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2021 BMW M2 CS manual review

By Scott Newman, 10 Mar 2021 Reviews

BMW M2 CS review

Flagship 2 Series is one of BMW’s finest driving machines

Imagine if there was a car-making device that allowed you to input a request and have it spit out a corresponding machine. Were you to plug in “ultimate rear-drive sports coupe” then the result might very well be the BMW M2 CS.

Take BMW’s smallest rear-drive coupe, stuff it with hitherto unheard of levels of power, upgrade most of the mechanicals to cope then add plenty of kit from the cupboard marked ‘Motorsport’ and the end result is a pumped-up two-door that arguably sticks more closely to BMW’s traditional brand values than any other model.

The CS will be a rare car. It’s not a limited-run model per se, but BMW will only build it for so long. Only around 2200 are slated for production worldwide and just 86 of those will reach Australian shores, priced at $139,900 (MSRP) before options and on-road costs. Options are few, but expect that price to head beyond $150,000 by the time the relevant charges are applied.

That MSRP is a hefty $32,000 premium over the already excellent M2 Competition that came within a whisker of winning MOTOR’s Performance Car of the Year a couple of years back.

It uses the same S55 3.0-litre twin-turbo straight-six, but now producing 331kW at 6250rpm (a 29kW increase) and 550Nm spread from 2350-5500rpm (an identical peak figure but across a 300rpm wider band).

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For the first time, a six-speed manual is available in a CS model while the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic can be selected for no cost and an electronically controlled limited-slip differential also remains.

Enhancements include the first installation of adaptive dampers in an M2, monster brakes – 400mm discs with six-piston calipers at the front and 380mm discs with four-piston calipers at the rear, with the option of carbon-ceramic rotors – and track-focused Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres.

There is extensive use of carbonfibre, the bonnet, engine bay strut brace, roof, rear Gurney spoiler, new front splitter, rear diffuser, mirror caps, interior door grabs and entire centre console made from the lightweight black weave.

These chassis modifications subtly alter the M2 CS driving experience. The fixed-rate dampers of the Competition model are by definition a compromise, aiming to provide a balance between ride comfort and limit handling, but the new adaptive dampers definitely give it more bandwidth.

In Comfort the car is more relaxed, more comfortable, absorbing most bumps beautifully. A word of warning, though; for some reason on start up the steering and suspension default to their Sport modes, while the engine is set to Efficient.

Why this is the case is beyond me, for you’re left with a dozy throttle pedal, weighty steering and a jittery ride. There must be a way to alter this, but despite plenty of searching in the iDrive infotainment we failed to find it.

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Thankfully, like in most other M vehicles a pair of favoured setting combinations for the steering, engine, dampers and electronic stability control can be saved to the two buttons on the steering wheel marked ‘M1’ and ‘M2’. Personally, I think of these as ‘Daily’ and ‘Weekend’.

Selecting Sport is like kicking the M2 CS awake from a snooze. Switch modes while holding a steady throttle and the car will begin to accelerate thanks to the sharper throttle response. The added weight to the steering will be an acquired taste; it’s occasionally helpful to have a little more resistance to lean against but it doesn’t increase communication with the front tyres.

Sport is probably as stiff as you want to make the suspension on public roads, for it retains enough compliance to prevent shaking your teeth out while reducing roll and increasing body control. Sport Plus is best saved for ultra-smooth roads and racetracks.

Better body control is required as despite the liberal use of carbonfibre and BMW’s associated weight-saving claims, the M2 CS is no lighter than the Competition at a relatively hefty 1550kg for the manual and 1575kg for the dual-clutch.

You can sense this mass. This isn’t some Alpine A110-like flyweight, zipping from apex to apex; it’s like an NFL running back, still fast and athletic, but with plenty of muscle to back it up.

Whereas the M2 Competition scored lots of extra grunt in a largely unchanged chassis, which swung the pendulum towards power over grip in a sometimes hilariously lairy fashion, the M2 CS balances the grip-grunt ledger once more. It feels like the standard M2 only turned up to 12 or 13 in terms of speed in a straight line and around corners.

The traction and lateral grip provided by the Cup 2 tyres is staggering. You can option regular Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres at no cost but I can’t fathom why you would, as they aren’t that much better in the cold and wet and the difference in the dry is significant.

When it’s on form, this is the sort of car that BMW does so well and there are few better examples than the M2 CS. It wants to retain traction, not relinquishing it as smoothly as the Competition, but the upside is greater control and precision. It’s bloody awesome.

Downsides are the feel of the brakes, which work extremely well but don’t offer much communication in the process, and the conservative nature of the MDM stability control mode. Better safe than sorry, to be sure, but it definitely errs on the safe side.

Some caution isn’t probably a bad thing in a small coupe with 331kW and 550Nm attacking the rear wheels. The M2 CS puts the majority of its power down the majority of the time, but can still get lively in the first three gears if the tyres aren’t quite up to temperature or the surface is a bit off.

The S55 is a mighty engine, with masses of mid-range torque and a 7600rpm ceiling, but sorry purists, it’s not at its best with this gearbox. As much as it’s painful to write when manuals are increasingly thin on the ground, the M2 CS, like the F80 M3/M4, will be a better car with a DCT.

For some reason, the manual increases the engine’s turbo lag. Select second gear at a slow speed and floor the throttle and there’s a reasonable wait before things really start to happen. Power does also begin to taper off beyond 7000rpm, but you’re still left with more than 4000rpm to work with.

More importantly, the gearbox just isn’t that flash to use, with a rubbery shift that’s a long way from the slick precision of a Porsche Cayman or Honda Civic Type R. The gearing is well chosen and the auto-blip function works very well, though it’s a shame that stability control has to be turned off to deactivate it, as blipping the throttle yourself during heel-toe downshifts is half the fun of changing your own gears.

Nevertheless, the M2 CS is a very rapid machine, with a claimed 0-100km/h time of 4.2sec (0.2sec quicker than the Competition) though matching that would require all the planets to align and then some.

Sadly, the noise isn’t what it once was. The engine note is a pleasing hum, but softer and mellower than you might expect, with none of the on-throttle rasp and off-throttle fireworks that previous iterations of this engine had.

It seems the latest noise and emissions regulations have caught up with this engine and turned the volume down. The girlfriend of an M2-owning bystander even asked “Why is this car so much quieter than yours?”. Quite. That said, while the M2 CS isn’t perhaps as raucous as it could be, this is still a top drawer driving experience.

Being based on the seven-year old 2 Series means you won’t see the latest technology in the M2 CS but buyers are unlikely to complain. It lacks the constant intrusion from lane-keep assist, lights and alarms saying “don’t do this” and “stay away from that”.

There are front, side and head airbags for the driver and passenger, but BMW is happy to let drivers take care of the, well, driving. The stuff that matters in this context are the excellent driving position and utterly fantastic seats. Speaking of which, BMW calls the M2 CS a four-seater but the rear pews are best left for occasional use, though there is more room back there than you might expect.

Thankfully, BMW has learned from its experience with the M4 CS and while there is the lightweight, Alcantara-covered centre console and basic single-zone climate control, the door cards with storage for drinks, keys and wallets has been retained. The M4 CS deleted these in place of flat panels and fabric straps to open the doors and was a practicality nightmare.

Nevertheless, the interior is a bit of a strange mix. There are swathes of carbon and Alcantara and more basic equipment in the name of saving weight, yet the seats are still electrically powered. No keyless entry is definitely a first-world problem, but it’s a problem nonetheless when your hands are full – does it really weigh that much?

Points to M Division for keeping traditional round dials, albeit in digitised form, rather than switching them to digital affectations like in most BMWs.

Unlike some other premium manufacturers, BMW is sticking to a three-year warranty, though it covers unlimited kilometres, and a pair of five-year, 80,000km fixed-price servicing plans are available at $2995 or $8805 for the ‘Plus’. The former includes all the usual required servicing, the latter adding brake parts, a clutch service and wiper blades every 12 months.

If you’re the type of driver that loves to head for the hills – and the chances of this are high if you own an M2 CS – then also be aware that the combination of a fearsome thirst for fuel and a small tank could quite literally leave you high and dry.

Over the course of 200km with a mixture of highway cruising and some hard driving, the M2 CS drank 18.93L/100km, which with a 52-litre tank equates to a range of just 275km. Cup 2 tyres take punishment very well, but they also won’t last long when subjected to regular abuse.

In true CS fashion, objectively it falls down, primarily due to the price tag. It’s undoubtedly superior to the M2 Competition, but not to the tune of $30,000. It’s more usable, quicker and more capable, but by a margin of around 10-15 per cent rather than 30.

A similar spend would also score you a run-out F82 M4 Competition or a near-new M4 CS, but the real elephant in the room is the G80 M3, available for a mere $5000 more with the latest-generation S58 engine, up-to-date infotainment and four doors. And, yes, that nose.

But that’s the head talking and the M2 CS is a heart car. If you love traditional rear-drive coupes and want a car to keep for the next 20 years, perhaps as a reminder of what was possible, then it’s easy to recommend the M2 CS. It’s rare, special, looks fantastic and is utterly brilliant to drive.

8.5/10

Pros: sublime rear-drive dynamics; improved comfort; rarity

Cons: big money; small fuel tank; reduced noise

Specifications

Body: 2-door, 4-seat coupe
Drive: rear-wheel
Engine: 2979cc inline-6cyl, DOHC, 24v, twin-turbo
Bore/stroke: 89.6 x 84.0mm
Compression: 10.2:1
Power: 331kW @ 6250rpm
Torque: 550Nm @ 2350-5500rpm
Fuel Consumption: 10.4L/100km (combined/claimed)
0-100km/h: 4.2sec (claimed)
Top Speed: 280km/h (limited)
Weight: 1550kg
Power/weight: 214kW/tonne
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Suspension: struts, coil springs, adaptive dampers, anti-roll bar (f); multi-links, coil springs, adaptive dampers, anti-roll bar (r)
L/W/H: 4461/1871/1414mm
Wheelbase: 2693mm
Tracks: 1579/1601mm
Steering: electrically assisted rack-and-oinion
Brakes: 400mm ventilated/drilled discs, 6-piston calipers (f); 380mm ventilated/drilled discs, 4-piston calipers (r)
Wheels: 19 x 9.0-inch (f); 19 x 10.0-inch (r)
Tyres: 245/35 ZR19 (f); 265/35 ZR19 (r) Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2
Price: $139,900