BMW birthed the luxury sport sedan eons ago, and some of Munich's recent efforts have some thinking that they've let their iron grip on that segment slacken considerably. Well, the 2018 BMW M2 is here to trumpet the brand's vigorous denial of that armchair-enthusiast slander and reaffirm the brand's commitment to "The Ultimate Driving Machine."

Best Value

The magicians in the M department don't want anyone muddling their creation, and the resulting dearth of choice made choosing our ideal M2 an easy task. There's only one no-cost color available, one upholstery and trim choice, and one equipment package.

While a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission is optional, we're sticking with the do-it-yourself six-speed manual. With a car as gratifying as this, letting the computers have all the fun of shifting gears is downright sacrilegious. Here's the M2 that we'd eagerly be waiting to take delivery of:

  • Model: 2018 BMW M2
  • Engine: 3.0-liter turbocharged six-cylinder
  • Output: 365 hp / 343 lb-ft
  • Transmission: Six-speed manual
  • Drivetrain: Rear-wheel drive
  • MPG: 18 City / 26 Hwy
  • Options: Executive Package ($1,550, adaptive LED headlights, heated steering wheel, automatic high beams, lane departure warning, automatic emergency braking, speed limit information, wireless charging, auditory parking assist)
  • Base Price: $55,495 (including a $995 destination charge)
  • Best Value Price: $57,045

Performance

BMW M2

The M moniker has traditionally alluded to the ultimate expression of Germanic driving precision, and the M2 is no exception. This car is the real deal – the closest thing to the now-classic M cars from 30 years ago. It merits these lofty accolades thanks to an enticing blend of impeccable handling, a powerful straight-six engine, and a chassis that's willing to play.

Let's take a minute to consider the six-cylinder goodness under the hood. We've all heard the old tropes regarding the silky smoothness of an inline-six engine design, but they bear repeating here because the motor really is a paragon of seamless power. It boasts 365 horsepower and 343 pound-feet of torque, though an overboost function can jack up the torque to 369 lb-ft for short bursts. It's coupled with a standard slick six-speed manual that itself is reminiscent of the gearboxes found in vintage M3s, though a dual-clutch seven-speed is a $2,900 option. With either transmission, the powertrain will inspire you take the long way every time.

Also encouraging unnecessary road time is the chassis and handling. The M2 is in its element when the road gets windy, the engine working in harmony with the suspension to get the car around the corner with drama-free speed. Helping out here is the trick Active M differential, a limited-slip type unit that uses various data inputs and computer sensors to read the road and lock up the differential appropriately.

At its core, though, this is a sports car, and that means there are inevitably a few drawbacks. The primary ones that buyers will be most attune to is the flinty ride quality (a consequence of no-compromises suspension) and the excess road noise.

Style

People love to lament the loss of the simple-shaped, low-beltline, big-glassed BMWs from years past, but the M2 – and the whole 2-Series in general – has definite traces of this family history, perhaps more so than any other car in the BMW lineup. There's a definitive trunk rather than a pseudo-hatchback, and the tallish roof keeps things from being Camaro-like in regard to visibility. To ensure no one confuses this with lesser versions of the 2-Series, there's big cooling ducts, flared-out fenders, and quad exhaust outlets. The big gaping maw up front may be a bit off-putting, but take solace in knowing that the hodgepodge of grills and ducts is born of functionality rather than pure aesthetics.

Inside, things are decidedly stark. Some buyers may like this no-nonsense cabin, but we imagine that most folk dropping over 50 large on one of these will be disappointed at the lack of apparent luxury. Besides standard leather upholstery, there's little else suggestive of the car's base price and of BMW's luxury image. It's also tight inside, no matter whether you're sitting up front or stuffed in back. This is inherent with any small car on a rear-drive platform, but it's still something to be aware of.

The cabin isn't all doom and gloom, though. The seats are excellent, and make for great thrones from which to command this performance machine. The standard feature list also includes niceties like navigation, a Harmon Kardon sound system, satellite radio, and 14-way power heated seats.

The Best and Worst Things

Of everything the M2 offers, we're most in love with the handling. It's no exaggeration to say it's ready for the track right out of the box. When buyers take their M2 for a drive, it won't be the stereo or the style that gets them excited, but the way the little two-door scampers through the corners with abandon.

Unfortunately, backroad bliss comes at a cost. In this case, the excess noise and jarring suspension, along with an interior that doesn't measure up to the sticker price, all detract from the otherwise immensely enjoyable M2.

Right For? Wrong For?

BMW M2

If you pine for the character of old BMWs in a modern package, the M2 is the car to buy.

If you can't stand the idea of sacrificing ride quality and a hushed cabin for your performance car, the M2 should be passed over.

The Bottom Line

It's been a long time since BMW has built something like the M2. It's not overweight, overpowered, or over-complicated. Rather, it's a car that aptly balances the demands of the modern M-car buyer with the excellence that made the M name so vaunted in the first place. While there's a few small quibbles BMW should contend with, no other model in the lineup adheres so completely to the brand's ethos of "The Ultimate Driving Machine." Move over, M3, the 2018 BMW M2 is the new standard-bearer for what an M car should be.