The BMW M2 is the smallest full-fat M car on sale, and it’s been given a new lease of life with a host of upgrades for this even more driver-focused M2 Competition version. It addresses some criticism of the standard car and replaces it in the range.
But have the changes been successful? In order to find out, we’ve brought along the M2’s core rival, the Audi RS 3 Saloon, for this head-to-head test.
This compact but practical performance machine has an extra pair of doors, but it’s close in concept to the M2 Competition. So which of these high-performance machines is the better driver’s car?
|Model:||BMW M2 Competition||Audi RS 3 Saloon|
|Engine:||3.0-litre 6cyl turbocharged petrol||2.5-litre 5cyl turbocharged petrol|
|Transmission:||Seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, rear-wheel drive||Seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, four-wheel drive|
|0-60mph:||4.4 seconds||3.8 seconds|
|Options:||M2 Comfort Pack (£1,800), M2 Plus Pack (£1,800), heated steering wheel (£160), M Sport brakes (£1,350)||Viper green solid paint (£2,400), Gloss Black styling pack (£800), Matrix LED headlights (£895), privacy glass (£375), Comfort and Sound pack (£995), RS sport exhaust (£1,000), electric front seats (£650), lumbar support (£250), wireless phone charger (£325)|
BMW M2 Competition
For: Engaging handling, ballistic engine, manual gearbox option
Against: Pricey, not as practical as the Audi RS
Even next to the already pumped-up standard car, the M2 Competition looks very aggressive. A new front bumper and grille, plus extra gloss black trim, have seen to that.
The styling tweaks are functional, too. The larger intakes aid cooling, necessary due to the upgraded version of the M3 and M4’s 3.0-litre six-cylinder twin-turbo engine that produces an incredible 404bhp and 550Nm of torque. The torque figure, in particular, is huge for a small car – the Audi has ‘only’ 480Nm.
Other tweaks for the Competition include extra body and chassis strengthening, uprated brakes and a re-tune for the electronically controlled limited-slip differential. Lightweight aluminium suspension parts from the M4 have been carried over, while the dampers are now fixed-rate passive units, so the changes over the standard M2 are greater than you might think.
In our track tests the BMW took 4.4 seconds to sprint from 0-60mph, which was only four-tenths behind the four-wheel-drive Audi RS 3 Saloon’s astonishing 3.8-second time. That deficit is down to the Audi’s clever launch control system and four-wheel drive, which deliver a perfect start every time. The BMW is keener to spin up its rear wheels, but it does have launch control as well.
However, the M2 took 3.4 seconds to go from 30-70mph through the gears, only four-tenths of a second behind the RS 3. Plus, in third and fourth the BMW took 2.1 and 3.2 seconds respectively to go from 30-50mph, which was identical to its rival here. The BMW was also quicker in fifth and sixth gear from 50-70mph.
The BMW’s performance is astonishing at high speed. The 3.0-litre engine is muscular at low revs, but has a fierce top end and despite not sounding as good as the RS 3’s five-cylinder unit, it’s just as effective. But long gearing means hitting the redline is only really possible on the track.
But the M2 Competition is still a winner for enthusiasts. Those changes mean the rear-wheel-drive chassis is great fun to exploit. There’s lots of grip but bags of balance, which means you can feel confident pushing hard into turns.
It’s firmer than the RS 3 due to its more focused set-up, but the harder you drive, the more rewarding the car becomes, with taut body control that only occasionally sees it pogo on rough surfaces. The BMW is only let down by the steering, which is numb. It’s best left in the Comfort setting, because the Sport and Sport Plus modes add weight and resistance artificially.
- Infotainment: BMW’s interface is easy to control and responsive, but lacks Android Auto. The system is one of the best in the business, though. Screen is bright and the graphics sharp
- Materials: Build quality and materials used in the BMW are good, but the Audi’s cabin is a little more polished
- Sports seats: Comfortable and supportive sports seats give the M2 Competition a more driver-focused feel than its rival
Audi RS 3 Saloon
For: Incredible engine, all-weather ability, surprisingly comfortable ride
Against: Less playful than the BMW, poor feedback from steering
While the M2 Competition is derived from BMW’s rear-wheel-drive 2 Series Coupe platform, the RS 3 is based on the same platform as the Audi A3, and therefore shares its construction with mostly front-wheel-drive models. The Volkswagen Group’s versatile MQB chassis does allow for quattro four-wheel drive, though, which is a defining feature here.
It delivers incredible traction, especially off the line; in our tests the RS 3 managed an incredible 0-60mph time of 3.8 seconds, which was six-tenths of a second ahead of the BMW.
That blistering time is also in part thanks to the fantastic 395bhp 2.5-litre five-cylinder turbo engine. This one is the beating heart of the car.
There’s a little turbo lag, but as the revs rise the noise is loud and tuneful, turning from a deep growl into a howl at higher revs. With 480Nm of torque available from 1,700rpm, it makes the most of this as well. Despite a torque deficit against the M2 Competition, it basically matched the BMW in our in-gear tests.
While the Audi’s engine is, if anything, even more enjoyable to use and characterful than the six-cylinder motor in its rival, the handling doesn’t quite match the BMW’s sweeter set-up.
The steering is accurate, but it doesn’t relay enough feedback and is therefore too lifeless. The big five-cylinder unit up front means the RS 3 is a little more nose-heavy, and while there’s loads of grip in most situations, the RS 3 starts to understeer when you push harder, where the BMW tends to oversteer.
However, the RS 3 is easy to drive quickly, because it claws the road tenaciously. For £995 you can add Audi Magnetic Ride adaptive suspension, which is well worth having. It adds several driving modes that can soften or stiffen the damping depending on where you are.
But even on 19-inch alloys, our car’s standard passive suspension set-up (that matches the BMW’s system) offers a nice level of comfort, and balances this with enough support for most situations, even if the softer RS 3 can’t match the M2’s tauter body control at the limit. But while the M2 Competition is quite a hardcore sports car, the RS 3 is able to settle down to a motorway cruise effectively. Here it’s refined and quiet.
The seven-speed box is smooth in auto mode, yet still shifts quickly when changing manually using the paddles on the steering wheel. However, this S tronic system does occasionally get caught out, especially when manoeuvring.
- Technology: We love that you can retract the Audi’s infotainment screen. It’s mostly not needed because the Virtual Cockpit display behind the wheel shows all the info you want
- Gearbox: RS 3’s seven-speed dual-clutch transmission matches M2’s DCT, but Audi adds quattro four-wheel-drive for extra traction
- Steering: Although it’s quick and direct, the Audi’s steering is a bit too lifeless for a serious performance car
First place: BMW M2 Competition
The M2 Competition is a brilliant and purer driver’s car. It’ll challenge and excite with its pace and tweaked chassis; this makes it more involving than the RS 3. The engine doesn’t sound as good, but it’s effective. The M2 Competition is arguably the best M car on sale today.
Second place: Audi RS 3 Saloon
The Audi RS 3’s engine dominates the driving experience. It’s fantastically characterful, but while it’s still good to drive and more practical than the M2, the rest of the car loses out here to the BMW’s more engaging and rewarding driving experience.