A day at the Ring – BMW M2

I know, you’re probably thinking this is going to be a story about how I heroically tackled the ‘green hell’ behind the wheel of the brand new BMW M2.

You know the cliché story starting with some quote from Jackie Stewart about how dangerous it is. The story you’ve all heard a thousand times from overexcited media correspondents and exalted friends that drove their Civic Type R once around ‘The Ring’, bought the bumper sticker and now deem themselves experts. Well it won’t be that. It will however feature BMW’s newest pocket rocket so… bear with me.

All of this confusion is mostly due to the fact that to test the BMW M2 I haven’t actually been to the Nürburgring but a different European ‘ring’ – the very hot and dry Hungaroring.  Located, you’ve guessed it, in Hungary. A track that hasn’t yet achieved cult status among petrolheads, but is still a very entertaining and demanding facility. Hey! Formula 1 races are held there so if that’s not enough to prove its credentials I don’t know what is.

Let’s start with the facts. It’s 2.722 miles long, has 16 turns and a lot of quite steep differences in level. Because it hasn’t been designed by Hermann Tilke (who apparently is the only man in the world capable of designing a racetrack these days) it hasn’t got much in terms of runoff areas and other modern safety features. Which isn’t reassuring at all. The corners however are great – a combination of vast, fast, blind sweepers where you can make use of all of the track. They go downwards so one can easily lose traction and crash quite spectacularly. With the tighter technical bends, where the optimal way isn’t always in keeping with the traditional ‘racing line’, one has to think rather about the exit of the last corner of this particular section instead of the entrance into the first one (or first two). If you get the beginning of the section wrong… you end up in the gravel trap by the time you reach the end. This makes the Hungaroring quite hard to master, especially when you have to learn it in half a day. Apparently it’s also pretty bumpy in a Formula 1 car, but I couldn’t really feel that in the M2 (we will get to that later).

Another thing is that even though I have done my fair share of driving and have a valid FIA racing licence (raced in the Mini Challenge in Italy) I’m more, like most underprivileged journalists form the former eastern block, restricted by my budget to being a front-wheel-drive kind of guy. I sure can pull a fast time in a Mini Cup car, or a Clio RS/Peugeot RCZ-R/Golf GTI hot hatch. I know my way around in an underpowered RWD car – like the Mazda MX5 or the absolutely-brilliant-but-frightfully-ugly GT86 Toyota (drove 5700 km around the Alps and Italian and French riviera in one – Stelvio Pass and all, but that’s a different story for another time). When it comes to more powerful and torquey cars I always get a little bit stressed before driving them. You know. The idea is not to crash them in front of fellow journalists and… well people from BMW.

This is always a bit of a problem caused not only by my lack of confidence but also the state of today’s motoring world. You see, due to modern emission regulations we downsize and turbocharge engines to meet different eco-criteria. Turbocharging is also good for performance (the new M2 is quicker around the proper ‘ring’ – The Nürburgring – then the previous generation M3). Peak torque is delivered lower down in the rev range, there can be more of it etc. etc.  But more power needs more cooling, more ‘brakes’, which makes the vehicle heavier. Heavier means more potential body roll, more sudden mass transfers and a car that’s harder to handle (so you need adaptive damping for example). It also means the need for more grip, which due to the excess of power and torque has to be conjured up somehow. Enter the super sticky Michelin Pilot Super Sports tires, which are excellent up to a point. When they get overwhelmed by the power, torque and weight they suddenly loose traction which leads either to a spectacular drift or to an even more spectacular crash.

OK. Where am I actually going with this? I think that an underpowered, naturally aspirated car, sitting on skinnier tires is actually less scary and more fun to drive (if it’s light and balanced correctly) at a relatively slower speed. A slower speed means that the non-racing-driver gentleman driver can have fun while at the same time remain amongst the living and (or) save face when things go wrong.  The power is delivered more progressively throughout the rev range and the whole behaviour of the delicate power-train to chassis symbiosis is more predictable. Especially in the wet. This of course is my personal preference, often mocked by my Playstation generation peers that think that the ultimate driving machine is the Nissan GTR – for me a flying anvil where driver input is secondary to what computers think. Not the way to achieve driving nirvana.

Having all that in mind while I was lapping the hot tarmac of the Hungaroring I found myself being quite surprised by this little BMW. After two or three flying laps it dawned on me that this might be the first of the new generation, turbocharged M-division products that I actually liked. Why? The performance figures are impressive, of course. With 365bhp and 368 lb ft from as low as 1450 rpm coming from its turbocharged 2979cc in-line six the M2 reaches 62 mph in 4.3 seconds (with the optional double clutch transmission) the top speed limited to 155 mph. But all of this is secondary to how the car actually feels. And the M2 feels quicker than it actually is. It also sounds great reminding me a bit of the E46 M3.

Weight has been kept down to a reasonable 1495kg, the chassis is supple and you get plenty of information heading your way through that thick magnesium steering wheel. Overall it feels very nimble and even though the ride can be seen as firm on a public road, on track it is perfect delivering just the right amount of body roll to warn an overenthusiastic driver that grip limits are about to be exceeded, but not so that body mass transfers become a problem. The brake feel could be better, but it’s a minor flaw compared with how adjustable the whole car is. Brake into a corner and you can feel the rear wants to come round, play your cards right with the throttle and you can easily get into a controllable drift. The M4 derived diff and aluminium rear suspension do their magic. The point is – it’s easy to drive fast even if someone is as reluctant as me.

And here’s the last important point. Although I haven’t been able to test it in wet conditions I’m sure it’s going to be way better then its bigger siblings the M3/M4 duo. It’s also going to beat them in one important aspect. People always say that someone who can’t afford a 911 buys a Cayman, and they could say the same thing about the M2. I think that someone that buys a Cayman is somebody that’s more into driving pleasure then showing off his massive… erm… bank account.  The same thing goes with the M2. It’s a car for the enthusiast, the true petrol head, not some clown that just wants to race you from one set of traffic lights to the next while making way too much noise then is necessary. A car that personally I wouldn’t mind owning.  And now I must go and rethink my life.

Words and Photography by Błażej Żuławski

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A day at the Ring – BMW M2