The Salzburgring, outside of (you guessed it) Salzburg, Austria, is little more than a 2.6-mile rubber band draped over an Alpine foothill. Two straights, connected by complex right-hand turns at each end, mean that even the occasional chicane (dotted for variety, probably) doesn’t slow the 53-year-old track much.
What slows progress on the Salzburgring is driving, blinding rain. I’m two laps away from my second six-lap stint on the Austrian track behind the wheel of a camouflaged prototype of the 2023 BMW M2, and although the rain dampened the entirety of my first stint, it destroyed the second.
Along the back straight, and as I’m going 100 miles per hour, I can’t see anything. Not the taillights ahead, the grass on either side of the track, or the rocky hill beyond the track fence. I fly through a field of gray. Before the weather imposes an irreparable error, the chaperone at the front of the three-car convoy leads us back into the pits, cutting my day in the M2 in half. It wasn’t an ideal preview of the new model, but there was still plenty to learn about M’s smallest model (and latest combustion-only car).
For starters, the new M2 features a version of the 3.0-liter twin-turbo engine found in the M3 and M4. Itself an evolution of the M240i’s B58 straight-six, power reaches around 450 horsepower, according to BMW. That’s down slightly from the 473bhp of the M3 and M4, but it’s an improvement over the 444bhp M2 CS. The M-spec engine works with a standard six-speed manual transmission or a no-charge eight-speed automatic. Power goes to the rear axle, with no all-wheel-drive variant planned to match the M3 and M4 available with xDrive.
BMW isn’t yet sharing performance metrics for the new M2, but based on the few laps I had, the straight-line pace seems broadly similar to the M2 CS I drove in late 2020. Expect at a similar duration under four seconds sprint at 60 miles per hour, with impressive endurance above that figure. There remains a hint of turbo lag that gives way to a strong surge of torque that barely releases as the engine revs climb.
It is more difficult to judge the two transmission options coming from M3/M4. My few dry laps were in the auto-equipped car, while my shortened stint was behind the wheel of a manual transmission M2. Both follow the typical BMW shape, with the manual six-speed gear lever having a rather physical, notched character and a well-weighted, but vague clutch pedal. As usual these days, the DIY approach feels slower in every way. The eight-speed auto is quicker and feels like a more natural partner.
Part of that goes beyond the ability to just shift faster. Where the manual might be more engaging on a twisty road, there’s a motorsport quality to exercising the carbon fiber shift paddles on the track, especially with the gearbox programmed to provide just a little shift shock when shifting. The bark of the four exhaust pipes also makes those gear changes even more pleasant.
While I can draw some brief conclusions about the powertrain despite the weather, the same cannot be said for the chassis. Here’s what I know for sure. The M2 uses the same adaptive dampers and 275/35/19 front and 285/30/20 rear tires as the M3 and M4 – both are improvements over the fixed setup and thinner rubber of the previous M2 (though that the CS carried adaptive dampers as standard). And to bring things to a halt, a set of 15.0-inch discs and six-piston calipers up front as part of the cable brake system – both items come from the M3 and M4. Beyond the equipment changes, BMW has lengthened the front and rear tracks by 2.1 inches.
That’ll be good for handling, sure, but it also means the M2 cuts a more dramatic figure when viewed directly from the front or rear. Camouflage on both testers makes it hard to tell how well the bulging fenders will work with the polarizing styling of the Series 2, but with the M-specific front and rear fascias, there’s no doubt M’s latest product will look suitably good. aggressive. .
The most impactful design changes occur in the cabin. Like the standard Series 2, the M2 will introduce a new unified display setup that marries two screens into a single package. The latest iDrive 8 operating system comes straight from the iX but features M-specific graphics. The intense carbon fiber sports seats introduced on the M3 and M4 are available here, and I’m sorry you’re a clown if you order something else.
BMW paired the optional sports seats with the auto-equipped M2 and left the base seats in the manual transmission model – even with the rain limiting my time in the 6MT, the difference between the seats is day and night. night. If you have even a slight inclination for sporty driving, the aggressive seats are worth every penny.
Beyond those glorious thrones, the rest of the cabin looks familiar for both a 2er product and an M product. A somewhat oversized steering wheel and red M1/M2 buttons flanked by carbon fiber shift paddles offer a refined interface, and details like the red stop/start button and M-specific drive mode selectors feel like natural additions.
It can’t rain all the time
Heavy rain has ruined what should have been a fascinating introduction to the M2, and what’s worse is that there won’t be another shot at this car for nearly 12 months. While the new M car will likely debut before the end of 2022, it won’t hit dealerships until 2023, with an April arrival confirmed for Europe. North American sales should follow soon after.
What I can say after this test is that BMW has effectively stripped down the M3 and M4 into a lighter, tighter, more exciting, rear-drive-only package. This test may have been too soggy to really dig into the M2, but the rain could do nothing to dampen my enthusiasm for BMW M’s latest pure combustion car.