In search of the soul of BMW, we found that there are still palpable signs of life at the M Division that excite us. You just need to be open new experiences.


Words and photography by Vijay Sankar (@pink_helmet on Instagram)

Caveat: The photos are those of a base M2, but my driving impressions are from the Competition variant.


Prepare to be Astonished

I approached the M2 Competition as a naturally aspirated lifer, but walked away from it two days later as a turbocharging enthusiast. It’s got that much character and capability baked into it. It’s everything you want in an M car, and then some.

To my eyes, it wears a suit that perfectly fits its bulldog character. The stance, the meaty arches, the short wheelbase, the tension in its lines, the minimal circular gauges, and of course the savage motor. With a manual gearbox, it is just about the perfect little M car you can dream up today. I can’t think of another new, humorous RWD car that I’d do highly enthusiastic driving in, and still have it as my only car. The GR86 comes close, but lacks the practicality.

Wicked yet Approachable

The Competition and I became very, very good friends within a matter of a couple of hours of driving. There’s something about turbocharged RWD BMWs that let them settle so beautifully while going sideways–like it’s their natural state. Wonderfully punchy no matter when you floor it in the rev range, and a minor lag that is closely followed by an addictive shove that makes you inhale sharply.

Slides for Miles

Yes, you can drive it clean and fast, but in two days and 400+ miles of hooning, I did NOT want to drive it in a straight line. It’s that fun and tractable. Slides for miles! Get aggressive with the throttle and it’ll break traction at the rear with virtually no other form of provocation, and with the stability system off, it’s up to your right foot and senses to keep things cool. It embraces turbocharging to wonderfully dramatic effect. Plus, the gearing in this car forms a great partner to the engine. It’s got so much forceful torque that can overwhelm the rears at the drop of a hat.

In Sport+ mode, the engine gives you little controllable tank slappers that are equal parts terrifying and comfortable. For that reason, this car brings out the worst behaviour from you on a back road, so you’ve got to dial it back a bit and keep it sane every now and then. Third gear is a monster, it’s the one gear that does it all–punching out of corners, stretching out the legs on a long straight, you name it. It can still break traction in 3rd, mind you. As opposed to the ridiculously tall second gear in NA Porsches.

Just Why?

Things that nobody asked for: the extra chunky steering wheel, and the fake noise pumped in through the speakers–it’s tolerable but still too synthetic to my ears. And the seating position that’s still too high. The only other thing that lets the Competition down is the fact that you can’t turn off the auto rev matching unless traction control is off. Look, we’re not all Chris Harris, okay? There’s probably an easy ECU retune that can get rid of this annoyance.

Having said that, I have to heap praise over the traction control system for how much slip it allows before intervening and cutting power. It’s very much on the playful side, while keeping a watchful eye on novices like me trying to misbehave from the onset.

Above all, the M2 Competition is living proof that there are still enthusiasts among the ranks in BMW M who understand and love what the brand stands for. The M2 Competition is not just BMW’s best car of recent years; it’s the BMW that we know and love, and perhaps the best of M. This is, as the cliché goes, the one car to do it all (until the warranty expires).

E46 M3 – A Spiritual Predecessor

In complete contrast to the M2 Competition, I approached the E46 M3 with a weight of hype and expectation so high it could never live up to that. The legend surrounding it is that well-known.

They say you get the gist of a great car within the first few feet of driving it, and that held true for the E46. Twenty years on, the tautness and mechanical sensations of the controls and the engine haven’t dwindled in the slightest. The first exploratory dabs of the throttle are answered by delightful induction noises from up front. And as you climb up the rev range, the rush is sustained and the engine really comes alive. It pays to rev it out completely–both aurally and performance wise.

It is common sense to attribute the lineage of the M2 Competition to the much-revered 2002 Turbo, and the skunkworks special 1M. But I’d like to subscribe to the idea that the M2 is the new M3 in spirit. The dimensions, the coupe layout, the philosophy and the throwback to the old-school driving dynamics attest to this idea.

The Best of M

They’re both the ideal size for a BMW M3, easy to place on a back road, and mighty rewarding to drive. Even the final drive ratio of the M2 Competition (3.46) is a nod to the E46 M3, which is definitely not a coincidence. While they are the distillations of the best of BMW M, they’re also very different in the way they deliver that flavour. While the E46 flows in one seamless stream up the rev range, with a manic induction rasp at the top end, the M2 is much more of a sledgehammer. And both are plenty fast for today’s backroad blasting.

A Dilemma

I’ve been told it takes a while of living with the E46 to truly appreciate its greatness, which may not be revealed at your first tryst.

Which of the two would I take home? In an ideal world, I’d have both to cover the naturally aspirated and turbocharged bases. However, the fun factor of the M2 Competition makes it a tad more compelling to me from first impressions.

But then you have the finest styling on any modern BMW with the E46. Sigh. It’s an embarrassment to riches. Whichever you choose, just make sure you drive the wheels off it.

Words and photography by Vijay Sankar (@pink_helmet on Instagram)

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