The Icon 03 is a little different to most tuner cars. Bracknell-based Mulgari, the company responsible for it, has shown a level of self-control not often seen in the often brash aftermarket world.
Using the M240i as a starting point, it’s been pumped up to ‘just’ 456bhp and 420lb ft of torque. Given what we know BMW’s B58 inline-six turbo to be capable of, that’s a fairly modest figure. Then we have to talk about the way it looks. It’s so clearly not a standard 2-series, but it isn’t clad in vomit-inducing marbled carbonfibre or any other deliberately obnoxious aesthetic choices. Are you listening, Mansory?
And finally, we have to consider the stance. It isn’t scraping its belly along the floor, nor does it sit on wheels with a diameter that matches the moon’s.
What Mulgari has done won’t make for highly clickable headlines or excitable YouTube thumbnails with Impact text captions about silly power outputs. But all of the well-thought-out alterations should amount to a car that’s unrecognisable from the stock machine yet still driveable. But could the alterations even make for something better than an M2?
It’s certainly more distinctive-looking than BMW’s mightiest 2er. The most obvious addition is a set of carbonfibre M235R wide arches, and yes, while the 003 would look even lovelier with the new panels blended into the rest of the bodywork, the parts add a sense of purpose to proceedings. The ducts that sit in front of the rear wheels are a lovely touch, as are the 3D-printed Icon 03 badges. Oh, and the roof is carbonfibre, just like an M3’s.
Filling the blistered arches are custom 19-inch forged wheels, wrapped in Michelin Pilot Sport 4 S tyres that measure 275mm in width at the back at 255mm at the front. The stock dampers have made way for KW Clubsport coilovers with Mulgari’s own spring and shock rates applied. The company has even changed “select bushings” in the front suspension to liven it up and increase steering feedback.
It’s those front-end tweaks you notice first when taking it for a drive. The standard M240i rack isn’t the quickest and it’s also quite light when you turn the wheel (EPAS software has been left alone), but you feel proper kickback that just wasn’t there before. Initial turn-in is great too - placing the nose of this thing is a joy.
Although it might seem like blasphemy to power-obsessives out there, 456bhp and 420lb ft is plenty of poke. Traction is inevitably an issue since we inadvertently chose a soaking wet day to visit Mulgari and drive the 03, but on the occasions where wide-open throttle was possible, the car was very willing to reveal its punchy mid-range and rapid turn of pace.
The Akrapovic exhaust system lets off a naughty cacophony of pops and crackles whenever you lift off, without making a droning racket when you’re just cruising around. Even with it fitted, though, that slightly weak B58 noise we’ve moaned about before in other cars is still there.
The ride is, as you’d expect, firm, but it isn’t busy. When you’re hitting rougher bits of tarmac it settles down in a way the M2 can’t quite emulate. It never feels bouncy and sketchy, as the M Division car sometimes does. Plus, those lower, firmer coilovers give a drastic increase in composure of the surprisingly soft and rolly-polly M240i. It’s a much more serious driver’s car now, but just as useable.
Amongst Mulgari’s long list of additions is a limited-slip differential, a welcome piece of kit on our soggy test day. The 03 wanted to step out frequently, and when it did, it offered a sense of progression to what the back end was doing. You’d never worry about flying backwards into a hedge with this thing. Given a more appropriate environment, I’ve no doubt the 03 would nail drifty silliness with ease.
Mulgari says it can adjust the suspension setup to however a customer wishes, and if it was us, we might want to have it a little higher. After about an hour with the car, I found myself occasionally having to back off not because of the crap conditions, but to avoid the carbon front splitter grounding out on the road. The company’s engineers have however since raised it by 5mm to counteract where the dampers have settled to over time, which might just be enough to stop the nose getting intimate with Berkshire’s bumpy tarmac.
Although Mulgari will build you a manual Icon 03, the demo car is an automatic. And with the M240i being used as a base rather than the M2, this means it’s a conventional eight-speed torque converter unit as opposed to a snappier M Division dual-clutch ‘box. Boo.
Thanks in part to software tweaks it doesn’t hold the car back as much as you’d expect, though, and the shift paddles Mulgari has attached to the thinner flat-bottomed Alcantara wheel are ace. But the ‘box still leaves you wanting when it comes to downshift immediacy. Not getting one of these with a six-speed might seem like a bit of a waste of the 03’s pokier straight-six.
Whichever gearbox you go for, you are going to be paying a lot of money for an Icon 03 - it starts at £79,000. Yes, ‘starts’ at £79k. So while it does do some things better than an M2 - exclusivity, visual distinction, body control, having a steering wheel that doesn’t have ridiculous girth - it probably should do, given that figure.
Does it matter? Perhaps not - you don’t find yourself questioning where the money has gone. The work that Mulgari has put into the Icon 03 is plain to see, when you’re either eying up the way it’s finished or becoming acquainted with the overhauled dynamics.
In any case, the buyer profile isn’t quite the same as the M2’s - while BMW’s baby M car would often be bought as someone’s sole fun car or only vehicle full stop, Icon 03 customers so far have tended to have much larger collections of vehicles. They view the 03 as a more practical yet still special daily driver to sit alongside even more expensive stuff. Sounds like a nice position to be in, doesn’t it?
An M2 Competition is, of course, a much more logical choice. It’s what I suspect most of you guys would opt for, even if you had enough for an Icon in your offshore account. But wouldn’t it be boring if everything in the car world made perfect sense?