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2019 BMW M2 Competition Is Quickest with a Manual Gearbox

Car and Driver logo Car and Driver 4 days ago David Beard, Joey Capparella

a train driving down the street: BMW could have spent wads of cash revising the previous turbocharged N55 inline-six to meet tighter emissions standards. Instead, it snatched a powerplant already in the arsenal, the potent S55 twin-turbo inline-six from the M4.
This story has been updated with test results for both manual and automatic transmissions.

Carved into the mountains of southern Spain, east of the historic city of Ronda, resides the fast and technical 3.4-mile Circuito Ascari. The racetrack flows smoothly yet is mentally demanding. Linking the chicanes and off-camber sections of its 26 corners requires a sniper's patience and precision. The straights aren't so straight and necessitate convincing the brain to go full send. Ascari is a driver's track, and a course this pure requires a vehicle equal in execution. It’s here that we first sampled the 2019 BMW M2 Competition, which supersedes the regular M2 and comes armed with more of everything.

Research the BMW M2 Coupe on MSN Autos

a car driving on a city street: BMW's M2 has evolved into the M2 Competition for 2019, with myriad enhancements, including a new engine boasting more power.© Chris Doane Automotive - Car and Driver BMW's M2 has evolved into the M2 Competition for 2019, with myriad enhancements, including a new engine boasting more power.

New Turbocharged Engine

BMW could have spent wads of cash revising the previous turbocharged N55 inline-six to meet tighter emissions standards. Instead, it snatched a powerplant already in the arsenal, the potent S55 twin-turbo inline-six from the M4. In deference to the M hierarchy, boost is reduced in the M2's version, lowering the output from 425 horsepower to 405. Torque, however, is undiminished at 406 lb-ft.

Dialing back the S55's power doesn't just preserve the M family pecking order; it also addresses a cooling issue. Although the M2 Competition’s fascia is revised and the cooling system is derived from that of the M4 Competition, the smaller car doesn't flow as much air through its front end, and less airflow means less cooling. But even detuned to 405 horsepower, the S55's output represents a substantial increase over the outgoing M2's 365 horses and 369 lb-ft. The M2 Competition rockets down the straights, and the sweet inline-six barks through a new exhaust system, pulling strongly all the way to the redline.

a car driving on a city street: 2019 BMW M2 Competition© Chris Doane Automotive - Car and Driver 2019 BMW M2 Competition

It’ll Drift If You Want

Assisting with deployment of the newfound power is BMW's Active M rear differential. The electronically controlled limited-slip rear diff controls the locking effect to smoothly distribute torque across the rear axle in all corners, no matter how wide or sharp. The unit has been fine-tuned to work methodically with the new M Dynamic mode, in which the stability-control intervention is dialed back to be less intrusive, but it remains present should things get out of hand. We found the limits to be well within reason, as the pocket-size M2 allows more throttle application during corner exit, carrying graceful slides while at the same time powering out of corners like no M2 has done before.

Thankfully, a six-speed manual remains the standard gearbox. The shifter travels through the gates with precision, even though it retains that characteristic BMW slight rubberiness in its motions. The clutch takeup is spot on, and the transmission automatically rev matches on downshifts. Disabling the rev-matching system requires the complete commitment of also fully deactivating the stability control, but the pedals are spaced perfectly for heel-and-toe downshifts. The other transmission choice is BMW’s quick-shifting seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, a $2900 option. Launch control is specific to the automatic, which also now incorporates BMW's three-mode Drivelogic, allowing adjustability of the transmission's shift programming at the push of a button.

At our test track in Michigan, the adjustable and finicky launch control made it difficult to put the additional power to the ground through the same Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires from the previous M2. The M2 Competition with the optional DCT automatic transmission we tested couldn't improve on its predecessor's zero-to-60-mph time of 4.0 seconds flat and barely beat it in the quarter-mile, returning a 12.4-second pass at 116 mph, improvements of 0.1 second and 3 mph.

a bag of luggage: 2019 BMW M2 Competition© Michael Simari - Car and Driver 2019 BMW M2 Competition

Although the dual-clutch saw minimal gains, it’s the six-speed manual that most impressed us. The manual gearbox enables better control of the explosive torque off the line and requires a single-albeit crunchy-shift to reach 60 mph, conquering the feat in 3.9 seconds. Yes, the manual is quicker than the automatic (applause!) even if just barely. It also bests the previous M2 equipped with the manual by 0.3 second to 60 mph and in the quarter-mile, crossing the line in 12.4 seconds.

The brakes fill nearly every bit of real estate within the new forged 19-inch wheels. The massive iron rotors-15.7 inches in front and 15.0 in the rear-are clamped by six-piston fixed calipers in the front and four-piston fixed calipers in the rear. Even after a day of track abuse, the brake pedal remained firm and the modulation linear. We measured the automatic’s stopping distance from 70 mph at 155 feet. The lighter, manual-equipped M2 Competition came to a halt in 151 feet.

BMW says the suspension calibration is unchanged from the previous non-Competition M2, and it still delivers a firm ride. But after experiencing the M2 Competition on pockmarked Michigan roads, we wonder if there might be some slight retuning at play. The new car doesn't have the same impact harshness we remember from our long-term example, and it bounces around less on bumpy corners. We enjoyed the M2 Competition so much on our particularly challenging 10Best loop that it earned back its spot on our 10Best Cars roster for 2019 after dropping off the list the previous year.

a red car: 2019 BMW M2 Competition© Chris Doane Automotive - Car and Driver 2019 BMW M2 Competition

At the limit, lateral grip remains abundant at 0.99 g for the DCT, 1.00 g for the manual, and understeer is easily countered with the throttle. For those seeking more grip, track-friendly M2-spec Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 rubber will be available from the BMW accessories catalog or through aftermarket suppliers. Through the twists and turns of Puerto del Viento, a public road near the racetrack in Spain, the chassis feels more eager to turn in than was the previous M2, in part due to the new carbon-fiber front strut-tower brace, which is another item plucked from the M4. BMW has recalibrated the electrically assisted power steering to play better with the fortified front structure. Unfortunately, any feel from the surface below is still absent.

M Logos Everywhere

The cockpit is decked out with even more M2 logos, including on the doorsills and illuminated in the seatbacks of the new and more supportive M Sport buckets. The seatbelts are embroidered with tricolor M stripes, and there’s a red engine-start button. There’s also a new steering wheel with two programmable buttons that can be set to toggle quickly among driving modes. On the outside, new side mirrors, black kidney grilles and badges, and redesigned fascias distinguish the M2 Competition from the former M2.

Sticking to the purist theme, the list of available options is minimal. A sunroof can be had for $1050, and the Executive package adds a heated steering wheel, full LED headlights with automatic high-beams, wireless device charging, and a Wi-Fi hotspot for an additional $1200. The $2500 M Driver's package raises the top speed to 174 mph and buys a ticket to a course at BMW’s performance driving school.

a close up of a car: 2019 BMW M2 Competition© Michael Simari - Car and Driver 2019 BMW M2 Competition

Starting at $59,895 and on sale now, the 2019 M2 Competition represents a $4400 premium over the 2018 M2. Our DCT test car stickered at $64,545 with the Executive package, the automatic transmission, and the eye-catching extra-cost Sunset Orange Metallic color. On our manual-equipped test car, the aforementioned M Driver’s package cut into the $2900 savings for shifting yourself, driving the price to $61,145 or only $400 less than the automatic. Given all the hardware, equipment, and performance bundled into this refreshed bite-size coupe, the upcharge seems worth it.

The Competition model’s performance gains may be marginal, but if you look beyond the numbers, the M2 remains the most exciting vehicle from a driver-involvement standpoint within the BMW lineup. Atop that, knowing that a manual transmission can still be quicker than an automatic makes this a BMW worth celebrating.

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