 394-hp Audi TT RS starts just below $70,000, while the 325-hp Porsche 718 Cayman S can’t be had for less than about $72,000, and that’s before options. Considering how much fun the 2021 BMW M2 Competition can be while still offering a daily-drivable demeanor, this mini-Bimmer offers a whole lot of value.