The BMW 1M/M2

The BMW 1M/M2

Back in the early 2010’s, there was an ugly little duckling called the BMW 1-Series M Coupe, and this story is about how it became a beautiful swan called the M2 CS…

M badge

Okay, so there’s a little poetic licence there, but you’ll see why. BMW released the e81 1-Series in 2004 as a 3- and 5-door hatchback to the VW Golf. It stood out in the market for a couple of reasons, predominantly the fact that it was rear wheel drive and that it was available shortly after launch with a six-cylinder engine in the 125i. This gave a little bit of a premium feel to a medium sized hatchback and it worked wonders for BMW, proving hugely popular in the market, if never reaching Golf levels of success. The six-cylinder engine was launched alongside a new bodystyle – the 1-Series Coupe, which was a slightly clumsy looking thing with almost a saloon style boot and the familiar front end which was far from attractive. Then, in 2011 BMW M stepped up and created the 1-Series M Coupe, colloquially known as the 1M.

Now, being an M version of the 1-Series, this should have logically been called the M1 to fit in with the M3, M5 etc but thanks to the existence of the 70’s supercar with the same name it was called the 1-Series M Coupe. As that’s a bit of mouthful this car has since become simply the 1M and that’s how it shall be referred, mainly as it’s far cooler. The 1M was far from a parts-bin or half-job by BMW though, even if the engine drew criticism. Sure, it used a few choice parts from other models but they all came together to make something very special indeed.

To start with the engine was borrowed from the Z4 35iS – a 3.0 litre twin-turbo straight six producing 340hp and 450Nm which is a good amount, but M afficionados sneered as it wasn’t a pure M unit. It did however get some parts from the e92 M3, namely the rear suspension, axle, differential and brakes. This required the rear track to be increased by 44mm and the front by a massive 71mm compared to the 135i, which in turn meant the 1M got some fat arches. The front and rear were properly swollen and gave the 1M a really squat stance – and impressive handling because of it. It was only available in  three colours – Alpine White, Sapphire Black and the best of all – Valencia Orange, while the wheels were taken from the M3 CSL, some of the most beautiful wheels to ever grace a car. With the 6-spd manual gearbox and that rear wheel drive, short wheelbase handling the 1M was an absolute riot to drive, but at £50,000 was incredibly expensive. Only 450 RHD 1Ms were made, making it pretty rare. But how do you follow on such a popular car? Well, you start with a new name and a whole lot more style – the M2.

BMW M2 1

With the replacement for the original 1-Series, BMW stuck to the same formula – a small, RWD hatchback with a range of 4- and 6-cylinder engines. But instead of going down the route of the 1-Series coupe again, this time it got a new name – the 2-Series – and though once again there were very highly regarded six-cylinder versions with the M235i there was always the desire among petrolheads for a full-fat M version. Not least because the styling of the 2-Series was really very attractive, a similar booted coupe style but with a much sleeker front end than before and even the base 218i had nicely swollen wheelarches. But that was nothing compared to the car that came to answer M fans’ prayers.

With a similar visual formula to the 1M, the M2 featured a wider track of 55mm front and 80mm rear, which gave swollen arches and a squat look that really signalled its intent. With a deep front bumper featuring three large intakes and brake cooling channels it certainly looks aggressive, but with the sleek headlights and the 19-inch wheels sitting in the arches it has a stance that really is ‘just right’. One of the best views has to be the rear three-quarter, showing off the massive rear arches, subtle bootlid lip spoiler and the quad exhaust tips, set slightly inboard as they always are on M cars. 

There were some choice colours on the M2, but Long Beach blue was the one to have as it really showed off all the bulges and swooping lines. The interior was a step up from the 1M too, with all the latest tech and a clean, driver-focused style that was perfect for an M product. The seats were also of note, essentially bucket items but still heated and electrically adjustable.

BMW M2 drift

But to a lot of people all that mattered not one bit. The M2 had one job – to drive like a proper M car and boy did it deliver. Power was from another turbocharged straight-six engine, but this time with a single turbo making 365hp and 465Nm of torque – though this was increased to 500Nm on overboost. With the relatively light body, performance was great but not electrifying, though this car was more about what happens when you got to the twisty bits. You could have the M2 with a six-speed manual gearbox featuring automatic downshift throttle-blipping to make you feel like a driving hero, or for the first time a seven-speed DCT dual clutch gearbox – which chopped 0.2 seconds off the manual’s 0-62mph time making it 4.3 seconds.

The handling is what really set the M2 apart, with a keenness to oversteer but in a progressive and controllable manner, meaning the car could be steered on the throttle and when threading a set of corners together you enter a driving nirvana rarely seen these days. Okay, that may be an exaggeration but the M2 really was a revelation when the M4 was getting larger and ever more powerful – the small footprint meant that you’re never worried about the size on our diminutive roads. It wasn’t the fastest thing though, but BMW listened and had an answer to that in 2018 – the M2 Competition.

BMW M2 Comp

Visually you could be forgiven for thinking the M2 Competition hadn’t really changed much. A slightly reprofiled front bumper lip, wider kidney grilles in black, some different wheels and a weird silver box hanging down below the rear bumper like a baby with a full nappy. But under the skin there were a huge number of changes, not least of which being an entirely new engine. The outright power of the old N55 motor was always criticised, when rivals like the Audi TT-RS had 400hp, so for the M2 Competition BMW decided to install the S55 3.0 litre twin turbocharged engine from the M4, slightly detuned but still producing an impressive 405hp and 550Nm. 

The M2 Competition essentially took the engine and cooling system (modified to fit in the M2 engine bay), along with the electronic limited slip differential from the M4 Competition, which could have also sounded amazing like the N55 did. But it was unfortunately timed with the introduction of gas particulate filters for emissions regulations, which meant a huge metal box was basically strapped onto the exhaust meaning it hangs below the bumper and really stands out. This has simply encouraged more people to get aftermarket exhausts though. The M2 Competition also brought with it larger brakes, another criticism of the previous M2. It basically answered all the criticisms levelled at the M2 and created what is widely regarded as one of the best ever BMW M cars. Well, until they wanted a run-out model of course, step forward the M2 CS.

 Following BMW M’s new naming strategy of std, Competition and then CS at the top, the M2 CS was touted as being the ultimate M2 of the F87 model range, ostensibly meant to be a track-focused version, but in reality it is set up as an incredible fast road sports car. The power was upped to match the M4 Competition at 444hp which dropped the 0-62mph time to 4.0 seconds in the manual and 3.8 seconds in the DCT. You could get ceramic brakes as an option for the first time which massively improved braking at a substantial cost, but there were also a range of weight-saving carbon fibre parts including the bonnet, roof and spoiler. 

A new active exhaust improved the sound, with a titanium Akrapovic system available as a dealer-fit option which sounded amazing and improved the rear end look substantially. There was a serious visual overhaul to help the CS stand out too, with a carbon fibre front splitter, a carbon bonnet with a central vent like on the M4 CS, a carbon lip spoiler for the rear and some gorgeous lightweight alloy wheels that could be had in a lovely gold finish. The roof being carbon, on the launch blue colour with those wheels, all tied in and gave the CS the kind of presence you only see with supercars costing twice as much. And to say the handling was improved would be an understatement – the M2 CS won group tests, car of the year panels and plaudits all over the world. 

One issue with the CS was the price – over £20,000 more than the M2 Competition at £75,320 and you could add £6,000 for the ceramic brakes and another £6,000 for the exhaust. But for the finest handling and most desirable M car of the century? A bargain.

Now there’s an all-new 2-Series though, and we are told that mid-2022 will see the reveal of the all-new M2 Competition. Bring it on.