The BMW M2 is the perfect sports car for everyone

Guaranteed fun at a reasonable price

Here we are, just three guys, standing amid a sea of red and white traffic cones. Dan Seifert, the bearded one; James Bareham, the Englishman; and me, neither bearded nor English. We are in our early 30s to mid 40s to a bit beyond. A Verge tech editor, the Verge’s creative director, and the Verge car guy.

What brings us together here today is the BMW M2.

Last February I drove Bimmer’s brand new, back-to-basics sports coupe and fell desperately in love. Wanna-own-it kind of love. In my write-up, I described it as lyrical, human, flawed, and dazzling. This spry little two-door four-seater harkens back to the earliest and best BMWs, the 2002 and the first generations of the M3. And it starts around $51,000, a steal when it comes to a genuine German sports car.

I posited that it would be enjoyed equally by all measures of drivers, from the novice to the highly experienced. And so the three of us and a video crew trundled to the New York Catskills to the Monticello Motor Club (MMC) to test that theory.

This is The Harper Spin, a weekly column from seasoned auto critic Jason H. Harper. He’s raced at Le Mans, crushed a car in a 50-ton tank, and now, he’s bringing his unique style to The Verge.

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The M2 is not a track car. But MMC is a safe facility in which to test the limits of the BMW. We can open it up on the long back straightaway and push hard into corners and never worry about oncoming traffic, pedestrians, or cops. Monticello also has a skid-pad — a wide-open area paved with grippy asphalt — on which we set up a small course bounded by cones. Cones are better to hit than walls, after all. Our autocross, as it is called, is tight with sharp turns, but includes one stretch that allows for a bit of speed and even some drifting.

As for skill levels, Dan has never been on a track, and currently drives a Toyota Corolla with a baby seat in back. Yet he has driven older BMW sports sedans, so he has a notion of how they can and should feel. He can also drive a stick shift. He’s our (relative) novice. James used to ride motorcycles around racetracks in the UK, but hasn’t been on one a long time, so is serving as our intermediate driver.

I’m the hot shoe for this exercise. I’m not a professional racecar driver, but years of experience and hundreds of laps should serve.

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We discuss the car briefly. This one has a six-speed manual, though it’s available with an automatic. The engine is an inline six-cylinder with a single twin-scroll turbocharger, making 365 horsepower and 343 pound-feet of torque. "And it’s small," says Dan. "In all the right ways. The new M3 looks as big as an old M5."

He’s right.

In my previous review I marveled at the M2’s ease of driving. You can learn to go fast in it quickly. And within five minutes on our autocross course, Dan is swinging around nicely, tires chirping. Only a few cones are overturned. He gets out of the car, tries to pretend like he’s very cool and collected, and then starts huffing, gesticulating, face turning a bit red. "You’re kinda excited," I tell him. He smiles, a bit sheepish. "Yeah, the car is really, really fun."

James is excitable by nature, so he’s sweating and jabbering before he even gets in the car. We can see his Cheshire grin through the window, growing wider as he rows through the gears and the speed picks up. A rear tire strikes a cone and it goes airborne and I can hear James giggle manically through his rolled-down window.

And we haven’t even made it out on the real racetrack yet.

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Dan left the car’s electronic traction and stability controls settings on "sport," allowing for lots of fun, but corralling in excess lateral movements and generally preventing you from getting into trouble. James moved it to "sport plus," which is the advanced mode. I get in and shut off the traction control, and am swiftly reminded why I so liked the car in the first place. It transitions seamlessly through an extremely tight-radius circle, finessed and smart. But give a hit of gas in an open corner, and the car gets up on its rubber feet and dances. Drifts are easy. I leave smears of burnt rubber along the course. When I swing in, the MMC track manager, Chris Duplessis, who’s been watching, gives me a puppy-dog look. Oh, fine. I turn the car over to him, and he takes the car through the course sideways. "This thing is amazing," he gushes. Yep.

I leave smears of burnt rubber along the course

As for the race track itself: I did my best to scare Dan. We got it to about 145 mph. He didn’t seem all that afraid, but did seem to be enjoying himself immensely. (Just watch the video for a sense of that.) James got his laps on the track, too, and came away with the idea that he could use more practice — and that the M2 is the most forgiving and fun car in which to do it.

As for me, I was reminded that the M2 takes even racetrack abuse with aplomb, and makes pretty much everything you do it in, from city driving to sideways drifting, seem easy and enjoyable. I’m still very much in love.

Photography: James Bareham

Video: Phil Esposito, Max Jeffrey, and Mark Linsangan

Sound: Andrew Marino

Correction: In the video, we state that the M2 has 340 horsepower, but it actually has 365 horsepower. We apologize for the error.

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