DRIVING, as we know, is an endangered craft. Automation is on the way and the motor industry is now using the best part of its considerable ingenuity to bring the experience of driving a car ever closer to the experience of being given a lift in one.
Not many years from now, the visceral pleasures of things like steering and selecting a gear will look as remote and as quaint to us as patchwork quilting and putting little models of ships in bottles.
Actually making a car move with your own hands and feet will become something recherche that a smattering of devotees periodically get together to do in fields, a bit like Morris Dancing. And possibly in similar uniforms. Soon the cars will drive themselves and we’ll simply sit in the back of them doing Sudoku and following Gary Barlow on Twitter.
In such a context, to describe the new BMW M2 coupé as counter-prevalent to the wind is under-stressing things. This small, squat, raunchy thunder-wagon is only about driving and, indeed, in the absence of driving, makes virtually no sense. It’s certainly not practical, the word “coupé” being, of course, French for “four-seater car which only takes two people”.
But neither is the M2 here (like practically every other car launched at the moment) as the Trojan horse for a suite of driver assistance systems. It doesn’t proudly announce its ability to park itself or overtly offer to pilot you steadily through congested traffic by radar. It assumes you might want to do those things yourself.
It clung adamantly to the road, hammered unflinchingly around corners and eventually had to be restrained from swimming to Africa
And OK, it can’t be so stubborn as to ignore the current vogue for “connectivity”, so (again, like the rest of the current car market) it will do a small number of the useful things that your phone already does far more readily. But nobody will be buying an M2 because you can sync its dashboard to Facebook. They will be buying it because they want the pleasure of driving it.
A birthday present to itself in the company’s centenary year, this M-school treatment of the 2 Series was foreshadowed last year by the 1 Series M Coupé which was kept to a vanishingly limited run of 450.
More generously, BMW are building 13,000 M2s, 1,900 of which will be allotted to the UK. They weren’t sold out at the time of writing, but, because driving isn’t dead yet and because the aforementioned pleasure of driving the M2 is enormous, they soon will be.
We had a go in the car in southern Spain, where it clung adamantly to the road, hammered unflinchingly around corners and eventually had to be restrained from swimming to Africa. It was quick, firm of purpose, and physically involving. And all the while (to our eyes) it looked great – nubby and eager and up for some fun.
It’s a tiny bit shorter than the standard 2 Series, but its wheelbase is a tiny bit longer, so the wheels are squeezed even further out to the corners. Bulked up by its muscular rear arches, it also flares out wider at the back, where there are four exhaust pipes clamped to the underside, ready to blow.
Signature M series gills are punched into the car’s cheeks and the front spoiler is entirely reconstructed for airflow, while simultaneously doing a strong impression of a dangerous fish, an effect further enhanced by the keen-eyed headlamps.
Meanwhile, BMW’s fabled kidney-shaped grilles have rarely looked more handsome and are certainly more alluring than anything shaped like a kidney probably ought to be, being overlaid with widely-spaced pairs of black slats, affording a deeply receding and oddly attractive view of the radiator.
The engine is a 3-litre straight six, with a single turbo-charger, generating 365bhp. It rises to a terrier-like bark under pressure in the aggressive, road-eating Sport Plus mode, but, in the less agitated Comfort setting, relaxes to maintain a reassuringly warm and friendly undertone of tuba.
BMW’s fabled kidney-shaped grilles have rarely looked more handsome and are certainly more alluring than anything shaped like a kidney probably ought to be
You can have a slick six-speed manual gearbox, or the paddle-operated seven-speed automatic. I was sure I preferred the full-bore heritage experience on offer in the manual, until I made a royal hash of overtaking a sluggish Skoda on a tight mountain road, went for fourth, missed, found second and lurched narrowly to safety in a mournful howl of startled engine-parts.
After that, I rather decided I preferred the automatic, which is largely inoculated against slip-ups of that nature and which, in addition, produces charismatic heel-and-toe type throttle blips on change-down. These, though erzatz and thus to be sneered at, make you feel like a much better driver than you are and are therefore entirely welcome.
There’s much simple driving joy to be had altogether at the wheel of this car. Indeed, the M2 could make you wish you lived at a time when people cared about such things.