Nostalgia is alive in the car business, just look at the grey haired dudes driving the latest muscle cars from Detroit. The Ford Mustang, the Chevy Camaro, the Dodge Charger come in day-glo colours with seismic amounts of horsepower, and presumably the ability to make the old feel young again.
Another herd is wistful for the sports cars from Europe, a button downed BMW, a crisp Mercedes, or a sweet Porsche. Dusty memories from 40 years ago or so conjure up cars with simple mechanicals and a ride that produced a wind in your hair, uncomplicated joy.
My first car was an unsporty but fun 1971 Beetle. It was totally satisfying until a boyfriend at the time suggested I deserved something better. He was the oddsmaker for the Ontario Jockey Club, so I guess felt free to gamble with the pitiful salary I made from my job at CKOC radio. I took his advice though, and promptly putted out to Nethercott-Lee Volkswagen on Centennial Parkway and traded the Beetle in for a 1977 VW Scirocco. It was a wonderful car with manual transmission, plaid cloth seats (still found in the VW GTI) and a manual transmission. I loved it until it simply stopped running.
Sports cars today, like all cars, have left behind simplicity. Most of them have become bigger, they are all faster and most tragically expensive. In that upwardly mobile trajectory I think they have lost their carefree charm. That was until I test drove the BMW M2.
The “M” series BMW’s have always stood for serious sports performance. But then they started slapping the M on the SUV lineup, and that always puts off purists, and the flagship M3 seem to lose its way until recently. For a time the M3 was more about pawing through computer menus then about driving joy.
Now the M2 is here to put everything back in its proper orbit. First off there’s no bloat, its a small car with loads of intimacy. Sit in the drivers seat and it feels made to measure. The chunky steering wheel has the best sort of feel, the heat and radio controls are finger tips away on the centre console, the big knob that scrolls through the computer settings is right where you might rest your hand, but really you always want two hands on the wheel for the best sort of driving. The interior is plain as a paperbag, no flash, or baubles, just the bits you need to enjoy a spirited drive, and it smells great, in a hard to describe way, like shuffleboard wax.
The M2 comes with a manual transmission or as an automatic that can be shifted with paddles mounted on the steering column. I tested the automatic. With a 3.0 litre turbocharged engine, the M2 produces 365 horsepower. It has, as race car drivers like to describe it, the perfect, power to weight ratio. Basically you don’t need tons of horsepower in a light car, and the use of aluminum bits in the M2 keeps it lean. Number crunchers will like the 0-100
km/h in 4.2 seconds.
It’s a joy to drive, smash down the throttle and it slams though gear changes with authority. Quick steering conquers any curve, and body roll is not to be found. It’s a car that is race track ready, but still tolerable on the road. The driver is offered the choice of driving modes from normal to sport+. In normal it’s still a stiff ride, and I sensed that as a daily driver on our beat up roads it could get irritating. The exhaust sound, raspy and raw while initially thrilling, could also also get tiresome on a long haul.
Those are just small quibbles. The M2 with its power and agility recaptures the uncomplicated fun of a true sports car. But better save up, my tester with the optional dual clutch automatic transmission was $65,000. I guess there’s a price for perfection.
Written by: Kathy Renwald