As Speedhunters, we spend considerably more time shooting and talking to others about their cars, than driving them.
It’s not a major downside of the job or anything, but there does come a time when you want more than to just look at and appreciate someone else’s hard work
When you want to cast aside the thin veil of journalistic professionalism and indulge yourself with a frenzied assault on the nearest semi-interesting piece of road. This is especially true when it comes to cars that we may never get to drive otherwise. Or more so, when it comes to cars that we would love to build and own ourselves, but can’t quite get there just yet from a financial stand point.
Just a few weeks ago I got a phone call asking would I like to shoot a KW-equipped and lightly fettled BMW M2 on the winding roads around the Nürburgring. Of course I would, who wouldn’t?
When I enquired further as to the specifics of the shoot, I had to double check one detail in particular. “I’m sorry, did you say that I’m driving the M2?” The language might have been more colourful than this.
Actually, the language was definitely more colourful than that, but let’s keep this family friendly. It’s rare that a commission gets me really excited anymore, not out of lack of enthusiasm or anything, you just develop a cool-headed and methodical system for whatever you happen to be shooting.
But this one? Well, I knew this was going to be special.
I’m certain there was a point in the lead up to this moment where time stopped, such were my anticipation levels. It probably didn’t help that my flight was delayed on the runway for an hour due to high winds, or that my rental car was an absolute soul destroying piece of shit. However, all these things were irrelevant now. Walking out the front door with the keys in my hand, all I wanted to do was drive. I didn’t care where or why, I just wanted to drive.
I immediately realised that this was an awful plan of action, so diverted to the nearby – and quite famous – ED Tankstelle. This is the petrol station located directly beside Dottinger Höhe, the long straight away at the back of the Nordschleife.
Here, I took some time to formulate a plan of attack for the next 24 hours. You’re probably thinking ‘why don’t you just drive it on the Nordschleife, you dipsh*t’ but it wasn’t quite that simple. The North Loop was booked for private industry testing for the next two days, so I was confined to pretty much anywhere but the ‘Ring.
Moving away from the pumps and to the carpark adjacent the forecourt, I began to familiarise myself with the controls and menu systems of the M2. Using my awful German to navigate the various screens, I managed to change the system’s sprache to English. What I hadn’t allowed for, and this would become a regular occurrence for the duration of my time with the car, was how much attention the car would attract everywhere it went. Let’s find some privacy…
Around the exterior perimeter of the circuit, I found a quiet spot located not too far from the Nürburgring GP circuit. It allowed me the peace and quiet to start shooting some details and finally a chance to take the whole car in.
The M2 is very handsome from the factory. It has the exact right proportions of what an M car should have, and in my opinion is the best looking M coupe for quite some time. It’s short and muscular stance is akin to a modern E30 M3. This is probably the car that the current generation M3 should have been…
This isn’t a stock M2 either, as you’ve probably already guessed. The car belongs to German tuning house Versus Performance, which has developed this particular M2 as pretty much the perfect package for a driving enthusiast.
It’s not an obnoxious car with massive power numbers, it’s a car built to be exploited to its full potential.
On the street, the M2 wears 20-inch BBS CI-Rs with a 255 section front and 295 section rear tyre setup. For track, it runs on a smaller 18-inch wheel.
The brakes are stock save for what I believe to be an aftermarket pad upgrade.
Suspension wise, its running KW’s 3-way Clubsport coilover system. What separates a Clubsport from a competition coilover, is that the Clubsports have been dialled in and tested by KW on the same model of car, and are available off the shelf, where a competition setup is generally completely bespoke.
It’s a stiff setup, but in no way does it detrimentally affect the ride of the car. It’s a pleasure to drive on.
Exterior modifications have been kept relatively subtle and wholly performance orientated.
Versus Performance crafted its own carbon fibre front splitter and rear wing for the project, which gives the M2 a look akin to that of the previous generation E92 M3 GTS. No bad thing at all.
Power has been bumped too. Again Versus Performance developed its own Stage II setup which brings the car to 425hp, 650Nm, and removal of the factory speed limiter. Top speed is now 305km/h.
That’s not to forget Versus’ own downpipe mated to a glorious sounding Akrapovič Titan Evolution exhaust system.
It’s not really a car that’s about one thing over another, it’s a car that’s very much about bringing the best bits together to work in harmony.
After spending a while acquainting myself with the car, along with readjusting to driving a LHD car, I headed to Brunnchen for a quick break and to check out some of the new cars testing on the Nordschleife.
Audi RS3 sedan anyone? It’s not as exciting as you’d think, it’s a whole lot of waiting around for a car in camouflage to coming blistering past. In fact, it was only a few minutes before I felt the allure of the M2 calling again.
The Driving Experience
I don’t proclaim myself to be anything more than a photographer who happens to write on occasion, and an average driver. I’ve been humbled one too many times in the passenger seat of a car to even consider raising my status as anything above average. In this rare instance though, I’m going to make an attempt to talk you through the process of driving this perfectly tuned car.
You start by dropping into what I would consider a pretty good seat. It’s not the greatest as it lacks some support from the side, but for a daily driver it’s more than adequate. You can leave the key in your pocket before depressing the brake pedal and thumbing the ‘Start’ button. From a cold start, there’s a blip from the engine as it comes to life before settling into a steady idle.
What does it sound like when warmed up? I’ll let you listen for yourself, but I’m a particular fan of the pops and crackles as the revs retard.
Very few manufacturers can rival BMW for interior quality; the quality and feel of the materials is second to none.
The thought that has gone into laying out the cabin is pretty special too, right down to a stitched leather pad to rest your right knee against under heavy cornering.
Aside from the cluster binnacle, you have a large display in the centre of the dashboard which is controlled via the iDrive system. This can be used to display everything from navigation to power meters.
There’s a small LED display beneath the gauges too, which is home to a simpler set of menus. It’s also displays your current vehicle mode. For this drive, we’re sticking to Sport mode with traction and stability control systems on. Hey, I’m not prepared to stick someones pride and joy into a hedge for the sake of bravado.
There’s also this little device here which resided in the cup holder. I couldn’t figure out what it done for the first few hours so I left it be. It was only in the evening that I discovered a quick double tap of the button would illuminate a pulsing red ring. That’s not the important bit, what’s important is that when the red ring is glowing, the Akrapovič system is fully open. When you can hear the turbocharger boosting through the exhaust system at low revs, you know your exhaust is loud enough.
With a system like this in place, you can enjoy peace and quiet one moment and a sound from the Bavarian gods the next. Nothing I’ve driven has ever sounded quite as good as this.
Three litres, six cylinders with a single turbocharger and four hundred and twenty five horsepower. Things were about to get loud in the Eifel.
This M2 is a DCT car, that is, it runs a dual clutch transmission. I’m typically a fan of dual clutches – my own GTI is DSG – but I would have preferred a manual in this car. I just didn’t get along with the DCT, pulling a gear to get no response followed by a delayed shift or delayed double shift only served to interrupt the rhythm of the drive. However, the auto-blips on downshifts were absolutely glorious. Maybe I just needed more time to acquaint myself with the transmission, or similarly, the car needed more time to adjust to my driving style.
Power delivery was nothing short of addictive. You could drop another gear to eradicate lag, but I found great joy in allowing the boost to build and riding its surge to the rev limiter in a higher gear. It could comfortably light up the rears in third gear, but it never felt like it was going to propel me into the scenery.
What impressed me the most though was how sharp the car felt, without ever feeling twitchy or nervous. There was no play worth talking about over centre in the steering, but I never found myself constantly making corrections to keep the car pointed in the right direction. The 255-wide front tyres added a nice amount of weight and feel to the steering, along with all the front end grip you would ever need on the road.
I ran KW Variant 1s in my previous E90, so I always expect good things with regards to KW suspension. For absolute clarity, I bought my Variant 1s with my own money, as my own choice before I ever ran a project car on here, so I’m not just being nice to a site sponsor.
The M2, as I said previously, was fitted with KW’s 3-way adjustable Clubsport coilovers. For a car that was on 20-inch wheels, I never would have believed it was on coilovers. Any harshness in the ride was due to the low profile tyre, but even that was minimal.
However, Versus Performance configured the Clubsports on this car, with regards to rebound and compression damping, and it’s absolutely dialled in.
If anything, the car was probably a little too good in this regard; it certainly had more grip and agility than I have talent. That might seem like a strange thing to say, but the speed required to unsettle this car on the public road isn’t worth even thinking about doing.
Where a lesser car will give a little wiggle and cry ‘enough!’ at relatively low speeds, this M2 will continue to goad you further and further into its abilities until you realise you’re completely out of your depth and you’ve no chance of making it back to shore in one piece.
On the other hand, for a modern car in the digital era, it feels very much analog. DCT aside, you’re never in doubt as to what’s happening. When you apply speed, you might not be able to comprehend what’s happening in real time, but the car is still communicating at all times. It’s just up to the driver to listen.
The Long Goodbye
This is probably the best car I’ve ever driven. Or at the very least, I’ve come away feeling like I had so much more to learn about the car.
Parking the car before returning it the next day, I felt a strange sort of emotion that I haven’t felt for a long time. Actually, the only way I can come close to describing it is as the feeling you get when you get out of your pride and joy for the last time, before handing it over to its new owner. It’s a mix of regret, remorse and a little bit of fear of the unknown.
I’m not typically won over this easily by a car, but if I was feeling like this after 24 hours, it’s surely a sign that this car, for me at least, is doing all the right things.
Even parked amongst a plethora of other ‘Ring specials, the M2 was the only car that I still lusted after. I think this is in part due to that it could almost be a realistic option in the future. It’s not a GT3 and as such isn’t priced like a GT3, but with some sensible modifications it can surely deliver every bit as much enjoyment as one.
This is a proper driver’s car along with being something that you could live with everyday. When I read others’ reviews of the stock M2, I can’t help but think that maybe this is the M2 that BMW should have offered, never mind the fact this is the car the M3 should have been in the first place. Regardless of badging, it exists now and more than anything, I want one. Scratch that, I need one.