Like pretty much the entire motoring world, I watched first episode of The Grand Tour and loved it. But it was Jeremy’s take on the BMW M2 that told me I needed to sit down and pen this article. And as you’ve probably guessed by the title, it’s alternatives time once again. Only this time, there’s a bit of a twist. More on that in a moment.
I’m also motivated by CT’s own long-term M2 which our man Matt has spent considerable time in. He’s pitted it against a Porsche Cayman, suggested it might be better than an M4 in some ways, and lest we forget Alex and his E36 M3 comparison vid. Through all those reviews, one thought kept popping into my head: £44,000. I’m not suggesting the M2 isn’t worth it, but it’s not exactly a performance bargain.
You know what comes next, but here’s my disclaimer anyway. This isn’t an apples-to-apples comparison, nor is it meant to be. I’m simply looking at the price of a new BMW M2, then looking to the secondhand market to see what else is available for the same price. Yes, maintenance is a factor with used cars, but that’s easily offset by the massive depreciation the M2 will surely suffer in the first three years of its life.
This time, however, I’m not just looking at individual alternatives. I’m looking to create a fleet of fun cars for the price of a single new M2. If you stay light on the options, that allows a budget of £44,000, or $55,000 for those in the States. I found five cars in the U.S. to fill the budget, and to engage the other side of the pond, I found another five rides that folks in the U.K. can buy. They don’t all equal the M2’s performance, but they do offer plenty of fun, some measure of practicality, and no small amount of variety. As is often the case with these comparos, you might be surprised at just how far your hard-earned money can go.
How many times have people said the E46 M3 is the best M car of them all? Straight-line performance stats are close enough to make it a driver’s race with the M2, and once you get to a track, you’ll swap positions all day long. Maintenance is always a concern on older Bimmers, but when the rear subframe cracks, you’ll still have four other cars to choose from.
I’ve mentioned before how insanely jealous I am that every other country gets to drive this car, never mind being able to buy a decent example for £10,000. That will get you what I consider to be the best looking Evo of them all, complete with all-wheel drive and the legendary 4G63 with an officially rated output of 280bhp. Would you go bombing sideways down gravel roads in your new M2?
Jonesing for a bang-for-buck muscle car? It doesn’t get much better than the Monaro - AKA Holden Monaro for our friends in Australia and Pontiac GTO in the States, where people are finally starting to realise just how good a car it was. 400bhp LS2 Corvette V8 under the bonnet, six-speed manual gearbox, independent suspension - all the ingredients to hang surprisingly well with a new M2 for less than a third of the price.
Flip the calendar back to the early 2000s and it’s quite easy to find a nice S2000 for £10,000. At that price you get one of the purest sports car motoring experiences of all time, with satisfying power and handling that’s best described as transcendental. And the 9000rpm soundtrack from the overachieving four-pot isn’t bad either.
Call this the generic, practical edition to the fleet. I’m very much a fan of the first-generation Mazda 3, and if you step back to 2008 it’s not tough to find well-kept, secondhand 3s for just £3000. You may wish to opt for a Civic, Focus, Astra, etc., but I always felt the 3 had a bit more fun factor. Diesel or petrol, it would round out my M2-alternative European fleet.
The UK fleet totals £43,000, leaving us £1000 for the E46 repair fund. Money well spent as far as I’m concerned, and that brings us to the US fleet, which as you’ll see comes to $55,000 on the dot. That’s the full budget, but if you have a garage big enough, I’d take these five over a single M2 any day of the week.
In place of the Corvette-powered Monaro, I’d choose the Corvette-powered, uh, Corvette. 2005 was the first year for the 400bhp C6 ‘Vette, and there are all kinds of nice examples available with six-speed manual gearboxes, removable targa tops, and overall performance to match the M2 move-for-move.
Once again I turn to Mazda for my practical ride, only this time I up the ante to the boosted-and-awesome Mazdaspeed3. 263bhp, six-speed manual, five-door practicality, and if I drop back to 2009, sexy styling which I think is far better than the guppy-inspired front clip bestowed upon the 2010 cars. They aren’t extremely common, but patience will turn up nice examples for around $11,000.
From Smokey and the Bandit to Knight Rider, the Firebird was as much a Hollywood star as a storied American performance icon. When it bowed out in 2002, the Trans Am’s flaring nostrils, six-speed manual, and 320bhp LS1 V8 ensured it would not go quietly into the night. With T-tops and a solid rear axle, it’s my modern muscle car choice.
Many people forget that tuning legend Carroll Shelby did a stint with Chrysler in the 1980s. In 1987 the Daytona Shelby Z made 174bhp from a boosted and intercooled 2.2-litre four, sent to the front wheels via a five-speed manual. They aren’t popular these days, but I always thought they were dead sexy. That lack of popularity means I could buy a nice one with a few tweaks to the turbo for around $6000. Cruising and massive e-brake burnouts would soon follow.
I love E24 Bimmers, and I know I’m not alone on that. I’d really like a vintage M6, but they’re super rare in the States, which means they’re also quite expensive. Sharknose 635s are all over the place on price, but a diligent search can still turn up a nice mid-80s 635 CSi for around $10,000. It’s certainly not anywhere near the M2’s level of performance, but when a car looks this good, who cares? The 635CSi still has that classic BMW I6 sound, it’s still fast, and though the M2 looks properly aggressive, I don’t think it will ever have the E24’s timeless styling. That’s the difference between a great car, and a legend.