BMW M2 Vs M4: Is The Entry-Level M Car Better Than Its Big Brother?

In the toughest test for ‘our’ BMW M2 longtermer yet, we’ve put it into battle with one of its own kind - the boisterous M4

From the very first rumours about the car a few years ago, I was sure that BMW’s M2 would be the M car of choice.

It promised to channel just about the right amount of the M3/M4’s fury without being quite so spikey and intimidating, all in a much more compact package that’s £13k cheaper. M car perfection, surely? Fast forward to the present and I’m not quite so convinced.

BMW - BMW M2 Vs M4: Is The Entry-Level M Car Better Than Its Big Brother? - News

As well as being more forgiving, it’s a much more simple car than the M4: there are no adaptive dampers, no optional carbon ceramic brakes, and under the bonnet you’ll find a tweaked version of the single turbo N55 straight-six, rather than a proper S-designated M Division engine.

I’ve always argued that the M3 and M4 needed less complexity and some anger management lessons, but my worry is that the M2 has gone too far the other way. Is it too simple? Is it too mild mannered? Is it just a little too easy to drive fast? The only way to find out is to get it together with its big brother - the M4. A couple of phone calls later, and ‘our’ blue M2 is sitting next to an imposing M4 Competition Package.

BMW - BMW M2 Vs M4: Is The Entry-Level M Car Better Than Its Big Brother? - News

Seeing the two together is like watching a muscle showdown at the local gym, with the M2 just about winning the gun show thanks to its more compact dimensions that emphasise those bulging arches.

Firing them up one after the other though, and the result is the opposite: the M2 may look the angriest, but the M4 sounds it. It’s not a particularly tuneful noise, but my god, it’s a proper roid-raging bark, and sounds like a dozen rusty chainsaws being gobbled up by The Hulk. Subtle it is not.

BMW - BMW M2 Vs M4: Is The Entry-Level M Car Better Than Its Big Brother? - News

I slide behind the wheel of the M2 first, in the interests of starting with the cheaper, entry-level M machine. In the last couple of months of ‘ownership’, I’ve become well accustomed to the M2’s nature. Its 3.0-litre engine doesn’t make the most inspiring noise, but it’s eager and surprisingly revvy. There’s more roll in hard cornering than I’d like, but I’ve no complaints with the sharp turn-in and easy-going nature as you edge towards - and past - the limit of grip.

To get maximum entertainment, you need to stick it in Sport Plus, take it by the scruff of the neck and give it a damn good hiding. And when you do that, the M2 reveals itself to be a gem of a sports car - it’s just that I still can’t shake the nagging sense that there should be more drama.

BMW - BMW M2 Vs M4: Is The Entry-Level M Car Better Than Its Big Brother? - News

Jumping into the M4, and it’s clear even from just the interior that this is a more serious car. There are the posh nappa leather seats with chunks missing from the backrests (because weight reduction probably) and light up M badges. Chunks of carbonfibre trim litter my view. But most importantly, there are a bank of switches you don’t get in the M2.

While the M2 makes do with the same Comfort/Sport/Sport Plus driving mode selector found in non-M BMWs, the M4 is a little more involved. Four switches each give three separate settings for the traction control, steering, suspension and engine, and just behind the gear selector there are three settings for the ferocity of the dual-clutch gearbox.

BMW - BMW M2 Vs M4: Is The Entry-Level M Car Better Than Its Big Brother? - News

A quick calculation of three to the power of five later, and that gives you 243 different combinations. How the hell are you supposed to find your perfect setting from all of those? I’ve spent time in F80 M3s before and could never find a setting I was 100 per cent happy, and I always had an irritating feeling I’d enjoy the car a whole lot more if I just tried a few more settings.

After a couple of days in this M4, I think I’ve found my perfect combination: traction control in MDM (M Dynamic Mode, which tones down some of the electronic aids), DCT gearbox set to the middle, engine and suspension in ‘Sport Plus’ and the steering in ‘Sport’. But actually maybe it’d be better with the gearbox set to the max. And with the suspension in ‘Sport’. Bugger. See what I mean?

BMW - BMW M2 Vs M4: Is The Entry-Level M Car Better Than Its Big Brother? - News

With what I’m 90 per cent confident are my perfect settings though, the M4 is a massively exciting thing. On my first full application of the throttle the stability control light flickers wildly while the rear axle tries and fails to cope with the demands of the straight-six up front, putting out a burly 444bhp and 406lb ft of torque in this Comp Pack car.

Revving right the way out to the 7000rpm red line, it’s clear there’s a lot more top end here than in the M2, which noticeably runs out of puff after 6500rpm or so. There’s a far more aggressive serving of mid-range grunt too, and I reckon it makes the more bombastic noise of the two, if not the nicest.

BMW - BMW M2 Vs M4: Is The Entry-Level M Car Better Than Its Big Brother? - News

There’s little body roll in the stiffer M4, but while you gain firmness you don’t get anything like the same approachable attitude on the limit. Drive the M4 fast, and you’d better be paying attention: its stiff set-up (which is stiffer still in the Comp Pack), fat low-end torque delivery and aggressive rear differential setup mean it’s a tricky, sometimes unpredictable so-and-so on the limit. And if it’s anything other than bone dry out, good luck getting that power down without the back end squirming around and you severely messing up your trousers.

However, despite having never gotten on with the M4’s M3 brother before for these reasons, I’m starting to get the thinking behind these cars. Yes, you need to be paying attention, but give the M4 the focus it deserves, and lordy, are you rewarded in a way you just won’t be with the more easy-going Mercedes-AMG C63.

BMW - BMW M2 Vs M4: Is The Entry-Level M Car Better Than Its Big Brother? - News

With fuel levels running low and more angry straight-six noise belted out in this particular corner of Britain than is anywhere near socially acceptable, it’s time to knock the day on the head and draw some conclusions.

Yes, I do think the M2 is deserving of its M badge, but it’s not a slam dunk pass for the entry-level M machine - I still don’t think the powertrain is exciting enough, and it is perhaps a little too easy to drive fast. I adore the M4 perhaps now more than I ever have done, and find it a far more thrilling car to drive. But it’s too far the other way, and while the M4 is too much, the M2 is perhaps not quite enough.

BMW - BMW M2 Vs M4: Is The Entry-Level M Car Better Than Its Big Brother? - News

The solution? Well, if you believe the rumours surrounding certain M2 test mules spotted at the Nurburgring, a toned down version of the M4’s S55 six banger is due to make an appearance in the range, either as some sort of CS/CSL model or even just as a mid-life update car. That will be the perfect M car, and this time I’m saying so without a shred of doubt.

But here, today? You’re well served with either car, it just depends if you want something fast and easy going, or something even faster and a little hot headed. Me? I’ve always had anger issues, so now it’s time to head home, I’ve snatched the keys to the M4.