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First Drive 2020 BMW M2 CS - Testing The Concentrated BMW M Formula

Author: Bradley Iger | 02/08/2021 < Back to Motor Life Home
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Like the purveyors of American muscle cars, BMW has never been shy about leveraging their heritage to bolster the cache of their contemporary offerings. The F22-generation 2-Series, for instance, is said to draw its lineage from the 2002, a sacred cow in BMW’s history that was built from 1968 to 1976. Ostensibly an entry level model, the 2002’s charm stemmed from its simplicity, rakish good looks, and surprisingly capable performance due in no small part to its low curb weight.


Considering where the 2-Series currently sits in the BMW pecking order, there’s certainly some reasonable logic here. But when judged by what’s in front of you rather than in the context of a product portfolio, the 2-Series coupe comes off as more of a modern interpretation of the venerable E46 3-Series. It’s not incredibly light or simple, but it nails two incredibly important fundamentals: The chassis and the overall dimensions. Most everything else is just a matter of adapting components.

A million different variables could have screwed up the M2 when it launched in 2016, but mercifully, none came to fruition. The sport-tuned coupe felt like a return to form for the M division; while the rest of the BMW performance lineup continued to combat rising bloat with stratospheric horsepower, the spritely, 365hp M2 was a refreshing change of pace. It was also a relative bargain at $55,495, at least for anything wearing a roundel and an M badge.


But the march of progress appeared to threaten the M2’s winning formula when the M2 Competition replaced the standard model in 2018. More power was on the menu, thanks to an engine swap from the 3.0-liter turbocharged N55 inline six cylinder engine to a slightly detuned version of the M4’s S55 turbo inline six that offered 404 horsepower and 406 pound-feet of torque, respective upgrades of 40 hp and 37lb-ft. More power necessitated more cooling and bigger brakes, leading to an increase in weight, and with a $4400 price hike, the upgrades also made their presence known when it came time to sign on the bottom line. But while the M2 Competition seemed to be straying from a winning formula a bit, there was undoubtedly still a lot to like.


Now with the current generation 2-Series set to bow out after this year, the M Division has pulled out all the stops for the M2 CS, a limited-production model with honest-to-goodness track day intent. It equates to even more power, more chassis tuning, more grip, and more exclusivity.


It translates to quite a bit more money, too, with a starting price of $84,595. Our Alpine White tester is equipped with one option – M Carbon Ceramic Brakes – and it tallies up $93,095 when all is said and done. Any way you slice it, that’s a pretty big ask for a 2-Series.


But is it still worth it? Amongst the urban sprawl of central Los Angeles and out on the twisting tarmac of the Angeles National Forest, we intended to find out.

Inside and Out


The CS treatment isn’t a revolutionary re-think of the M2 formula, but the fact that this is something special is obvious at first glance, as evidenced by the carbon fiber-reinforced roof, hood, mirror caps and aero bits, along with the unique 19-wheel forged wheels, which come standard in gloss black. The matte gold finish is a no-charge option, and either way those rollers come wrapped in ultra-sticky Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires measuring 245mm-wide up front and 265mm in the rear.


Adaptive M Suspension dampers are fitted as-standard on the CS and grace the spec sheet for the first time in any 2-Series, while the aforementioned carbon ceramic brakes are an $8500 option and also exclusive to the M2 CS in the 2-Series lineup.


Under the hood is an upgraded version of the S55 that now dishes out 444 horsepower, while torque figures remain unchanged from the M2 Competition at 406 lb-ft. The power is channeled through either a seven-speed dual clutch gearbox with steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters or a six-speed manual transmission with an auto-rev-matching feature, while a standard locking Active M Differential can send anywhere from zero to 100% of the grunt to either rear wheel as needed based on real-time factors like steering angle, accelerator position, brake pressure, engine torque, wheel-speed, and yaw rate. The song of the S55 is also enhanced by a unique active exhaust system that allows for control of its volume and character via a hard button on the center console.


There’s a sense of occasion in the cabin as well, as evidenced by the carbon fiber-reinforced transmission tunnel, aggressively-bolstered M Competition front seats, and the collection of alcantara trim found on nearly every touch surface.

Behind the Wheel


With all the competition-inspired hardware, you’d expect the M2 CS to be a bit of a brute out in the real world, compromised by a stiff ride and hard seats. Truth is, the lack of an arm rest on the CS-exclusive carbon fiber center console is probably our biggest complaint in that department, a piece of race car theater which saves all of six pounds over the standard one. It’s an omission which makes little sense considering the fact that the near-useless rear seat remains intact here and likely weighs quite a bit more than six pounds.


Console aside, the M2 CS is actually pretty civil. Although the heated sport seats lack lumbar support and additional creature comforts like ventilation, they’re surprisingly comfortable, and the electronically-adjustable side bolsters help achieve a tailor-made fit that effectively keeps you in place when maneuvering with purpose. Yes, the ride is noticeably firmer than that of the M2 Competition, but with adjustable dampers on hand, the spring rate is still agreeable enough with the suspension set in Comfort mode for a daily-driven machine, even on the pockmarked road surfaces of the LA.


Our tester was outfitted with the six-speed manual transmission, and for those not chasing lap times, it’s the gearbox we’d recommend. Clutch weight is fairly light for a performance car but the engagement point is just-right and clearly communicated through the pedal. There’s still a rubbery feeling in-hand when moving through the cogs – a characteristic that’s become a hallmark of modern BMW manual transmissions – but it never feels like you’d miss a shift because of it. The automatic rev-matching also comes in handy more often than you might expect.


While the original M2 felt well-balanced with the horsepower on tap and the M2 Competition felt lively with its 40hp bump, the 444 horsepower M2 CS feels legitimately fast. The admirably linear power delivery of the original N55-powered M2 is now a distant memory, but in its place is a vast well of mid-range torque that hurls the CS forward with true urgency. BMW cites a 0-60 mph sprint in 3.8 seconds for DCT-equipped examples and four seconds flat for M2 CSs with three pedals, and we see no reason to doubt those figures.


But the stoplight drags aren’t the M2 CS’s natural habitat – where this thing truly shines is out in the canyons. Along with the newfound pace, there’s an even higher level of poise than that of the M2 Competition, no doubt thanks to the beefed-up suspension and Cup 2 rubber. Good outward visibility, seating position, and powertrain response combine with an inspired chassis to create a car that encourages you to explore its capability rather than scolding you for it, and there’s clear, neutral communication when you’ve reached the limit.

Stopping power from the M Carbon Ceramic brakes is excellent, and great pedal feel remained throughout extended high-pace romps through the mountains. They also don’t seem to suffer from the around-town noise and grabbiness that’s so often par for the course with carbon ceramics, and the gold calipers are particularly sharp with the matching wheel finish. Still, as an option $8500 they comprise nearly ten percent of the car’s overall cost, and if you plan to track the car, those rotors will be a serious hit to the wallet when it comes time to replace them. We recommend skipping these, albeit reluctantly.


Although the M2 has moved into new territory in CS guise, it’s still a serious charmer – the kind of car we’d buy with our own money. Problem is, the asking price of our tester puts it within spitting distance of the Porsche Cayman GT4, and as great as the CS is, the GT4 is a sports car that’s operating on an entirely different level. There’s also the C8 Corvette to consider, which starts at under $60K and can be had well-equipped for tens of thousands of dollars less than this CS. Did we mention this car is also twelve grand more than the all-new, 479hp BMW M4?


At the end of the day, it’s still the fundamentals that make the M2 CS such a worthwhile performance car. And for that reason, it’s tough to justify the lofty price of admission when an M2 Competition with some wheels, tires, and coilovers will get you 95% of the way there. Still, considering the fact that only 500 units of this one-year model are allocated for U.S. shores, we doubt the sizable coin involved will deter many BMW diehards who’ve been chomping at the bit for a car like this one.

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