We drive the new BMW M2 CS on track in Germany ahead of Australia’s local launch.
We’ll say it now to curtail any suspense: you’re looking at the best driver’s car BMW produces. High praise, we’ll admit. But after a day spent lapping the new M2 CS around a circuit in Germany, we can’t think of any other current BMW that delivers quite the same combination of performance, balance and sheer attitude as this.
You’ll remember the M4 CS. This car takes the same philosophy. The M2 CS is a last hurrah for company’s junior M car prior to the introduction of a new second-generation model in 2021. Its production isn’t officially limited, but with the M2 set to cease to production in September, you’ll need to be quick with your order. At $139,900, it costs significantly more than the highly regarded M2 Competition. Expensive? Yes, but no more so than its prime competitor, the Porsche 718 Cayman GT4, which is listed at $207,000.
One look at it is to realise that justification for the high price tag isn’t reserved exclusively for the elevated dynamics. There are also quite a few expensive-looking parts that serve to differentiate it from the M2 Competition. Among them are a new-look front bumper with a carbonfibre splitter element, a carbonfibre-reinforced-plastic bonnet with a large central air and a carbonfibre roof panel – all of which are shared with BMW’s new M2 GT4 race car.
There’s also a larger carbonfibre rear spoiler, along with a reworked carbonfibre rear diffuser and lightweight 19-inch forged aluminium wheels, which offer the choice of Michelin Pilot Super Sport or, as worn by our test car, more track-focused Pilot Sport Cup tyres. Both are 245/35 front and 265/35 in profile.
The changes not only give the M2 CS a more aggressive look but also bring greater downforce. The head of BMW M development, Dirk Haecker, says lift is virtually eliminated at 200km/h, providing the car with what he describes as “more settled qualities at high speed”. Don’t expect any reduction in weight, though; at 1575kg, the M2 CS weighs exactly the same as the M2 Competition.
The engine represents new performance ground for the smallest M car. It’s the same version of the long-serving S55 unit used by standard versions of the old M3 and the M4, with a newly designed exhaust system. The twin-turbocharged 3.0-litre straight six delivers 331kW at 6250rpm and 550Nm of torque between 2350rpm and 5500rpm – an improvement of 15kW on the less heavily tuned version of the S55 used by the M2 Competition, although torque is the same.
Drive is sent to the rear wheels through a standard six-speed manual gearbox or the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic used by our test car. There’s also a reworked electronically controlled Active M Differential that has been tuned specifically for the M2 CS.
With the dual-clutch gearbox, the power-to-weight ratio is 210kW per tonne. This is 18kW more than the M2 Competition but fails to top the 218kW per tonne of the Cayman GT4, whose naturally aspirated 4.0-litre flat six kicks out 309kW and 420Nm.
Today’s drive of the M2 CS is limited to a circuit. But if there is a circuit to unlock the secrets to this car’s dynamics, it’s the Sachsenring. Best known for hosting the German round of MotoGP, it’s a challenging place at the best of times – and more so now after heavy morning rain. Among the more unforgiving sections is a wildly undulating infield section that loops back on itself before sending you flat out downhill into a sequence of fast, open corners. Given that BMW expects a large number of owners will use their cars for track days, it’s an appropriate setting.
Before we get under way, though, the reworked cockpit. As you would expect, it’s largely the same as that of the M2 Competition, but there’s a new carbonfibre centre console that goes without the usual centre armrest, the same M Competition Sport front seats used by the M4 CS and some added Alcantara for good measure. It’s not exactly overflowing with luxurious confirm, but nor is it the pared-back road-racer that some might expect. It even has rear seats…
You can set the manually adjustable driver’s seat quite low to strike a wonderful straightforward driving position. The manually adjustable, Alcantara-trimmed M Sport steering wheel boasts a fairly thick rim, but there are cut-outs that make it quite nice to hold.
The characteristic turbine whirl at start-up leaves you in no doubt: there’s only one make of car that makes this sound. Subjectively, there’s not a lot that separates the engine from the engine of the M2 Competition. Smooth and muscular in character at low to middling revs but crisp and tremendously responsive at the top end, it provides the M2 CS with the sort of brawny performance and urgent in-gear qualities its track-bred positioning suggests.
Do you feel the added 30kW? Not immediately, because peak power is delivered 1000rpm further up the dial, so the M2 CS needs to be worked harder to unlock it. But such is the smoothness of the engine and the aural rewards when you’ve really got it zinging along that this is no hardship. Rather, it’s part and parcel of the new M car’s hardened and more authoritative character.
BMW claims 0-100km/h in 4.0sec, which is 0.2sec quicker than the M2 Competition and 0.4sec quicker than the Cayman GT4. With the M Driver’s package coming as standard, the top speed is limited to 280km/h.
You don’t need to wring its neck to see serious speed, though; with maximum torque arriving at 2350rpm and remaining on tap until 5500rpm, it is tremendously flexible and very amenable. You can short-shift and still have a handy amount of shove already building out of slower corners. The dual-clutch gearbox, with its steering wheel-mounted paddles, is the perfect accompaniment: fast-acting on upshifts and, with a function to match revs, agreeably smooth on downshifts. However, it lacks the intrinsic involvement of a manual, and as very reason for this car is to create a more intimate connection between driver and machine, it’s probably well worth consideration, even if it costs you a second or two in laptime potential.
It may be nearing the end of its production life, but this remains a wonderful chassis. BMW M’s efforts at providing a perfect 50:50 front-to-rear weight distribution and added stiffness with a series of braces provides the basis for truly engaging and playful handling. To this, the M2 CS adds a heightened degree of directness and urgency of movement via a heavily retuned suspension that sees the adoption of standard adaptive dampers – the first time they’ve been fitted to M2 of any kind.
The balance is quite finely struck. While it doesn’t quite match the magnificent neutrality of the mid-engined Cayman GT4, there are few front-engine cars come close to matching the ultimate precision offered by the M2 CS. On track, there remains a small degree of understeer, most notably in high-speed corners. This is intentional, according to Haecker, who says it is important to provide a marker for the driver. Still, it’s quickly quelled by a via a lifting of the throttle or by trailing in on the brakes.
It’s through the Sachsenring’s challenging in-field that the decision to provide the M2 CS with adaptive dampers feels fully justified. Body movements are even more immediate than with the passively damped M2 Competition, but the roll angles are better controlled, too. It settles quickly and with added authority, giving the M2 CS a flatter and more determined cornering nature.
Helping in this respect is the carbonfibre roof, which Haecker says is more than just cosmetic: “The roof contributes to a lowering of the centre of gravity. It uses a new sandwich construction, which not only adds structural rigidity but is also lighter than the previous method we used.”
The steering is sharper as well – or at least gives the impression of being so. The electromechanical rack and its ratio are the same as you get in the M2 Competition, but a slight camber increase and added sensitivity brought by the adaptive damping brings greater precision together with the well-weighted and inherently linear feel that we’ve become used to from the junior M model. We’ll need more time on the road to determine if critical feedback has been improved, but there’s certainly an added keenness to the self-centring that serves to further heighten the driving experience.
After a couple of laps of fairly controlled running, it’s dry enough to begin pushing with real intent. On smooth surfaces, the soft compound Cup tyres deliver outstanding purchase. You can load up the M2 CS on the entry to constant-radius corners and confidently continue to push past the apex, all the while relying on the sheer adhesion to allow you to hold your line. It’s here, with greater grip equating to faster cornering speeds, where BMW says it has a distinct advantage over the M2 Competition. “It’s a combination of a lot of detailed chassis changes,” says Haecker of the greater agility offered by the M2 CS, adding: “It laps the Nürburgring eight seconds faster than the M2 Competition.
In a development taken from the M2 Competition, the M2 CS gets preset M buttons on the steering wheel, with which you can choose your preferred chassis set-up. In fittingly titled M2 mode with the dynamic stability control (DSC) switched off, there’s a lovely progressive transition into oversteer when you do exceed the limits of adhesion in slower corners, and it takes just a small degree of steering lock to correct it.
This controlled feel instils the driver with great confidence – as does the operation of the electronically operated M differential, which apportions drive individually to each rear wheels, allowing you to light up the rear tyres when the conditions allow.
No less effective are the brakes, which are larger than those of the M2 Competition with 400mm front and 380mm rear steel discs grabbed by six-pot calipers and four-piston calipers respectively, are strong and offer quite a bit of feel through the pedal. Alternatively, buyers can opt for pricey carbonfibre discs.
With all of our time spent on track, we’re not going to pretend we know much about the M2 CS’s ride right now. However, experience with other M models on adaptive dampers suggests it should offer greater compliance than the passively damped M2 Competition. At low speed in the Sachsenring pit lane, the firmness of the MacPherson strut (front) and multilink (rear) suspension was detectable over expansion joints, although any binding conclusions will have to wait until we get it out on the road.
The M2 CS is everything we expected – and more. It’s a noticeably keener, more incisive and ultimately more entertaining car to drive than the M2 Competition on the track. The key to its attraction lies with its reworked chassis, which, with the adoption of adaptive damping, is really quite exceptional. That’s taking nothing away from its engine, which although a well-known quantity, delivers the performance to give the junior M car outstanding pace.
When BMW launched the M2 Competition last year, we wondered how it could be topped. The answer is with the M2 CS. Question marks about its ride aside, it’s one of the best driver’s cars you’ll see this year. Yes, it’s expensive. But the rewards run deep. We’re already counting the days until we get to drive it on the road.
BMW M2 CS spec and price
Price $139,900 On sale in Australia Second half 2020 Engine 6 cyls in-line, 2979cc, turbocharged, petrol Power 331kW at 6250rpm Torque 550Nm at 2350-5500rpm Gearbox 7-spd dual-clutch automatic Kerb weight 1572kg Top speed 280km/h 0-100km/h 4.0sec Rivals Porsche 718 Cayman GT4, Mercedes-AMG A45 S