THERE’S NO ‘M’ IN ‘TRACK’, BUT BMW FIXED THAT BY SAMPLING THE LATEST M CAR MINI HERO, THE M2, ON THE FAMOUS HUNGARORING
The Hungaroring is a bit crumbly at the edges, but given that it’s 30 years old and built from Soviet spec concrete, it’s still an impressive place.
The track complex was purpose-built in 1986 by the Central European nation’s then-Communist government to stage the first Formula 1 race held behind the Iron Curtain.
It’s a fun circuit despite the abrasive track; 4.4km long, with fast corners aplenty and decent changes in elevation. It’s narrow though; an old-school circuit without the vast runoffs that feature on many newer tracks.
Schumacher holds the lap record here (1:19.071, achieved in 2002) and a handful of its 16 turns are named after drivers, including Mansell and Alesi. It’s the place where Felipe Massa was struck in the face through his helmet visor by a suspension widget from a proceeding car in 2009, resulting in one of the narrowest escapes to serious long-term injury a driver has had in recent years.
Bernie’s circus is about to descend again, too, as this year’s Hungarian Grand Prix looms.
Today, though, there’s a DTM focus rather than F1. It’s not so much about open-wheelers as tin-tops. Well, a coupe in particular – the BMW M2.
We’ve already spent some time with BMW’s new baby M car in New Zealand, but an invitation to try the pocket-rocket on a challenging circuit in the middle of sizzling hot Central European plains wasn’t one to turn down.
More than showcase the impressive dynamic ability of the M2, today’s drive experience also underlined the point-and-shoot predictability of BMW’s engineering efforts. This impressive M machine delivered again and again as DTM drivers first guided us through timed runs around sections of the track and then slammed the cars through lap after lap of torturous taxi rides in 37C heat.
As Jorg Bartels from BMW’s M Division head office told me plain-and-simple, “This car is designed from the outset to be the complete package. There are no extra options needed; no extra dynamic additions to be made because this does everything an enthusiast needs it to do.”
The M2 can effectively trace its lineage back to the much-lauded 2002 Turbo of 1973. In more recent terms, it replaces the 1M Coupe in the brand’s M performance range. Just a couple of months on from launch it has become a sales hero for BMW; no surprise as, what with its stripped-back nature and impressively low price point (it’s $114,900 in New Zealand), that’s exactly what it was designed to be.
Around the same size dimensionally as the original E30 M3, the M2 hits a fair few sweet spots. Based around the BMW M235i coupe bodyshell, the M2 is no dress-up. This is a genuine M car featuring mechanical elements pilfered straight from the big-brother M3 sedan/M4 coupe combo.
The car’s aluminium axles, suspension and electronically controlled Active M differential is taken straight out of the M3/M4. The M2 also has a ‘proper’ M gearbox; a seven-speed M Double Clutch Transmission (M DCT). The M2’s newly developed Twin Power twin turbo six-cylinder pushes out 272kW and 465Nm torque and accelerates from 0 to 100km/h in just 4.3 seconds. Top speed is electronically limited to 250km/h. Just like the M4 coupe, the baby M also features two oil pumps so oil pressure remains consistent regardless of how much g-force the car is encountering; more proof of the track-day bias that has been top-of-mind at every turn in this model’s manufacturing process.
Speaking of turns, there are 16 awaiting the arrival of a hornet’s nest of angry blue M2s and I’m supposed to be out there steering one of them. Though I boast a level of seasoned track talent a DTM driver’s family dog would probably be ashamed of, the M2 still provides for unmitigated fun.
Its squeeze-and-go throttle pushes you forward in a wonderfully measured manner; it’s all smooth-smooth-smooth and then you look down briefly and you’re doing 150km/h. Actually, with BMW’s army of track-day supervisors keeping everyone on the straight and narrow, there are coned-off chicanes aplenty, so average speeds aren’t what the unabridged version of the Hungaroring would usually afford.
Still, taking into account the dynamic abilities of the M Servotronic steering system — electric, but with such a precise and positive mechanical feel you’d assume otherwise — this is one instance where the presence of cones is welcomed.
If you’re clever and brave, the car’s M Dynamic Mode stability program allows for controlled drifting in such an easy, almost lazy manner; the car feels like it’s thumbing its sharply creased nose at physics in every turn. With this flattering software working in concert with the M2’s clever mechanicals – optimised by fantastic balance and a pleasing power-to-weight equation – a half day at the track will have you sliding your M2 with all the (computer controlled) skills of a seasoned wheelman.
Flicking down through the DCT gearbox’s cogs rewards the senses with lovely crackles and pops. Roll cages and Nomex suits would complete the feel, but the M2 gives the lucky driver an effortless race car experience; and then you turn off the track and drive it home again. What a special M indeed.
We had another couple of M cars to sample while at the Hungaroring too, in the form of the M3 sedan and M4 coupe Competition pack models.
Despite the Competition pack’s forged 20-inch star-spoke M light alloy wheels being the best shiny discs I have seen on an M car lately, this $7000 upgrade is more than a cosmetic exercise.
Power from the straight six twin turbos increases to 331kW (a 14kW improvement), which in tandem improves each of the dynamic duo’s 0-100km/h time by 0.1 seconds.
As these editions of the iconic two- and four-door M cars are specifically pushed towards track day aficionados, that 0.1 second improvement could be all the difference between race day glory and a rueful drive home.
The M3/M4 Competition editions also feature a raft of bespoke Dynamic Stability Control, Active M Differential and Adaptive M Suspension settings. Translated to the road? Firm. Very firm.
But you’re not buying either of these cars to transport your pottery collection from craft fair to craft fair, so what does it matter? On the track the feedback the Competition set-up affords means the circuit beneath the rubber is as easy to read as a Janet and John book.
Inside there are special trim additions such as lightweight M leather seats and special seatbelts. Outside, the signature BMW kidney grille features a black high-gloss finish, as do the side gills and exhaust pipes at the rear.
That sports exhaust system really makes a difference to the driving experience too, amplifying the guttural acoustics of the bigger M cars rather wonderfully. The BMW M3 and M4 Competition editions are on sale now.