Why the BMW M2 is the best B-road blaster
Best Cars of 2016: we find the UK's twistiest bit of tarmac in the baby M car
Pick a B-road. Any B-road. It doesn’t really matter. You could throw all the numbers into a hat and select at random. You could add some science: the longest, the B6318, runs for 61 miles; the most northerly is the B9087, which is up in the Shetlands. Then there’s the B660. In places it’s only five feet four inches above sea level and it’s miles away from the coast. There are 18,800 miles of B-roads in the UK, and I guarantee the BMW M2 is fun on every single one of them. I’ve got the B3081, which probably sounds to you as though I’ve lucky-dipped, but a few years ago this was named Britain’s twistiest road. That’s a bit misleading, because for most of its 42 miles waggling south-east from Shepton Mallet to a final headbutt into the A31 near Ringwood, it’s perfectly ordinary. Magnificently ordinary, as only a rural British B-road can be.
Photography: James Lipman
This feature was originally published in issue 290 of Top Gear magazineAdvertisement - Page continues below
However, a mile south of Shaftesbury it gets itself into a proper tizzy. This is Zig Zag Hill. You can guess what the road does here. It zigs and it zags, it whips back and forth, it snatches and bucks and jolts. And at the top it opens up, calms down and delivers you a stunning view of Dorset as if nothing had just happened. Tranquility restored, I shake myself like a man just roused from a “what the hell…?” moment.
The BMW doesn’t take anything like as long to recompose itself. Because it can’t be caught out on a B-road. It can be caught out in other places, but not on a B-road. Oh, I’m sure BMW claims it’s an all-rounder and I’m equally sure you’d drive yours on every type of road and have a ball. But take it from me, BMW has specifically targeted this car. On motorways there’s a bit of vertical bobbing and those fat tyres slap at cat’s eyes. In town, the clutch bites high and those fat tyres clout speed bumps.Advertisement - Page continues below
But on B-roads, you’re driving, aren’t you? And the BMW M2 is good at that. There’s an honesty and openness to its behaviour that’s both refreshing and alluring. Clarity of purpose... that’s the key. Sure, you could have a snipe and say the single-turbo straight-six isn’t as feisty and fast to respond as the twin-turbo in the M3, that the steering isn’t that dainty, or the chassis isn’t as intricately balanced as a Cayman’s. But it’s a shovel load of fun.
It’s the steering – the whole front end, in fact – that’s unlike any other car’s. Look at the flare on those arches for starters, giving the M2 a chunky sturdiness that speaks volumes for where its dynamic habits lie. It drives how it looks. There’s a thick wristiness to it – absolutely no slack, just meatiness, bite and appetite. The M2 hungers for corners and savours each one. So you turn in, literally muscle it in as the steering weights heavily, you feel all the forces fed back up your arm, the link from wheels to shoulders direct and indelible. There’s always more grip at the front if you want it, then a brief wheelbase, chased hard by an enthusiastic back axle.
The M2 makes a solid case for turbocharging. The single blower may not be the zingiest, but it mates so well with those fat tyres, stubby wheelbase and taut differential. Get back on the power and you instantly sense the car drive itself onwards. It’s tenaciously, entertainingly grippy, with a wide satisfaction bandwidth. You don’t have to be going hard for the M2 to start communicating. In fact you only have to turn the wheel. And you’re always turning the wheel on a B-road.
And there’s such good feel for what the tyre is up to. They’re fat, so they’re not the most dexterous at communicating the imperfections of the surface, and actual feedback is on the blunt side, but you always know where you are with the M2, and you always have confidence in its behaviour. It’s trustworthy, and that, considering how brief the gap between axles is, and how wild the M2 could be as a sibling of the deliberately fractious M3/M4, is cause for celebration.Advertisement - Page continues below
I had a go at dropping the hammer hard in one of the hairpins, and yep, the back end does move, but not suddenly or alarmingly. It’s a magnanimous wee beastie. And it’s a manual. On a couple of occasions I catch myself finger-tapping the back of the wheel, but then I remember I get to do something better. The shift has the same beefy positivity as the rest of the car. It’ll rev blip for you unless you disable the traction completely, and personally I enjoy the punctuation mark that clutching and shifting interjects between each lunge of acceleration. It makes you think more, actively involves you.
There are other cars that were in the running for this award – the Ford Focus RS, the Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport S, Porsche’s new Cayman, so the margin of victory wasn’t wide, but the M2 didn’t win because it’s better value than the Porsche or better built than the Focus, but because it’s so good at making the most of a road. It’s an enhancer, a magnifier. And when you magnify a road as good as your average British B-road, special things happen. They happen often in a BMW M2.Advertisement - Page continues below