"OK, this is it...the Corkscrew," I muttered out loud to myself as I approached turn 8 at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. "Just point the M2 toward the oak tree with the ribbon. Easy as pie."
Instead I turned in too early, couldn't find the damn ribbon bedecked tree, and ended up on some wacky line that I'm sure made BMW question why they even invited me here to drive the new M2.
The M2 takes its inspiration from a few different BMW models. Yes, it's a step up from the 2-series coupe, but as an M car, it is also building on the success of the 1 Series M Coupe, introduced in 2011. However, the M2 also harkens back to older vehicles like the original M3, the E30 from 1986, and even the classic 2002 turbo, introduced at the Frankfurt auto show in 1973.
But make no mistake, the M2 is all new. Yes, it has the traditional compact BMW proportions and long wheelbase, but the rear is wider, the haunches flare out, and the headlights are modified just enough to give the M2 a meaner, more aggressive look. Quad tailpipes in high-gloss chrome and a rear spoiler and diffuser highlight the M2's track aspirations.
Traction control can be a good thing
Fortunately, the 2016 BMW M2 is refined enough on the track to be forgiving. At this BMW-hosted event, we were instructed to drive in Sport Plus mode, which limits the traction control, but doesn't turn it all the way off. My first few laps of Laguna Seca were made much easier by the last-minute nanny intervention.
Professionals and thrill seekers who want to really get down and dirty with the M2 can turn the traction control all the way off and manhandle the 365 horses produced by the three-liter six-cylinder turbocharged engine around the track. I, however, think the possibility of putting a manufacturer's car into the wall doesn't bode well for my future employment here at Roadshow, and I opted to leave it partially on.
My top speed on the straightaway was 120 mph, due to a bit of sliding through the previous turn. Had I exited better I could see my speed approaching 125 or even 130 mph, still much less than the electronically limited 155 mph.
All the track M2s at this event featured the optional seven-speed M Double Clutch Transmission (M DCT), so there was no third pedal to be concerned about. Lightning quick shifts were initiated by me, not the computer. Downshifts were never denied, no matter how high the car revved upon completion. Shifting by paddle will cost you, as the M DCT is a $2,900 option.
Getting back on the power out of turns was never a problem thanks to the 343 pound-feet of torque. Kicking in at 1,400 rpm. It helps you accelerate out of corners with ease, and when the overboost kicks in at 1,450 rpm upping the torque to 369 pound-feet, well, that's all she wrote, folks. You're off like a dirty shirt and into the next twisty.
The M2 has a few race-inspired goodies to help it perform well on the track. A modified oil sump ensures the engine receives proper lubrication even under the most aggressive driving maneuvers. The M DCT transmission also gets its own oil cooler, and a larger radiator keeps the M2 cool.
The perforated and inner-vented disc brakes, measuring 15 inches in diameter in the front and 14.5 inches in the rear, easily slowed the M2, even when I entered corners a touch too hot. And while my speed may have been on fire, the brakes remained cool and I experienced no brake fade, even after eight hot laps.
Lightweight 19-inch forged wheels were wrapped with Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires measuring 245/35 ZR 19 in the front and 265/35 ZR 19 at the rear. The summer tire offered superb grip on the track, even in the colder morning session.
The only problem I had with the M2 on the track was the steering feedback. The weight in Sport Plus mode is nice and heavy and inputs are definitely quick, but there was a disconnect between what my tires were doing and what I was feeling through the steering wheel. With the traction control partially on, this was not that much of an issue as the computer took care of any oversteer before it became a problem. However, it would be more difficult to correct position with traction control turned off if grip-levels are not immediately transmitted through the steering wheel.
And for you straight-line freaks, don't worry. The M2 also has Launch Control. I didn't get to sample it, but BMW tells me it makes the M2 scoot from 0 to 60 mph in 4.2 seconds with the M DCT, or 4.4 seconds with the six-speed manual.
Trackable *and* drivable
After two track sessions, where I got much faster and my lines improved ten-fold, I got a chance to sample the six-speed manual on a jaunt down the California coastline from Monterey to Big Sur. The transmission will rev-match for you, but you can always heel-toe yourself by turning the function off. Careful shifting is required from first to second, lest you jerk the car around and throw your passenger into the dash. The M2 rips to the redline with great satisfaction in second gear, and then easily gains speed in third and fourth. Unfortunately I had a great deal of tourist traffic on my drive, and was not able to shift any higher.
Surprisingly, the M2 is very easy to drive on the street. Often cars that perform well on the track suffer during daily driving with a harsh ride, grabby brakes and an uncomfortable cabin. Not so with the M2. While you'll never call the M2 a cushy coupe, selecting Comfort or even Sport mode made for a complacent ride along the coast. In fact, the M2 easily makes my short-list for excellent cross-country vehicles.
Aside from the M DCT and a few paint options, there is only one package available. The $1,250 Executive Package gets you a heated steering wheel, rear view camera, parking sensors, automatic high beams, active driving assistant, and speed limit information. The BMW M2 will be available in April and will start at $51,700, not including $995 destination and handling.
Editor's note: CNET accepts multi-day vehicle loans from manufacturers in order to provide scored editorial reviews. All scored vehicle reviews are completed on our turf and on our terms. However, for this feature, travel costs were covered by the manufacturer. This is common in the auto industry, as it's far more economical to ship journalists to cars than to ship cars to journalists. The judgements and opinions of CNET's editorial team are our own and we do not accept paid editorial content.