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BMW M2 CS Road Test | Better late than never

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The 2020 BMW M2 CS is a victory lap for BMW, and a well-deserved one at that. After five years of making the lovely M2 and subsequent M2 Competition, BMW has every right to pat itself on the back. It’s a masterpiece. And although we’re a little late to the party, finally getting our chance behind the wheel just as the last ones depart dealers, at least we get the chance to add our hands to the chorus of applause. 

Spiritually, the M2 has become the successor to BMW’s first few generations of M3, as the M3/M4 pair grow in both size and weight with each passing iteration. The M2 managed to slot in below those stalwarts as a refreshingly small and squat little coupe with hardly any space for backseat passengers. It’s lighter than an M4, filled with fewer luxuries and amenities, and drives like the small car it is. That makes the M2 a fundamentally better place to start from if fun-to-drive performance is priority number one. But as performance hierarchies go, the M2 has always had a “but” when compared to BMW’s flagship M3/M4.

The M2 handles incredibly well, but you can’t have adaptive dampers. The M2 is quick and makes a great noise, but it’s down on power and slower than an M4. I could go on, but! This M2 CS model is what happens if you remove the but from the equation. Finally.

From the spec sheet, the CS is exactly what a BMW enthusiast with unlimited pocketbooks would piece together to create the ultimate M2. You don’t even need to put wheels and tires on the car, because you can spec the most gorgeous, light-gold, forged wheels wrapped in Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires, the stickiest street legal rubber out there.

The laundry list of hot rodding goes on. The M2 CS inherited the previous-generation M3/M4 engine. There’s no leash holding this S55 power plant back either, as it makes the full 444 horsepower and 406 pound-feet of torque produced by the last-generation M3/M4. It’s basically the engine swap every M2 owner has wanted for years. To it, BMW bolted an exhaust that sounds ripped straight off the Loud Pipes ‘R Us cutting room floor — I promise, there’s no need for anything aftermarket here.

Of course, the list continues. BMW finally fits its adaptive dampers to the M2 CS after only offering fixed dampers to every previous M2. The carbon ceramic brakes are also optional on an M2 for the first time. And no need to touch the exterior styling. It’s outfitted with all the carbon fiber extras you could possibly want — hood, roof, mirrors, splitter, spoiler and diffuser. Plus, you can and should spec it in Misano Blue Metallic. Believe me, when these inevitably start showing up for auction, the white and black ones won’t be commanding the same premium. 

Stepping into the driver’s seat, though, I’m slightly miffed by the questionably selective lightweighting. BMW scrapped keyless entry for the CS (how much weight does that really save?), and when I go to rest my elbow on the armrest, I find that’s been removed, too. The whole console is wrapped in Alcantara with red stitching, but apparently taking out 6 pounds worth of armrest was a difference maker? At least it doesn’t have the “natural fibers” replacing the door armrest like the M4 CS had.

The M2 CS interior is from a bygone era of BMWs, too. That’s only because it’s still based on the old 2 Series chassis being replaced this year. Because it’s old BMW, though, that means more analog controls, plus smaller (and fewer) screens. An intricate “CS” pattern on the dash is there to denote this car’s celebrity, and it’s only this plus a 12 o’clock racing stripe on the steering wheel, CS sill plates and “CS” embroidered on the headrests that separate it from the standard M2 Competition. All of the above is great for simplicity’s sake, but don’t expect to get the same level of tech and luxury amenities in this $96,545 M2 CS as you get in a comparably priced M4. The CS is all about the drive.

And by golly it’s a good one. I tap the BMW gear shifter to the right into “Drive” — yes, this one has the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, not the manual — and rock off with a slight jolt and a jerk. This raw and slightly rough DCT is being phased out of BMW M cars as they transition to the ZF eight-speed torque converter box. It’s a shame, because the immediacy and crispness of its shifts are lost with it.

Even with the adaptive dampers set to full Comfort, the CS never lets you forget where its priorities lie. Every road crevice and pothole gets transmitted through the seat back to the driver. The steering at low and higher speeds is weighted naturally. Plus, it’s effectively communicating what’s going on with the tires, a rarity for modern BMWs. Cold Cup 2s are slick, and I can sense that lack of adhesion through the wheel on a chilly summer morning. It’s loud inside the cabin, too. Rocks and pebbles are slung up by those wide Michelins and clang against the fender wells. The exhaust is never neighbor-friendly, even with the active valves closed, and the cacophony goes even further with M Carbon Ceramic brakes that squeak and squeal 100% of the time.

It’s all sensory overload for what I’m accustomed to in today’s numb-but-technically-excellent BMWs. This is the BMW everybody wants and yearns for, I think to myself. I’m only cruising to the grocery store, but there’s an extra layer of liveliness and intimacy to the machine that is lacking in other M cars, even compared to the lesser M2 Competition.

Fast forward to a twisty road where this car belongs, and the M2 CS shows why it’s the ultimate M2. Now, it’s important to take a step back and realize that this car’s magical feeling on the road is largely attributable to the M2 family in general, and not the CS model specifically. This is good news for you, too, because while the CS is done with the 2020 model year, you can still pick up a 2021 M2 Competition.

What makes the M2s drive like they do is the super-short wheelbase and compact size that make it a nonstop tail-happy-driving car. Start applying throttle mid-corner, and the M2 CS is happy to oblige with a quick side step or full slide, dealer’s choice. The way it squirts from corner to corner is addictively fun. It demands driver involvement and focus on the task at hand, but can be tamed with a properly guided hand. That’s good, because full-throttle acceleration will have you gently see-sawing at the wheel.

The point is best made with an M4 comparison. Just like the M2, an M4 is mega-powerful, handles with great precision and is generally fantastic to drive. But the two cars have entirely different characters and offer up distinct experiences behind the wheel. Where the M4 is like a well-trained and predictable Olympic jumping horse, the M2 CS is like a mechanical bull constantly trying to throw you off — what makes it special is that BMW makes you feel like a professional bull rider from the driver’s seat. 

Beyond the inherent goodness of the M2’s basic chassis, the CS bits are very welcome additions. Being able to switch the dampers into a more forgiving setting on a poor, bumpy backroad is good news for your spine, and swapping to full Sport Plus results in the best possible body control and roll resistance. The optional carbon ceramics don’t seem to care about how hard you use them — they’re definitely ready for the most intense of lapping sessions straight out of the factory. Those Pilot Sport Cup 2s hold on for dear life in corners, too, extending the limits of where you think lateral grip might otherwise stop.

And of course, there’s that powerful engine. The extra giddyup does exactly what you’d expect. It just makes the car quicker — 0-60 mph in 3.8 seconds with the DCT — so no complaints there. Every rip and burble you hear from that inline-six is muscular and mean. It’s smooth and tuneful all the way up to the 7,600 rpm redline, then awards with a sharp snarl and tasteful crackling on the overrun. Better than the standard M2 Competition? You betcha.

This seven-speed dual-clutch is snappy and precise in its responses to paddle pulls and encourages manual mode use. The CS also uses BMW’s old, larger paddle shifters, which are exponentially better than the chintzy plastic paddles used on every other recently-new M car.

You may be wondering if BMW screwed anything up with the CS, and I promise, there are a few sore points. There is no blind spot warning system available. The weight difference isn’t that great compared to a standard M2 Competition (only 55 pounds lighter when comparing DCT equivalents), even with all the carbon fiber and M.I.A. armrest. And lastly, there’s the exorbitant price premium over the M2 Competition — we’re talking $24,700 more for the CS.

Of course, that price is academic at this point considering that all but one of the 500 BMW brought here seems to have been sold at the time of this writing. That rarity is a shame because this is truly the M2 the world deserved all along. Anybody who was lucky enough to snap one up is in for an absolute treat. Even with the DCT, it’s the most fun I’ve had in any new BMW, bar none. All of the parts used to hot rod this M2 sum up to a sports coupe from Munich we’ll look back on for years with a twinkle in our eye, perhaps with the same vaunted status as the rare BMW 1 Series M Coupe. The stirring noise. The wicked looks. The rousing drive. It adds up to M car perfection, and there’s no doubt this M2 CS is an instant M car classic. Now, who do we need to call at BMW to greenlight 500 more?

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