EXPERT REVIEW

2023 BMW M2 Review: Mmm Mmm Good (and Nearly Great)

bmw m2 2023 02 exterior front angle scaled jpg 2023 BMW M2 | Cars.com photo by Christian Lantry
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Road Test Editor Brian Normile joined the automotive industry and Cars.com in 2013, and he became part of the Editorial staff in 2014. Brian spent his childhood devouring every car magazine he got his hands on — not literally, eventually — and now reviews and tests vehicles to help consumers make informed choices. Someday, Brian hopes to learn what to do with his hands when he’s reviewing a car on camera. He would daily-drive an Alfa Romeo 4C if he could. Email Brian Normile

The verdict: The 2023 BMW M2 isn’t a perfect sports car — is anything? — but it’s damn close. If BMW can figure out how to give it a better exhaust note and make the steering more communicative, it’d be even closer. Just don’t stare directly at it.

Versus the competition: “Affordable” Porsches, loaded mid-level muscle cars and compact luxury sports sedans are all in the M2’s $70,000-ish price range, and all of them involve a variety of compromises, just like the M2. But if you’re looking for a hardcore driver’s car, and you can afford it, the M2 should be on your list.

The 2023 BMW M2 might be the purest sports car left in BMW’s lineup: two doors, rear-wheel-drive only and a standard six-speed manual transmission. It’s also the most affordable (and I use that word loosely) of BMW’s “true” M cars — the ones with only a single digit after the M.

The M2 is redesigned for the 2023 model year, closely following BMW’s redesign of its pedestrian 2 Series sibling. That means the new M2 is longer, wider, lower and heavier than its predecessor — so heavy, in fact, it’s barely any lighter than a stock M4 coupe.

More important than the M2’s dimensions, though, or where it tips the scale is whether or not it’s a good sports car. I spent a week driving a 2023 M2 with the (no-cost) optional eight-speed automatic transmission (sorry, purists) to find out.

Related: Redesigned 2023 BMW M2: The Smallest M Scores Big HP Boost

Weight Be Damned, It Goes Like Hell

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At the heart of the new M2 is a familiar power plant: a twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six-cylinder engine. BMW says it makes 453 horsepower, which is 48 hp more than the previous M2 Competition, and that torque remains the same at 406 pounds-feet. BMW quotes a 0-60 mph time of 3.9 seconds with the eight-speed automatic, and they’re notoriously conservative about that sort of thing. While we didn’t get to measure our own 0-60 time, I can tell you power comes on quickly; peak torque is delivered between 2,650 and 5,870 rpm, according to BMW. Even without Launch Control, this is one of the first non-electric cars I’ve driven in a while that delivers genuine push-you-into-your-seat acceleration.

The eight-speed automatic is excellent, with snappy up- and downshifts, though it seemed to occasionally hesitate when I used the column-mounted shift paddles. It’s a traditional torque-converter transmission that replaces the last M2’s seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, which, frankly, I don’t miss at all. If there is a performance downgrade, it’s imperceptible, and while the eight-speed has occasional lurchy behavior at low speeds — especially in more aggressive driving modes — it’s far more livable in day-to-day driving than was the DCT.

As impressive as the M2’s straight-line speed is, it’s even better when the road gets twisty. Steering feel is still more numb than I would like, but extra chassis stiffening and a unique suspension compensate for it in ways that the more pedestrian M240i couldn’t. Handling prowess doesn’t come without a cost, however, and in the M2, that cost is an extremely firm ride. It wasn’t a deal breaker for me, and the M division suspension engineers should feel proud that the M2 handled Chicago’s rough roads with far better isolation than did the automaker’s XM plug-in hybrid SUV. That said, the M2’s ride is firm enough that it was among the first things other editors mentioned when talking about the car. The M2’s brakes were both powerful and easy to modulate — important given slowing down in the twisties is also important.

The M2 makes a strong case as a performance daily driver thanks to its configurability and relatively frugal fuel economy. Nearly every aspect of the driving experience — powertrain responsiveness, braking, steering, suspension firmness and more — can be dialed in to the driver’s preferences and saved to one of two M buttons on the steering wheel. More importantly, those differences are noticeable, so while the ride will always be firm, you can save the really firm setting for a track or smooth sections of pavement. (Note: If you know where those are, please let me know.)

If you’re going to spend time stuck in traffic, note that the M2 merely drinks its required premium gas, rather than gulping it like a muscle car would. It’s EPA-rated 16/23/19 mpg city/highway/combined with the automatic transmission. It’s not a great combined rating, but in my not-so-efficient driving time, I usually saw fuel economy readings in the 20s, surpassing it.

The most notable drawback to the driving experience is the car’s lackluster exhaust note. It approaches — but never reaches — a burble at idle, and even when you stand on the accelerator, with the loudest exhaust setting activated, it’s loud but restrained in a way that doesn’t match the action. We lodged a similar complaint about the Audi RS 3, so maybe it’s a German thing, but I wanted the exhaust sound to match the M2’s “I’m young and make tastefully reckless financial decisions” vibe. Fortunately, a new exhaust is probably among the easiest modifications an owner could make to correct BMW’s seeming oversight (or additional money-making opportunity, given BMW will sell you those parts themselves).

Surprisingly Comfortable Up Front

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The M2’s daily-driver credentials are bolstered by just how comfortable it is up front with the sport seats that came standard in our test vehicle. They were nicely bolstered without overly narrowing the base of the seat, and the cushioning was excellent; I felt less tired after a lengthy drive in the M2 than I have in many large SUVs. Visibility is also pleasantly good for such a small car; the rear windscreen is small, but the view out isn’t cluttered by rear head restraints.

Not that the backseat really needs head restraints; it’s more of a glorified package shelf behind the front seats, with minuscule leg- and headroom. This lack of more than two useful seats hurts the M2’s ability to be a primary vehicle, making it more akin to true two-seaters like the Porsche 718 Boxster or Cayman. If you’re looking for performance but also need to carry more than one passenger, you may want to consider something with two more doors, like the RS 3 (though its backseat is hardly roomy).

I enjoyed the M-specific touches throughout the cabin, from multicolored textured inserts in the doors to striped seat belts and colorful upper portions for the standard front seats. While the rest of the cockpit looks like other M cars, materials quality is relatively cheap, with a smattering of hard plastic below the windows and on lower surfaces. The optional M Carbon bucket seats get Merino leather trim (and probably save a few pounds), and they look appropriately sporty in photos. We didn’t get to test them, though, so make sure they’re comfortable before dropping $9,900 on the Carbon Package.

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Almost Too Tech-y

New to the M2 is a standard curved display, which is BMW’s term for its connected 12.3-inch configurable digital instrument panel and 14.9-inch touchscreen. Graphics on both screens are crisp and clear. The instrument panel can display a variety of data, bordering on information overload, but both the Sport and Track settings reduce what’s shown down to just the most important things.

The center touchscreen suffers from a similar issue, with tiles for so many settings and features it can feel a bit overwhelming at first. The system’s operation is straightforward, however, and once you have the car dialed in how you want it, you won’t have to use most of them. Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard, and CarPlay looks great on the large screen. I occasionally experienced some lag with CarPlay when attempting to input several commands in quick succession — skipping multiple songs in a row, for example — and given a wireless device charger doesn’t come standard (it’s a $200 option), a wired connection may be preferable.

The optional head-up display also looks nice, and as a bonus, it can display turn-by-turn navigation directions using either the native system or Apple Maps; on the down side, polarized sunglasses wash out most of the pertinent information. If your eyewear makes the feature useless, save your money and stick with the excellent standard digital instrument panel.

Looks Rough

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bmw m2 2023 02 exterior front angle scaled jpg bmw m2 2023 03 exterior front scaled jpg bmw m2 2023 04 exterior front scaled jpg bmw m2 2023 05 exterior grille badge scaled jpg bmw m2 2023 06 exterior headlight scaled jpg bmw m2 2023 07 exterior profile scaled jpg bmw m2 2023 08 exterior side view mirror scaled jpg bmw m2 2023 09 exterior rear angle scaled jpg bmw m2 2023 10 exterior taillight scaled jpg bmw m2 2023 11 exterior rear scaled jpg bmw m2 2023 12 exterior taiilpipe scaled jpg bmw m2 2023 13 exterior rear badge scaled jpg bmw m2 2023 14 exterior wheel scaled jpg bmw m2 2023 15 exterior wheel badge scaled jpg bmw m2 2023 16 interior engine scaled jpg bmw m2 2023 17 interior engine scaled jpg bmw m2 2023 02 exterior front angle scaled jpg bmw m2 2023 03 exterior front scaled jpg bmw m2 2023 04 exterior front scaled jpg bmw m2 2023 05 exterior grille badge scaled jpg bmw m2 2023 06 exterior headlight scaled jpg bmw m2 2023 07 exterior profile scaled jpg bmw m2 2023 08 exterior side view mirror scaled jpg bmw m2 2023 09 exterior rear angle scaled jpg bmw m2 2023 10 exterior taillight scaled jpg bmw m2 2023 11 exterior rear scaled jpg bmw m2 2023 12 exterior taiilpipe scaled jpg bmw m2 2023 13 exterior rear badge scaled jpg bmw m2 2023 14 exterior wheel scaled jpg bmw m2 2023 15 exterior wheel badge scaled jpg bmw m2 2023 16 interior engine scaled jpg bmw m2 2023 17 interior engine scaled jpg

From many angles, the M2 has an aggressive presence that it definitely lives up to with its driving experience. The front styling, however, is a significant departure from other BMWs. It lacks the big, buck-toothed grille design of the M3 and M4; instead, every opening where you’d traditionally see rounded shapes is squared-off. It’s almost as if the car hasn’t quite finished rendering. Fortunately, you don’t have to look at the M2 when you’re driving it.

Our test car also had optional 50th anniversary badges to celebrate five decades of M cars. In a vacuum, the badges look nice, but in the wild, they looked out of place, likely due to the iconic nature of BMW’s usual badges. At the other end of the spectrum, my mom described the M2 as “adorable” — probably not what its designers (or buyers) are going for.

Much like the exhaust’s relatively muted nature, the available exterior color palette for the M2 is — for now, anyway — blander than a car like this deserves. Hopefully, future model years will get wilder color options.

Among the Best of a Dwindling Bunch

Purist sports cars, especially ones with manual transmissions, feel like a dying breed. Despite its compromises, the M2 is an excellent option for shoppers looking for something that’s a riot to drive but still offers some luxury. With an as-tested price of $67,745, including destination, the M2 is one of the few cars I’ve driven in recent memory that felt worth every penny — and then some. If it were a little louder, a little rowdier and had better steering feel, the M2 might be my perfect car. Even without all those things, it’s still mighty impressive.

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Cars.com’s Editorial department is your source for automotive news and reviews. In line with Cars.com’s long-standing ethics policy, editors and reviewers don’t accept gifts or free trips from automakers. The Editorial department is independent of Cars.com’s advertising, sales and sponsored content departments.

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