BMW M2 vs M3

Austin Parsons

Meet Austin

Austin graduated from the University of Colorado Denver in 2021 with a degree in technical writing and remains in the Denver area. Austin brings tons of automotive knowledge and experience to the table. Austin worked as a Technical Product Specialist at BMW for over 5 years and drives a heavily modified E30 325i with a stroker kit, all of which he built from the ground up.

When the first BMW M3 was released in 1987, it revolutionized how the world thought about sports cars. Not only was the E30 M3 the direct product of the upper-echelon DTM racing series, but it was also a usable car. Since 1987, there have been six generations of M3, each holding true to that original blueprint. Granted, some generations fit the bill a bit better than others, but each generation was clearly developed with the same principles in mind.

In 2016, BMW introduced the BMW M2. In a world where cars seem to be ballooning like led zeppelins, the M2 took a different approach. BMW trimmed the fat and kept the wheelbase short, two key traits of almost every truly successful track-going machine. The M2 fills the spot that the M3 left behind with the E46 generation. While the M3 has grown up to occupy the sport sedan role, the M2’s coupe chassis is ripe for throwing around corners. 

With both the M2 vs M3 competing for the hearts of BMW fans everywhere, it truly is like choosing between two children. In this guide, we take a closer look at both the BMW M2 and BMW M3 and help to determine which vehicle is right for you. 

If you are looking for more BMW head-to-head content where we discuss generational differences between other popular BMW models, check out our BMW F30 vs G20 3-Series Guide and our BMW M3 vs M4 Guide.

BMW M2 vs M3 Background Information

It’s no secret that the BMW M3 has a far more distinguished and decorated history than the M2. A lot of that boils down to the fact that the BMW M3 has been around 30 years longer than the M2. With that extra pedigree, the BMW M3 carries a bit of name recognition that might not be there for the M2 yet, not that that makes a significant difference to how either car drives but, for some people including me, the M3 name carries a lot of weight. 

Since the BMW M2 was released in 2016, it has become a fan favorite in the BMW community due to its unrivaled chassis dynamics. The short wheelbase and lower curb weight make it more nimble on its feet, which is a huge benefit if you intend on doing any kind of serious track driving. Most BMW enthusiasts would probably agree that the M2 isn’t the way to go if you are looking for a luxurious daily driver. In my experience, the M2 is seen as more of a track weapon and weekend warrior. 

One point of conversation that we have to have is styling. BMW’s design direction for both the G87 M2 and G80 M3 is very different from the previous F87 and F80 generations. Generally speaking, BMW’s new styling direction has been extremely polarizing. 

BMW M2 vs M3 Generations

While we’ll mostly be covering the G87 M2 and G80 M3 in this guide, there’s also value in looking at how BMW got to this point in their development process for both vehicles over the years. While there is much more to say about the M3 when it comes to generational changes, it is pretty clear to see how the M2 was a product from what BMW has learned from years of refining the M3.

BMW M2 Generations

  • F87 M2 (2016-2021)
  • G87 M2 (2022-Present)

BMW M3 Generations

  • BMW E30 M3 (1986-1991)
  • BMW E36 M3 (1992-1999)
  • BMW E46 M3 (2000-2006)
  • BMW E9X M3 (2007-2013)
  • BMW F80 M3 (2014-2019)
  • BMW G80 M3 (2020-Present)

One of the most important things to take notice of here is the generational changes between the M2 and M3. While we still have much more to learn about the M2, it is clear that BMW is making some changes to the platform that will significantly impact how it drives and performs. We can reference the change between the F80 M3 and G80 M3 as a pretty solid reference point, as it looks like many of the changes to the M2 take the same approach.

BMW clearly put a major emphasis on improving the daily-drivability of both the M2 and M3 with the new generation. That can be seen with the interior improvements that have come to both cars as well as on-street driving characteristics that can be set to a tamer level than before. For example, the G80 is much more comfortable than the F80 in terms of ride quality in comfort mode and the same thing can likely be said for the G87 M2 due to their many shared suspension components.

Both the M2 and M3 are noticeably larger than their previous generation counterparts, which is a plus for overall comfort but a slight hindrance to performance. That is especially the case for the G87 M2, which has gained a lot of weight since its previous generation. In fact, there’s almost no weight difference between the M2 vs M3 which is problematic in the eyes of many BMW fans.

BMW M2 vs M3 Dimensions

Somewhat obviously, the most important difference between the BMW M2 and BMW M3 is their size. The M2 has always been marketed as a smaller, lighter, and spritelier vehicle. That was the case for the F87 M2 and F80 M3, with the former being significantly smaller than the latter. Overall, the BMW F87 is 8 inches shorter and 1 inch narrower than the F80 M3. That makes the M2’s wheelbase much shorter as well.

The M2 vs M3 size ratio remained largely unchanged with the new G87 and G80 models. Like the previous generation, the M2 is around 8 inches shorter and an inch narrower than the M3. While the sizing remains similar in proportion, the M2 barely weighs any less than the M3 which was a disappointment to a lot of fans. The additional weight of the G87 will significantly reduce its cornering ability and nimble nature, making it feel like a bigger car than it is. 

BMW M2 vs M3 Engine, Transmission, and Features

The differences in engines between the M2 and M3 are actually pretty self-explanatory. The M3 gets a more powerful engine due to the fact that it is a heavier car. Perhaps the biggest engine discrepancy is between the F87 M2 and F80 M3, as the M2 received a tuned version of the N55B30T0 while the M3 received the high-performance S55B30T0. Aside from the differences in horsepower and torque, the S55 had some notable reliability and strengthening changes that make it the more capable engine overall.

 BMW M2 vs M3

F87 M2

F80 M3

G87 M2

G80 M3

Engine

N55/S55

S55

S58

S58

Transmission

6MT, 7-Spd DCT

6MT, 7-Spd DCT

6MT, 8-Spd

6MT, 8-Spd

Redline

7,000 RPM

7600 RPM

7,000 RPM

7,200 RPM

Horsepower

365/405 Horsepower

425 Horsepower

453 Horsepower

473/503 Horsepower

Torque

343/406 lb-ft

406 lb-ft

406 lb-ft

406/479 lb-ft

The N55 and S55 are similar engines, sharing around 75% of their overall components. One of the biggest differences between the engines is the turbo arrangement, with the N55 using a twin-scroll turbo arrangement and the S55 using two mono-scroll turbos. In addition, the S55 features a closed deck design and features additional internal cooling passages. If you are interested in learning about the other differences between the BMW N55 and S55, we wrote an entire article about it

The new G87 and G80 generation M2 vs M3 both utilize the BMW S58 engine. The S58 is a significant step up from the outgoing S55 engine and is based on the BMW B58 engine platform. Compared to the S55, the S58 has a marginally higher displacement, a revised air intake system, a new cylinder head with improved cooling, and a stronger crankshaft among other changes. Since the G87 and G80 are similar in weight and size, it makes sense that the S58 goes in both models. 

BMW M2 vs M3 Transmission Options

Like the changes in the powertrains for the new generation of M2 and M3, BMW also made some changes to the transmission options offered with both cars too. Previously, the F87 M2 and F80 M3 both came standard with a 6-speed manual transmission with an optional 7-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission offered as an option. Both options were heavily touted, with the dual-clutch being praised for its robustness and insane shift times. 

For the BMW G87 and BMW G80, a 6-speed manual is still offered as standard. However, instead of a 7-speed dual-clutch, BMW went back to offering an 8-speed ZF torque converter automatic in both cars. This was a heated topic in the BMW community, as the 8-speed has some notable cons when compared to the previous dual-clutch option. 

Perhaps most importantly, the ZF shifts around 4 times slower than the DCT. Of course, we are talking about 200 milliseconds versus 50 milliseconds so either way, the shifts are rapid. Most BMW enthusiasts speculate that the return to torque converter automatics was a cost-cutting measure. With that being said, most people also agree that the ZF 8-speed is still a fantastic transmission and won’t be slowing you down too much in the long run. 

Drivetrain Differences

Back when the BMW G80 M3 was released in 2020, many BMW enthusiasts were surprised to see that the M3 was being offered with xDrive in addition to the M3’s traditional RWD drivetrain arrangement. The previous generation F87 and F80 M2 and M3 were only available with a rear-wheel-drive drivetrain layout, which is much more enthusiast-focused.

 Some purists saw an xDrive M-car as blasphemous, as the M3 has always followed the front-engine, RWD formula. In the years since, the vast majority of G80 M3s that have been sold are xDrive models. The main selling points of an xDrive-equipped M3 are faster 0-60 times and better all-weather practicality. 

As the G87 M2 hasn’t made it to the streets yet, it is unclear what BMW’s ultimate plans are for it. However, we do know that it will not be available with BMW’s xDrive all-wheel-drive system at launch. That might be due to an issue with packaging xDrive into the smaller size without compromising performance. Ultimately, we’ll have to wait and see if it’s in the cards. 

BMW M2 vs M3 Performance

When it comes to head-to-head performance between the BMW M2 and BMW M3, there are quite a few factors that you have to keep in mind. The size, weight, power, and suspension differences between the two models all play very strongly into how both cars drive, making each unique in terms of their driving dynamics. 

That is even more the case for the performance differences between the F87 M2 and F80 M3. Due to the fact that the G87 and G80 are more similar in terms of their chassis and powertrain, the performance difference between the newer generation cars will likely be significantly smaller. 

BMW M2 vs BMW M3 Weight Difference

One of the main differences between the BMW M2 and BMW M3 is the difference in weight between the two models. This is a very significant metric, as weight plays a very significant role in how a car handles and responds to driver inputs. It is first important to point out that neither the BMW M2 vs M3 are particularly light cars. In fact, the G80 M3 is over half a ton heavier than the first-generation E30 M3. With that being said, excess weight is a sign of the times as far as modern cars are concerned.

If we are looking at the F87 and F80 generations of BMW M2 and M3, the M3 is heavier by 300 lbs. The F87 M2 weighs in at 3,296 lbs while the F80 M3 weighs in at 3,595 lbs. The weight discrepancy is far less with the newest generation G87 M2 and G80 M3, with only a 15 lb discrepancy between the two cars. 

Comparing the F97 and F80, the 300 lb difference in curb weight is not only noticeable, but pretty extreme. The M2 feels much more planted when cornering due to the combination of less weight transfer and the shorter wheelbase. The F80 M3’s additional weight tends to lead to more understeer when compared to the M2, simply because the M3 has more mass that needs to change direction. With that being said, both cars handle very well, the M2 is just more predictable and easy to control. 

While more head-to-head time is needed to conclude anything, the G87 M2 will likely handle very similarly to the G80 M3 due to their similar weight and suspension setups. 

BMW M2 vs BMW M3 Wheelbase

By this point, you’re probably sick of hearing about the difference in wheelbase between the BMW M2 and M3, but let’s go into detail about that for a second. Wheelbase is an important topic to cover when talking about these two cars because it’s one of their biggest differences and one that has the largest impact on how both cars handle. 

In most cases, longer wheelbases tend to be better for high-speed stability, while short wheelbases are better for tighter maneuverability and overall agility. As the distance between the front and rear wheels increases, the tendency for a car to pitch and roll decreases. The inverse happens when you shorten the distance between a car’s front and rear wheels, however, it also decreases the turning radius leading to less effortful turning.

Looking at the previous generation first, the F87 M2 has a 4.7-inch shorter wheelbase than the F80 M3. The difference between the G87 M2 and G80 M3 wheelbase is nearly identical to the previous generation, but both cars did increase in length by around 2 inches. While 4.7 inches doesn’t seem like a very significant difference, it is very noticeable when driving both cars. The BMW M3’s increased stability makes it a comfortable highway cruiser while the shorter M2 is much more fun on tight and windy roads.

Acceleration and Straight Line Performance

 F87 M2F87 M2 CompetitionF80 M3F80 M3 CompetitionG87 M2G80 M3
0-60mph4.1 Seconds3.9 Seconds4.0 Seconds3.8 Seconds3.9 Seconds2.98 Seconds
1/4 Mile12.7 sec @ 110 mph12.4 sec @ 112.4 mph12.7 sec @ 121 mph12.2 sec @ 120 mph12.4 sec11.6 sec @ 125 mph
Top Speed155-168 mph155-168 mph155-174 mph155-174 mph155 mph155-180 mph

While straight-line performance isn’t necessarily the point of either the BMW M2 or M3, it is still an important performance metric. With that being said, it isn’t exactly a fair comparison when looking at the newest generation of both. Going back to the drivetrain differences between the G87 M2 and G80 M3, the G80 M3’s xDrive system gives it an unquestionable edge in 0-60 performance. There are other factors that play into that as well, including the higher output S58 in the M3. 

However, performance is much more similar when looking at the F87 M2 and F80 M3. The 0-60 time of both models is almost identical, with the M3 edging out the M2 by 0.1 second. Ultimately, a standard F87 M2 will get to 60 from a dead stop in 4.4 seconds. The F80 M3 gets there in 4.3 seconds. 

That gap gets much larger when looking at the G87 M2 and G80 M3, however. The newest generation BMW M2 rockets to 60 miles per hour in 3.9 seconds which is mighty impressive. Even more impressive is the G80 M3’s vertebrae-rearranging 2.98 second 0-60 time. Obviously, that has a lot to do with the G80 M3’s xDrive all-wheel-drive system. Regardless, the M3 will beat a new Ferrari 488 Pista to highway speeds. 

BMW M2 vs M3 Pricing and Value

Aside from styling and size differences, price is likely the other major determining factor in which car is the better option. Since the performance gap has been closed significantly between the G87 M2 and G80 M3, there is less of an incentive to spend so much more for a car that is ultimately very similar. Due to that fact, you would think that BMW would adjust pricing to reflect that mentality. That really isn’t the case, as the M3’s starting MSRP is still around $8,000 more than the M2. The extra dough does go somewhere though. 

Overall, you get quite a bit more car with the G80 M3. That is both in a figurative and a literal sense. Depending on how you feel about an M car having all-wheel-drive, the M3’s xDrive system is a huge selling point for those that want to drive their car year-round in less-than-perfect weather. That alone might be worth $8,000 to some people. Additionally, the M3 has usable rear seats, which is something that cannot be said for the M2.

Internally, both cars are very similar and feature many of BMW’s new interior styling features, technology, and materials. Once again, exterior styling is entirely subjective, but it’s hard to see how some people would prefer the M2 vs M3. With performance being less of a consideration when deciding between the BMW M2 vs M3, practicality and aesthetic considerations come to the forefront. 

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