It won't have escaped your notice that cars are getting bigger and bigger. BMW is not alone in seeing its model range undergo gradual inflation over the years. The new M2, at a modest 4.46m long, is longer and far wider than the iconic mid-1980s M3, the car that in many respects it succeeds. The fabled M division hasn't had to fettle something this compact since the admirably barmy M Coupé, a winning combination of oddball styling and brawny dynamics released in 1998. With the M2, the department has compressed all their knowhow and skill into creating the ultimate compact sports car.

As well as size issues, BMW's nomenclature has had a bit of a shake-up with the M3 being renamed the M4, part of a strategy that sees even numbers assigned to saloons and estates, and odd numbers to sportier numbers – the 2-Series Coupé that forms the basis of the M2 was originally designated as a 1-Series. It’s hard to keep up, to be honest, and only the most dedicated car trivia buff should even attempt it, but we have a suspicion that above all else, these naming games conveniently avoid the re-use of the name 'M1', forever associated with the Giugiaro-penned mid-engined masterpiece from 1978.

The M2 is nevertheless after its own slice of glory, targeted directly at a small but vocal niche of car-buyers for whom performance heritage and track ability trump all other considerations. The M2 certainly attracts attention, thanks to the thrum of the exhaust, the overlarge wheels, the flared arches, the brutally sculpted front end, the bucket-like racing seats and, above all, the little ‘M’ badge that acts as a calling to fellow obsessives. Taken together, all these little quirks add up to something that’s faintly ridiculous on most modern roads – this machine hankers after a deserted stretch of deliciously curved back-country blacktop, a destination that’s more legend than reality these days.

Find that road (or track), and the M2 is a delicious car to drive, provided you can safely commit to driving it hard. A manual gearbox, 3.0 litre turbo-charged engine and 365 horsepower, blended and stirred with BMW’s spot-on dynamic qualities make it a pleasurable way of covering ground fast. Four proper seats make it practical, too, far more so than the two-seater sports cars it’ll go up against.

BMW might lead the world with electric cars and electric infrastructure, but it tempers this largely benevolent role by creating machines like this – they’re still a vital spoke in the brand’s dynamic image (‘the ultimate driving machine’ is perhaps the quintessential auto ad slogan). Yet, ultimately, this car will look as antiquated as a hansom cab, a throwback to an era’s obsession with sound and speed.

There'll always be a market for supercars and hypercars, six and seven-figure models that exist as investments and status symbols, with new technologies at their most expensive and experimental. The M2 is a far more traditional ride, a mid-market car for the aficionado. Yet it’s this particular niche that’s most under threat of extinction in the coming years, making the M2 a finely-engineered throwback to an earlier age. Perhaps BMW needs to invest in some racetracks as well as a network of chargers.