I am following ex-F1 driver Timo Glock, in the new BMW M2 around the Laguna Seca racetrack in California. He’s fast. His name sticks in my mind as the F1 driver who Lewis Hamilton needed to pass, in the last race of 2008, in order to win the world championship for the first time. Hamilton did it on the final corner of the final lap. There was much nail-biting and, in the Ferrari camp, gnashing of teeth.
Thing is, Timo (for we are now on first-name terms) can drive many times faster than me with one hand on the wheel and the other holding a walkie talkie. He was calling race lines, when to brake and when to accelerate. I thought I was doing at least OK, until I ran out of talent, grappled with a huge tail-out slide and then nudged a tyre wall. I like to think the final impact was quite gentle, but bent panels sort of disproved this.
The M2 is BMW’s small coupe, what once would have been the 1 Series M Coupe. The M part of it, as you will all know, represents the pinnacle of road-going BMW performance. Just don’t think of it as a junior M3. The M2 is much more significant than that.
The twin-turbo, three-litre, six-cylinder engine produces 370hp, coincidentally the same as the latest Porsche 911. Performance is virtually identical, too: 0-62mph reached in 4.5 seconds, a touch quicker if you opt for the paddle-shifting auto ’box. Which means the M2 is blisteringly quick, right through the rev range, and all to the sound of an appropriately tuneful exhaust.
With every new performance car like the M2, there’s always the fear that the health and safety boys will finally hold up their hands and say “that’s enough”. Yet BMW has been inventive. It limits the top speed to a mere 155mph, unless you are deliberately wicked and specify the M Driver’s Package, which releases another 13mph.
The traction control system prevents wheelspin. Quite right, too - we wouldn’t want frighten the horses. Except there is the imaginatively named Smoky Burnout Function that “invites the driver to indulge in a degree of wheelspin at low speeds”. I wonder how long the lawyers took to come up with that.
Then there’s what, with a twist in the tail, turned out to be my downfall. Traction control stops the wheels spinning, but BMW has systems that are far more sophisticated. In corners, it will make rapid judgments about your speed, angle and grip and then, imperceptibly, apply the brakes at individual wheels to correct the car’s attitude if you are going too fast.
It’s smart, safe and, some might say, a bit nannying. So there’s a Sport setting that eases back on this and Sport Plus, which lets you imagine you are sliding through the corners with the skill of, say, Timo Glock, but with a safety net still in place. And then, you can switch the whole shebang off. Which is what I did. No safety net whatsoever. Idiot.
Move onto the road and the tighter dimensions and extra attitude make the M2 even more of a driver’s machine than the bigger M3 and M4. Yet it’s docile enough when you need it, rides well, seats four and has a good boot. The BMW M2 even makes some kind of financial sense, with its depreciation likely to be as good as it gets. You always knew this racy BMW would finally make sense on one level or another.