“F*ck, this car is good,” I’m thinking to myself as I’m sitting in the driver’s seat powering through some decent roads outside NYC. The new BMW M2 is the BMW that should make most fans of the brand excited — a high-performance sports sedan that is attainable, good-looking and supremely fun to drive. The M2 is the crown jewel of the modern BMW lineup in the way it packages performance with relative simplicity; a reason that made BMW the recognized brand it is today, especially when it comes to the high-performance M models.
With short overhangs and a beefy body kit, the M2 looks like a DTM race car from the factory, making it one of the most visually provocative M cars ever. It doesn’t get by with subtlety. The M2 gets powered by the N55 engine (the same one in the 335i and also 740i), but BMW has added improved internal components to make it vastly superior and give it an improved 365 horsepower. It provides a huge difference in noise with the ability to rev repeatedly, which the same variations in other BMWs simply cannot match. And with the standard 6-speed manual gearbox, you’ll find yourself bombing around town in second gear just to hear the crackle from the exhaust. However, it’s still no match for the awesome way a naturally-aspirated BMW motor feels and sounds.
The interior is typical BMW — though it feels more spartan than other models — with iDrive and cleanly laid out instruments. We weren’t feeling the carbon fiber trim, which feels plastic and looks a bit cheesy. Suede touches on the interior, and shift boot if you opt for the manual, will probably degrade after a few years. In the end it’s fine though, as this isn’t supposed to be purely luxury. This is a sports car in raw form.
Though this modern interpretation of a small sports car is excellent, what made the ones that came before it so unique? During our time driving the new M2, we thought about how the driving dynamics of BMW’s M division have changed over the years, but we also pondered about what has stayed constant: handling, power and predictability that make them all so exciting to drive in their own ways. We tallied some of our favorite Ms below (with the exception of the other M3s, since we already covered them here) and some of the more unique M versions as well.
1 M Coupe (E82)
BMW only brought 740 units of the 1 Series M Coupe to the U.S. in 2011, which means it’s become a collector’s item only five years later—the 1 Ms that are up for sale now are going for more money than they were in 2011. With 335 horsepower and equal amounts torque, the spritely little 1 Series is a buffed out version of the regular 1 but polished by BMW’s engineers. This was the answer to the BMW crowd’s wish for a smaller, more nimble car, albeit one that only lasted one year. They would have to wait until the M2 arrived for another answer.
The more aggressive and higher production M2 is low, mean and wide. It’s an evolution of the 1 M and at a $51k base price, a lot more attainable than the current M3/M4. While it comes with a dual-clutch transmission, you’re going to want to opt for the manual because this car shines with it, allowing you to bomb around town hearing the exhaust crackle and backfire. This is a BMW where the M badge seems appropriate in every aspect.
Z3 M Coupe (E36)
The E36/8 M Coupe, aka the Z3M, or affectionately known as the “Clown Shoe,” is one of those rare cars that are almost ugly in how great they look. Powered by the same inline-six motor as the regular E36 M3, the M Coupe was just as nimble and quick as the M sedan, but carried more uniqueness to it in a shooting-brake design from BMW. However, in 2001, the more powerful S54 motor was introduced from the E46, making the car even more potent. Fairly uncommon, the M Coupe production numbers are low for North America with a little less than 3,000 brought over.
M3 (F80) / M4 (F82)
With the new F80 M3 and F82 M4 being broken down into two distinct product lines, they tend to take on their own persona. The M3 is the four-door sedan suited for daily drivability and carting around passengers, where the M4 is the coupe made to impress your neighbors. Both are powerful, fast, and agile but they don’t have the same smallness to them as the M2. If you were going to get something for the weekends, the M2 would be hard to pass up.
Hands down, one of the greatest motors ever equipped into a production car, the S85 V10 of the 2005-2010 M5 (and its two-door coupe brother the M6) revved to a redline of 8,250 rpm and could be equipped with a 6-speed manual transmission. Now, with emissions tighter than ever, you’d be hard-pressed to find a car as raw as this M, let alone any supercar. Though the design isn’t as sexy as the rest of the Ms, there’s an aggressive quality to the E60 that still makes it super desirable. However, be weary that maintenance on an incredibly high-strung V10 won’t come cheap.
X5M (F85) / X6M (F86)
Even though these are SUVs, and some would say sacrilegious to be called an M, they still rip with the brutal nature of a supercar. With twin-turbo V8s and all-wheel drive, 0-60 mph happens in about 4.0 seconds, while at the same time allowing these behemoths to out handle physics and carry a payload. These SUVs helped to start the big-bodied craze that is now rampant among the automotive industry and without their success, the other Ms in production might not have happened.
ALPINA B7 (G12)
Technically BMW doesn’t make an M7, but tuning firm Alpina (who is not owned by BMW, but works closely with them) makes the B7, which can be most certainly considered an M automobile. Alpina takes the 7 Series sedan and finesses it with a 600 horsepower twin-turbo V8 making it the most powerful BMW you can buy. Subtle exterior modifications and an impressive interior means this is one of the fastest and most luxurious cars you can buy in the world.