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BMW’s finest driving machine gains two famous letters but do they lift it to icon status?

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What do you think is the most important car BMW builds today? We think you’re looking at it. Not necessarily this box-fresh CS, whose £75,320 asking price will give even the most ardent and generously provisioned M-car loyalist pause for thought, but the BMW M2 in general.

A hydrogen-powered BMW X5 slated for 2022 or the upcoming electric BMW i4 saloon may go on to become the most significant BMW cars of this era, but when front-wheel drive is increasingly seen as a full-blown strategy, with the cars ever larger and heavier, you begin to wonder why we enthusiasts ever felt so much affection for the marque.

Characteristic M division quad exhaust tips sit well within the extremities of the rear bumper. The design is subtly different from that of the M2 Competition and each tip features an inscribed ‘M’.

The M2 reminds us. This compact coupé uses its front-mounted straight-six engine to drive the rear wheels and you can even have three pedals, should you want them. That’s the basic recipe, and the execution has always been excellent, too. When it first arrived in 2015, we wrote that while the BMW 1 Series M Coupé – the rare and thuggish M2 progenitor that hummed with skunkworks-cool – had “confirmed that BMW still knew what ingredients were essential to the building of a legitimate M car”, the M2 was “further corroboration of that fact”.

In 2018, the ingredients were upgraded for the BMW M2 Competition, which brought sharper suspension and borrowed the piledriver S55 engine from the BMW M4, and whose limited playfulness was its “ultimate party trick”. For several Autocar testers, the M2 Competition remains at the sharp end of their own-money-purchase hit list.

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And now we have the CS, which is the final instalment of the F22- generation 2 Series Coupé and ought very well to be alarmingly good. The moniker, which stands for ‘Coupé Sport’ but is conspicuously shorn of an L to denote ‘Light’, had been deployed only twice before the most recent M3 and M4 reprised the letters – once in 1968 and then again for the E46-generation M3.

All were fast and expensive for their time, but dynamically there have been hits and misses. Which will it be today?

The BMW M2 line-up at a glance

With the M2 Competition replacing the standard M2 in 2018, that model now represents the entry point to BMW M’s smallest and arguably best model range. The Competition and CS models each come with a six-speed manual gearbox as standard and an M Sport seven-speed dual-clutch transmission is available as an optional extra.

CS models get reworked suspension, adaptive dampers, a modest power hike and more over and above the regular Competition. Not that there’s anything regular about the Comp, mind.

Price £75,320 Power 444bhp Torque 405lb ft 0-60mph 4.1sec 30-70mph in fourth 5.9sec Fuel economy 25.0mpg CO2 emissions 221g/km 70-0mph 43.7m

 

DESIGN & STYLING

BMW M2 CS 2020 road test review - hero side

That lack of an ‘L’ in the name: it means the M2 CS weighs the same as the M2 Competition, at 1550kg – or 1575kg with the optional seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox, which is what we have here.

Elsewhere, the CS is similarly recognisable from the Competition. The 3.0-litre twin-turbo straight six remains, with its beautiful bowed carbonfibre strut brace, as does BMW's Active M rear differential.

Carbonfibre roof usefully lowers the car’s centre of gravity and stiffens the bodyshell, in turn allowing the adaptive suspension to operate with greater accuracy.

The rigidly mounted lightweight rear subframe is also carried over, along with the ball-jointed suspension. Both cars then use the same MacPherson strut and multi-link designs for the front and rear axles respectively, and there’s no difference in track widths or the ratio of the electromechanical steering. However, the CS does sit marginally closer to the road than the Competition and, at its widest point, adds 17mm in girth.

The devil, as ever, is in the detail (and, we’ll admit, also in the unmissable new bodykit, more on which shortly). The CS marks the first time an M2 has been furnished with M’s multi-mode adaptive suspension, the hardware for which has been lifted directly from the BMW M4, albeit with bespoke tuning.

Because of the higher forces involved, especially on track, where owners will be able to put the car’s optional Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres to work, the characteristics of the fast-acting and widely variable multiplate rear differential have also been altered. The same is true of BMW’s famed M Dynamic mode, although it still allows for generous yaw without disabling the DSC entirely.

The forged Y-spoke wheels are also new and lighter than those of the Competition yet encouragingly no larger in diameter or width. With 444bhp, the monstrous S55 makes 40bhp more than before, although only due to an electronic tickle, and the power curve peaks slightly further up the rev range at a juicy 6250rpm. Peak torque remains at 405lb ft, arriving at just 2350rpm. It’s a fitting farewell for this long-serving unit before the new S58 assumes duties for the next generation of M cars, and the CS certainly shouldn’t want for straight-line potency. Marshalling all that energy are the brakes, which for the first time on any M2 are optionally available with carbon-ceramic discs. Our car has them, as denoted by the gold painted calipers.

Finally, the CS-specific bodywork includes the CFRP roof found on the GT4 racing cars. Along with the drop in ride height, the panel lowers the car’s centre of gravity, and it also stiffens the shell. The carbonfibre-composite bonnet and its lurid vent are also shared with the GT4 cars, although the crenellated Gurney flap and fanged front splitter are all new for the road car. The overall effect is that the M2 CS is more neutral in terms of lift as it approaches its 174mph top speed. The side effect is the fact that you’re highly unlikely to miss one of these cars burbling by.

INTERIOR

BMW M2 CS 2020 road test review - cabin

Architecturally, the cabin is identical to the Competition’s, but it borrows elements seen in the recent BMW M3 and BMW M4 CS, not least the bucket seats, which are marginally chunkier than the regular BMW M2 buckets and feature racy cut-outs.

Further marking out the CS is the not so subtle motif cut into the Alcantara dashboard covering and a carbonfibre transmission tunnel casing, which weighs half that of the standard plastic piece in the Competition. Big deal, you might very well say.

Slimline gearshift paddles feel reasonably serious and are nicely made, but a bit more tactility and drama wouldn’t go amiss. Better still, we’d take the manual.

What you won’t find in here are the redundant fabric door pulls BMW has in the past fitted to CS derivatives (redundant because the normal door handles remained) but neither do you get an armrest or central storage cubby. In a machine that ultimately weighs no less than its less fierce siblings, this seems an unnecessary and vain sacrifice of something genuinely useful.

Those looking for something widely different and exciting in comparison with the M2 Competition – something, perhaps, to help justify the extra £25,000 – will therefore probably be slightly disappointed.

However, ergonomically, the M2’s cockpit is as well sorted and comfortable as that of any other front-engined tin-top performance car short of the very finest GT cars from Ferrari and Aston Martin. Back row seats are still best reserved for kids but, in the front, the manually adjustable steering column should allow almost anyone to bring the overly thick-rimmed steering wheel, trimmed in Alcantara, right out towards their chest. Our car’s optional electric seats offer similar versatility.

Being based on the mass-produced 2 Series Coupé, the M2 CS also touts good luggage space within its deep boot – more, certainly, than you’ll get with the Porsche Cayman GT4 and far more than with anything from Lotus. There’s also a useful hatch that folds down between the rear seats.

BMW M2 CS infotainment and sat-nav

BMW’s current iDrive infotainment set-up is arguably the best of its kind and so, quite apart from the fact that the M2 CS’s priorities reside elsewhere in the package, the system has been left well alone.

The set-up consists primarily of an 8.8in display and a rotary controller on the transmission tunnel, although the screen is also touch-sensitive. There are further, well-defined physical controls for the volume and climate control, so there’s no need for the driver to fumble around with haptic feedback and finding the right menu, which is just as well given the car’s potency.

Only the lack of a central cubby frustrates. The opportunity for one has been lost along with the armrest, so the only USB port sits exposed at the back of the transmission tunnel. It means that should you plug your phone in to use Apple CarPlay (Android Auto is not offered), you’ll need to find somewhere for the cable to go.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

BMW M2 CS 2020 road test review - engine

One area where the Porsche – undoubtedly the BMW's closest rival – comes out on top concerns power to weight. With 282bhp per tonne, the M2 CS is hardly limp, but the Cayman GT4 manages 292bhp and the Lotus Exige more than 300bhp, even in its mildest form.

What those figures don’t convey is the BMW’s ability to deliver an explosive degree of torque at almost any moment. No, in today’s world, the M2 CS doesn’t feel heart-in-your-mouth fast – even if the 1.3sec it takes to blast from 30mph to 50mph in second gear and the 2.5sec to stride from 50mph to 70mph in fourth allude to serious pace – but it is ready to shift at delectably short notice.

M2 CS is wonderfully agile and all of a piece by the standards of a 1575kg performance saloon, yet its dynamics also stretch to easy everyday usability, even on UK roads.

The S55’s muscularity and breadth are useful on the public road, and although we would have preferred a test car with its standard-fit manual gearbox, BMW’s £2645 dual-clutch option is thrillingly slick and quick in operation, notwithstanding the odd clunky shift at low speeds.

It is, in short, an awesomely capable powertrain and one that doesn’t require constant shifting and protracted throttle openings to keep on the boil. In terms of sound and response, this straight six also leaves very little to be desired in the context of turbocharged engines.

As for outright pace, our telemetry-measured 0-60mph time of 4.1sec falls fractionally short of the official 4.0sec claim to 62mph. On the other hand, the M2 CS was a full second quicker to 150mph than the 503bhp Mercedes-AMG C63 S. Certainly, it has the pace to match the price.

Aside from the transmission, the main option that owners will need to consider are the expensive carbon-ceramic brakes. Undoubtedly they stop the car well, though on the road any improvement over the standard cast-iron items will be academic. They’re also slightly too keen to bite initially, but thereafter easy enough to modulate with familiarity.

RIDE & HANDLING

BMW M2 CS 2020 road test review - on the road front

Dynamically, the CS needs to answer two questions. First, is it the finest-steering M2 yet? And following on from that, is this the best-handling M2 yet and therefore one of the greatest modern BMW driver’s cars?

The bonus question, of course, is how close this front-engined coupé of an unapologetically muscular persuasion comes to matching mid-engined alternatives at such an elevated price point.

I like the M2 CS as much for what it cannot do as for what it can. It’s not as subtle or complex in its handling as the Cayman, but that roguish streak is so appealing.

The answers are ‘yes’, ‘yes, if only marginally for road driving’ and ‘pretty damn close’. The CS may not be the lightweight modern-day coming of the E46 M3 CSL many will have hoped for, but it still offers an astonishingly good driving experience, and one that rewards and cultivates enthusiasm.

BMW hasn’t changed the level of steering assistance or the speed of the electromechanical rack but, for those familiar with the BMW M2 Competition, it will be clear that the altered suspension geometry and high fidelity Cup 2 tyres have put more meat on the bone in terms of steering response and feel. The tight damping and, for our test car, considerably reduced unsprung mass due to the carbon-ceramic brakes and new wheels then feed into the CS’s ability to execute truly rapacious direction changes.

Of course, all these detail improvements at the front axle can only come to the fore because the rear, with its various rigid connection points, is so precise in its movements and offers an admirably consistent platform from which the engine can let its efforts rip. It’s a combined effort, and this chassis moves as one and with conviction. In fact, the M2 CS is just about as neat and terrifically agile on the road as you would imagine it’s possible for this kind of car to be, although the suspension needs considerable speed and load to work with true panache.

Unsurprisingly, this car also has the same playful side as the M2 Competition, even if you do have to work harder to free it, should you pick those optional grippy Cup 2 tyres. The Active M Differential in the rear axle maintains traction well but, with deliberate efforts from the driver, it’s overcome easily enough and operates progressively when the car does begin to pivot. It doesn’t work quite as communicatively or predictably as the best purely mechanical limited-slip diffs, but neither does it promote understeer early on in corners.

All this being said, the CS doesn’t generate the delicacy, alacrity or flow of an Alpine A110 or Porsche 718 Cayman. It also lacks the off-throttle adjustability of those kinds of cars, although the BMW is less flighty in poor weather and anyone who simply wants to feel like they’re in a loosely sanitised touring car should look no further.

We’ll have to wait for another time to see just how fast the M2 CS will go on the Dunlop dry handling circuit at MIRA but, based on its showing on the Hill Route at Millbrook, we wouldn’t be surprised were it to acquire some notable scalps.

However well you imagine this car grips and goes, you’ve probably not imagined hard enough. With help from Michelin’s Cup 2 tyres, the front axle is shockingly adhesive, especially under trailing brakes. The CS’s instant turn-in response isn’t quite as crisp as some mid-engined cars, but once you’re beyond that initial change of direction, the nose remains locked on your chosen line.

At this point, what happens next is up to you. It’s not difficult to drive up to the limit of grip and traction and keep the chassis balanced at that point. But neither is it difficult to tease the tail wide and keep it there. You might even want to grab another gear while it’s out there.

Comfort and isolation

In the case of the M2 CS, such pugnacious bodywork and suspension liberated of various rubber bushings paint a picture of an uncompromising road car that values excitement and performance above all else. And there is, perhaps, some truth in this. However, the reality is that, in the main, this track-day-ready product copes with British roads well.

Being taller and heavier than mid-engined rivals such as the Cayman and A110 does, of course, necessitate closer body control and this manifests in an everyday ride quality that can feel agitated. However, the BMW’s damping is generally progressive, to the extent that along some uneven road surfaces, it is actually preferable to set the suspension to its firmest Sport Plus mode, which quells uncomfortable side-to-side motions but seems to give away remarkably little in compliancy.

The effects of tyre and wind noise are also unremarkable and the high-speed ride is certainly alert but not in any way tiresome. Set the suspension to Comfort on the motorway and the M2 CS will cruise all day without becoming tiring.

Admittedly, some of this is down to the generously padded (but not sloppily soft) seats and the fact that the fundamental driving position is so carefully thought out. With its raised driving position in comparison with the mid-engined alternatives, the M2 CS also gives the driver an excellent view of the road – both in front and behind. These are simple elements of the driving experience but also important ones in the context of a machine that, for many owners, will need to earn its keep day to day.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

BMW M2 CS 2020 road test review - hero front

There is no reason why anyone could not use an M2 CS as everyday transport. Assuming you have the requisite £75,000, rising to £83,260 for the car tested here, securing an example shouldn’t be too difficult, either. BMW intends to build at least 2200 cars, although that number is a target rather than a ceiling, and if demand is there, it could increase.

However, one thing to bear in mind is that, as of September this year, the S55 engine no longer complies with European emission standards and production will end. Prospective British buyers would do well to make up their mind without hesitation.

For the same amount of money as the M2 CS, you could get hold of an immaculate M3 CSL. It’s an enviable dilemma that would give me sleepless nights.

Or perhaps not. The halo effect of any top-billing M division product means that independent sellers will in the short term put a premium on the M2 CS. Don’t be surprised to see some cars listed for six-figure sums.

However, the recent BMW M4 CS and BMW M3 CS have both suffered from painful depreciation, to the extent that it’s now possible to buy either with very few miles on the clock for little more than £55,000 – £30,000 less than the original price.

We wouldn’t expect the M2 CS to depreciate with such vigour, not least because it is better to drive than its bigger siblings, but savvy buyers willing to wait a year or so may save themselves some money.

 

VERDICT

BMW M2 CS 2020 road test review - static

Cars like the M2 CS defy straightforward verdicts. Let’s face it: there are less entertaining, less usable, more common, less well-engineered and frankly less special machines that cost twice as much as this potent swansong for the most junior M car but wear their price tags altogether more comfortably.

The problem for the CS, of course, is the existence of the considerably more attainable BMW M2 Competition. On track, there may exist daylight between the two cars’ capabilities, but on the road, in order to improve the recipe in any easily identifiable and meaningful way, BMW needed to go further than it has with the CS. Probably by dropping the kerb weight.

Highly engaging and good on track but fails to justify its price

In isolation, the CS is nevertheless a singularly stunning achievement and enormously rewarding on the right road. Incremental increases in agility, control, performance and steering feel have made an already spectacular car even better. The M2 also has the versatility of four seats and a good-sized boot. Cost aside, it is an exemplary M car.

BMW may be adopting front drive and electrification elsewhere in its line-ups, but if it can find room for another generation or two of an untampered M2, we’ll be forever grateful.

 

Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.