RONDA, Spain – Please join me on a trip down memory lane as we revisit Performance Shootout 2017 and specifically the first-generation M2. As has become custom, after driving each year’s newest performance cars on an epic road trip right before their keys are handed to CAR’s track tester Deon Joubert for hot laps at some or other racetrack, the team votes and then we rank the vehicles from best to worst.

That year, the Audi R8 V10 Plus scored a resounding overall victory, in the process bumping BMW’s M4 GTS into second place. There was an M2 in that clash, too, but it placed a relatively disappointing sixth. The little coupé showed much promise before Shootout kicked off and there were excited murmurs of its chances of snaffling the crown. On the road trip, however, not all of CAR’s testers found it endearing, often commenting on its laggy power delivery and a rear-end that didn’t feel settled enough in high-speed mountain-pass driving. And I’m one of those who found the M2 more challenging than charming…

Which is why, sitting in the driver’s seat of the new M2 Competition as I wait for the all-clear to head out onto the 26-cornered 5,4 km track at Ascari in the south of Spain, I can’t help but feel a tinge of apprehension. I know the layout incorporates interpretations of some fearsome corners, including the Corkscrew and Eau Rouge, and I vividly remember the M2 nearly biting me in a high-speed bend along our Shootout route.

Enough background! What's it like?

Imagine, therefore, my surprise when I exit the car six laps later in a euphoric state. The new M2 Competition is hugely thrilling to drive but it’s also forgiving, predictable and tolerant of ham-fisted manoeuvres behind the wheel as I try (and fail) to memorise the intricate track layout. Those initial impressions are confirmed later in the day when we head out onto Andalusia’s snaking mountain passes, where the newest M car deftly puts its power down despite a patchwork of road surfaces. How did M GmbH achieve it?

The devil's in the details

Well, the biggest difference between M2 and competition is the engine. Where the former’s powertrain came in the form of the N55 motor, the Competition features a reinterpretation of the M3/M4 unit, complete with a second turbocharger and 302 kW and 550 N.m. Gone is the slight low-rev lagginess and in its place is delightfully linear power delivery that’s progressive from the low reaches of the rev range (torque of 550 N.m kicks in at 2 350 r/min and plateaus through to 5 230 r/min). Gone, too, is the N55’s understated note; the M2 Competition’s S55 inline-six, while still no Audi 2,5-litre five-cylinder in its aural range, sounds purposeful and potent.

Mated with BMW’s flawless interpretation of a dual-clutch – if you excuse some low-speed hesitancy in engaging drive – the M2 Competition is a car transformed. Front-end grip is prodigious, but when that axle washes into slight understeer, easing off the throttle is all that’s needed to toe the line. Add some pressure on the accelerator and the opposite happens, the rear-end coming into play and pivoting the vehicle round its centre point. As before, there’s no option of adaptive dampers, but the M2 doesn’t need them. While firm, the ride is beautifully controlled and gets better the faster you go.

What else is new?

Elsewhere, the M2 Competition benefits from an Individual Shadow Line package painting some trim in gloss black, larger air intakes, new M mirrors, 19-inch forged alloys, optional M Sport brakes with enlarged discs (they’re fantastically effective and worth getting) and new paint colours.

Inside, meanwhile, there are smatterings of carbon-effect trim, Competition badging and illuminated M emblems in the seats. You’ll also find some iffy plastics straight from the 1 Series, which start looking a touch cheap at R1 million.

So, what's the verdict?

Where before the M2 sometimes felt more like a muscle car than its carefully honed M lineage would suggest, the Competition is scalpel sharp yet crammed full of character. Cue Performance Shootout 2019…