The Salzburgring, outside of (you guessed it) Salzburg, Austria, is little more than a 2.6-mile rubber band draped across an Alpine foothill. Two straights, linked together by complex right-hand turns at each end, mean that even the occasional chicane (sprinkled in for variety, probably) doesn't slow the 53-year-old track down much.
What does slow the progress at the Salzburgring is blinding, pummelling rain. I'm two laps into my second six-lap stint at the Austrian track behind the wheel of a camouflaged prototype of the 2023 BMW M2, and while rain dampened the entirety of my first stint, it's destroying the second.
Along the back straight, and as I'm coming up on 100 miles per hour, I can't see a thing. Not the taillights in front, the grass on each side of the track, or the rocky hill beyond the track fencing. I'm flying through a field of grey. Before the weather forces an unfixable mistake, the chaperone at the front of the three-car convoy pulls us back into the pits, cutting my day with the M2 in half. This was hardly an ideal first taste of the new model, but there was still plenty to learn about M's smallest model (and last combustion-only car).
For starters, the new M2 carries a version of the twin-turbocharged 3.0-litre engine found in the M3 and M4. Itself an evolution of the B58 straight-six from the M240i, output is up to around 450 bhp, according to BMW. That's down slightly on the 473 bhp from the M3 and M4, but it represents an improvement on the 444-bhp M2 CS. The M-spec engine works alongside a standard six-speed manual transmission or a no-cost eight-speed automatic. Power goes to the rear axle, with no plans for an all-wheel drive variant to match the xDrive-available M3 and M4.
BMW isn't sharing performance metrics for the new M2 yet, but based on the few laps I had at my disposal, straight-line pace feels broadly similar to the M2 CS I drove in late 2020. Expect a similar sub-four-second sprint to 60 miles per hour, along with impressive staying power above that figure. There remains a hint of turbo lag that gives way to a strong wave of torque that barely lets up as the engine speed climbs.
It's harder to judge the M3/M4-sourced two transmission options. My few dry laps were in the auto-equipped car, while my shortened stint was behind the wheel of a manual-trans M2. Both follow typical BMW form, with the six-speed manual's gear lever having a rather physical, notchy character and a well-weighted, but vague, clutch pedal. As usual nowadays, the DIY approach feels slower in every significant way. The eight-speed auto is faster and it feels like a more natural partner.
Part of that goes beyond the ability to simply change gears more quickly. Where the manual might be more engaging on a twisty road, there's a motorsports-like quality to exercising the carbon-fibre paddle shifters on the track, especially with the gearbox programmed to provide just a bit of shift shock when changing up. The bark from the four exhaust pipes makes these gear changes all the sweeter, too.
Slip Slidin' Away
While I could draw some brief conclusions on the powertrain despite the weather, the same isn't true of the chassis. Here's what I know for certain. The M2 uses the same adaptive dampers and 275/35/19 front and 285/30/20 rear tyres as the M3 and M4 – both are improvements over the fixed setup and skinnier rubber of the previous M2 (although the CS did carry adaptive shocks as standard). And bringing matters to a halt are a set of 15.0-inch discs and six-piston callipers in front as part of the brake-by-wire system – both items come from the M3 and M4. Beyond the equipment changes, though, BMW stretched the front and rear track 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. The camouflage on the two testers makes it hard to tell just how well the swollen wings/fenders will work with the 2-Series' polarising styling, but along with M-specific front and rear fascias, there's little question that M's latest product will be suitably aggressive.
The more impactful design changes happen in the cabin. Like the standard 2-Series, the M2 will introduce a new unified display setup that marries twin screens in a single housing. The latest iDrive 8 operating system comes straight from the iX but carries M-specific graphics. The intense, carbon-fibre-packed sport seats introduced on the M3 and M4 are available here, and I'm sorry, you're a clown if you order anything but.
BMW paired the optional sport chairs with the auto-equipped M2 and left the base seats in the manual-trans model – even with the rain limiting my time in the 6MT, the difference in the seats is night and day. 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 feels familiar for both a 2er and an M product. A somewhat oversized steering wheel and red M1/M2 buttons flanked by carbon-fibre paddle shifters make for a fine interface, and details like the red stop/start button and M-specific drive mode selectors look and feel like natural additions.
It Can't Rain All The Time
Heavy rain ruined what should have been a fascinating introduction to the M2, and the worst bit is that there won't be another shot at this car for nearly 12 months. While the newest M car will likely debut before the end of 2022, it won't hit dealers until 2023, with an April arrival confirmed for Europe. North American sales should follow shortly after.
What I can say after this test is that BMW has effectively scaled down the M3 and M4 into a lighter, tighter, more exciting, and rear-drive-only package. This test may have been too soggy to really dig into the M2, but the rain couldn't do anything to dampen my excitement for BMW M's last pure combustion-powered car.
Gallery: 2023 BMW M2 Prototype: First Drive
2023 BMW M2 Prototype