Saturday 31st July 2021
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Driven: BMW M2 CS. Image by BMW UK.

Driven: BMW M2 CS
Caution: this car has the capacity to elicit extraordinary extremes of emotion in its driver.

 



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BMW M2 CS

5 5 5 5 5

Good points: what a car - BMW M's finest-ever production, and that really is saying something

Not so good: we definitely won't see its like ever again

Key Facts

Model tested: BMW M2 CS manual
Price: last stocks of 2 Series range from 27,105; M2 CS (was) from 73,385, car as tested 81,155
Engine: 3.0-litre twin-turbocharged straight-six petrol
Transmission: six-speed manual, rear-wheel drive with Active M Differential
Body style: two-door coupe
CO2 emissions: 227g/km (VED Band 226-255: 1,850 in year one, then 475 per annum years two-six of ownership, then 150 annually thereafter)
Combined economy: 28.3mpg
Top speed: 174mph (limited)
0-62mph: 4.2 seconds
Power: 450hp at 6,250rpm
Torque: 550Nm at 2,350-5,500rpm
Boot space: 390 litres

Our view:

I love the A46. Perhaps a strange way for me to open any car review, never mind one centred on a vehicle as highly specialised as this confection, but hopefully my (insane) reasoning will become clearer in a moment. Anyway, given the A46 starts in Bath and ends in Cleethorpes, perhaps I should specify which part of it I particularly like. Well, it's the section from Leicester to Newark. One of the principal drivers of this personal admiration for nothing more exciting than a regulation British dual carriageway is that it's my 'home' road; as most of my work takes place in the south of England, it means that when I'm on this stretch of the A46 heading northbound, I'm nearly back home. That's normally enough on its own to make most people happy, no matter where in the UK - or the rest of the world - their home run might be.

There's more to the A46's charm than mere geographical serendipity, though. It's also a route mercifully free (in the main) of speed cameras (there are a pair of them near a perilous crossroads to the north of Leicester, but that's it), it's always light on traffic once you're away from the Leicester bypass and, since it was dualled between Widmerpool and Newark in 2012 (a long-overdue piece of infrastructure development), it's just a delight to travel on. You can sit at 70mph all the way up it and never hit congestion, and even better it serves up a series of wonderful vistas across rolling midlands countryside, these unfurling one after another as you sequentially crest a series of low, spaced-apart rises as you approach Bingham. It is, in short, a road on which you can make effortless progress, a stress-free trunk route which works as it was always designed to - unlike so much of our miserable motorway system, which is festooned with endless roadworks, stupid 'smart' sections that are anything but, and interminable SPECs-enforced 50mph zones.

The A46 is not, however, a road which will go down as one of the all-time, must-visit greats on the face of planet Earth, somehow beloved by petrolheads the world over because it is a thoroughfare that will dynamically challenge a car to its absolute limits; well, not unless you count the godawful section of concrete surfacing with bitumen expansion joints between Six Hills and the A606, which puts the ride and refinement of even the most graceful of vehicles under severe duress. Nope, it's just a nice road. Like Pacific Highway 1, only not as spectacularly breathtaking in terms of scenery. Er, nor as famous, obvs. The A46 is not challenging, it's not technical, it's just... really, really nice. Untaxing. Therefore, on this specific occasion, I should be driving up the A46 into Nottinghamshire with a beatific great smile on my face, because the car I am in is going to go down as one of my all-time top-five vehicles in history. Maybe top three. However, I'm not happy. In fact, I am a confusing whorl of emotions, anxiety and anguish mixed in equal parts with reverential awe and unfettered delight.

I can't think of another machine which engenders such torrid ambivalence in a car enthusiast as the BMW M2 CS. On the one hand, I am about to tell you why I think it is the finest M car that has ever been committed to production; a thoroughly sublime creation in every regard that feels like so much more than merely the already-brilliant M2 Competition with the wick turned up a bit. A machine which forces me to retcon the original 370hp, non-S-engined M2 down from full marks to a four-star car, in hindsight. And on the other, driving the CS up the A46 for the final few miles of the precious 750 in total I managed to cover in an exceptional fortnight in this M2's glittering company, I've probably never felt sorrier in a vehicle in my life. So what's going on?

Let's deal with the 'finest M car' thing. I am well aware there are plenty of startlingly gifted contenders for this crown, but in reality the best drivers' cars from BMW over the years have been the smaller, compact coupes, not the big supersaloons, grand tourers and supercars. It's models like the E46 M3, which began the modern CS line, that deserve consideration here. Or of course the box-arched, four-cylinder legend that started the entire M3 story in the first place. But the M2 CS is far greater than either of those. It's also got the E46 M3 CSL comfortably covered, because it doesn't have factory-spec brake callipers with less backbone than Dominic Cummings, its steering is much more pleasant, feelsome and progressive across the board, and the strength of its performance throughout the rev range is at another level entirely to the old 360hp warrior. That being said, it's supposed to be the highest praise indeed when I say the M2 CS feels like what the M3 CSL might have evolved into in a parallel universe where the E46's few flaws were ironed out, resulting in a magical and beguiling two-door with a bit of the 1M Coupe's unique brand of magnificent madness mixed in.

Overall, the CS is a stunning car to drive, especially as the test vehicle sent to me had one of BMW's idiosyncratic, knuckly-throw manual gearboxes. I'm sure the DCT model is sensational too, and it's certainly more accelerative and better on eco-stats than the six-speed, but I'd definitely be advocating the stick shift here. You could be blindfolded and asked to stir the M2 CS's lever about the H-gate, and if you'd driven any BMW manual from about 1983 onwards then you'd know what make of car you were sitting in without a shadow of a doubt. Better yet, unlike one of its main and stratospherically accomplished rivals (see below), the gearing on the actual 'box is not set up to allow you to comfortably break the motorway speed limit in second. In fact, rinsed out in third the M2 will only just be touching three figures, which I know from having sampled it (agonisingly briefly) on a short track towards the tail end of 2020.

So the gearbox is a gem but the engine. Wow, the engine. The shift to a 'proper' M motor with its S-development code was a masterstroke for the M2 Competition, but extending it out to 450hp for the CS is whatever a masterstroke squared is called. This beautiful, rasping S55 powerplant has reach, it has muscle, it has surprisingly crisp throttle response considering it is breathing through a pair of turbochargers, and it has a cracking soundtrack too. This is because the CS gets a sports exhaust system which really makes the most of the six-pot's voice, while you can actually discern some induction noise when the engine is working at its hardest. There's also no awful synthesis of notes here, so the M2 feels organic and fresh, not forced and artificial.

Same goes of its handling. You get different traction characteristics and feel from the rear axle out of tighter corners, because the Active M Differential on the M2 CS has been tuned specifically for this car's set-up. Furthermore, you can detect significant extra degrees of nuance in the steering from mile one, when compared to an M2 Competition, courtesy of the lighter front end (the CS has a carbon bonnet and a carbon roof too, for a lower centre-of-gravity). And you're gripping what is an Alcantara-clad wheel anyway, which every expert knows always makes a car come across as twice as sporty as it actually is. On the subject of driving-position ergonomics, the spectacular M Competition seats from an M4 CS are bolted into the M2 CS and given bespoke illuminated model-badge decals on the back, and they only add to the whole privileged ambience of being behind the CS's wheel. With yet more Alcantara trim, simple black-panel dials in the cluster, physical switchgear for everything and the usual exemplary iDrive infotainment, it's a marvellous place to be.

Options on the test car included the 500 matte-gold V-spoke alloys (gorgeous) and the 6,250 M Carbon Ceramic Brakes (pricey, but worth it for their immense power and precise pedal progression) with gold-finished callipers, all adding up to another area where the M2 CS beats any of its ancestors. Aesthetically speaking, the BMW is aggressive perfection. It just looks terrific; exactly the right size, stance and suitably enhanced details. So it looks brilliant. Its interior is brilliant, and practical too - there are semi-useable back seats and a 390-litre boot, plus all the appointments you could conceivably want or need. Its steering is brilliant. Its drivetrain is brilliant. Its brakes are brilliant and so is its Adaptive M Suspension-equipped chassis, which is basically a sharper, even more capable variant of the underpinnings of the M2 Comp.

The CS is even brilliant in conditions which don't show off its strongest attributes in the slightest. Such as, for instance, driving up the A46. Or, indeed, any other lengthy A-road or motorway schlep. While as many of the 13 remarkable hours I got to spend behind the M2 CS's wheel were spent driving, er, exuberantly, the reality is it also did quite a lot of long-haul drudgery. Whereupon it positively shone, achieving 34mpg on one run back from Crawley, against a deeply respectable fortnightly average of 27mpg. Oh, and these two weeks were in January, so for much of the time the M2 CS was out and about, there was snow and ice lying around the place. And it rolls on Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres, which love cold and slippery conditions about as much as the ousted orange buffoon loves Joe Biden. Yet the M2 never felt scary and spiky and unapproachable, as those early F82 M4s could in far less challenging conditions than the CS had to face. It just felt planted. Communicative. Exploitable. That's a rare gift in a car so overtly focused on track driving ahead of all-round road-spec capability.

But you don't want to buy an M2 CS and then make it growl up and down the M23, barely tickling 2,500rpm in sixth as it cruises along. Nor do you want to needlessly dice with its (surprising) levels of grip in sub-zero temperatures. What you want is a twisting, up-and-down, empty road snaking away in front of you, some warmth in the Cup 2s and some commitment in your heart. Couple them all together and I can guarantee you that you won't want to be in any other car in the world for the ensuing journey, besides the M2 CS. It is heavenly. And so good that it immediately renders incredulous cries of '81 grand for a BMW 2 Series?!' completely and totally moot.

Right, so back to the maudlin bit. This is a eulogy, yes? Glowing praise to a car that's, sort of, at an attainable level. So what's all the sadness about? Well, where are most eulogies delivered? That's right; at funerals. And this was the cause of my ambivalence, driving up the A46 in the BMW M2 CS manual for the final time. I said when driving the excellent M2 Comp in the UK that it would be the last of the great compact BMW performance coupes, but thankfully, I was wrong then as there was time for this last, glorious CS hurrah. Maybe I'll be wrong again. Maybe we'll get an M2 CSL, or even an M2 GTS. Who knows?

It doesn't feel like that, though. Instead, the M2 C2 definitively feels like the end of a very enjoyable epoch that's slipping away. The final enormous, dazzling and colossally expensive firework that goes off at a pricey public pyrotechnic display. The Last Great BMW M Car. There cannot be many, if any, more like the M2 CS that are still to come. A pure-petrol, straight-six, rear-driven, manual-equipped super-coupe with a galactically good chassis and a price tag that's not totally out of reach for the normal folk. And it's not just M cars, either, that face extinction. It's all kinds of special vehicles for which, legislatively speaking, the sun is setting. How much longer can we expect to enjoy a zinging Italian supersaloon with a Ferrari V6 engine? Will we ever see another gobsmacking homologation special again? Where's the long-term future for a high-revving, nat-asp, mid-engined roadster, or a tremendous V8 luxury limo? How can a 5.0-litre American icon or straight-up competition vehicle masquerading as a diesel pick-up truck possibly survive the transition to electric power? Where do exciting cars like these come from in a zero-emissions world, even accepting there are some dynamic EV gems already on sale today?

Never mind this extemporising about driving engagement in 2030 and beyond, though. As a deranged BMW fanboy, the mere fact I'll never drive anything like the M2 CS again, nor indeed ever drive just an M2 CS itself again - it was way out of my price range in 2020 and time-limited in production, rather than numerically restricted to a set number of units for its build run; rumour has it only around 100 examples of the M2 CS came to the UK, and of course all of them are already accounted for and only likely to appreciate from hereon in - is more cause to be despondent. Especially with what's going on elsewhere in BMW right now. Such as the company doing things like making the Z4 M40i look a right mess but drive sweetly, while the M8 Competition Gran Coupe is the polar opposite - aesthetically wonderful, has the sort of ride quality that will make you weep in abject frustration. Or it serves you up abhorrent front-end styling and then challenges your mental state through the medium of social media if you dare to question it. Or simply conjures aesthetic duffers like this one or, shudder, this. BMW's past is comfortingly familiar and bright, and represented by unstinting majesty like the M2 CS; its future is antagonistic and full of monstrous things like the iX EV. Look it up, kids, but only pre-watershed. And have an adult present to comfort you afterwards.

But enough of the negativity. Whether the M2 CS represents a full stop on a particularly riveting chapter of BMW's history or not, the mere fact it exists is enough to unequivocally reaffirm my own faith in the Munich concern, and I daresay it'll do the same for a lot of the disenfranchised fans of the marque too. Boil it all down and what you have here, in this stocky and stunning BMW, is one of the most exquisite performance road cars of all time. It was a genuine joy to have driven it for only a brief window of time; and it also invoked a deep sadness that we shall not see its like again. Which is why, just this once, I wasn't really enjoying my drive back up the A46 to Newark.

Alternatives:

Alpine A110: if you can stomach sacrificing quite a lot of power and the six-cylinder snarl, then the magical damping of the Alpine A110 might just turn your head. Try and avoid the more potent S, which doesn't ride with the same fluidity as the 252hp Frenchie.

Lotus Exige 410 Sport: can serve up driving thrills every bit as exhilarating as the M2 CS but you wouldn't want to live with the Lotus every single day, like you can with the BMW. Also, the British car is as much money basic in this spec as the M2 is with options.

Porsche 718 Cayman GT4: let's be honest, this is like two gods going head-to-head - Zeus versus Odin, perhaps, as to who is the greatest deity. Both German cars are thoroughly magnificent but the 718 does have that super-long gearing to work around... yet it's mid-engined, not front-rear in layout. Hard to call which is best. I'll have both, please.


Matt Robinson - 19 Jan 2021









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2021 BMW M2 CS UK test. Image by BMW UK.2021 BMW M2 CS UK test. Image by BMW UK.2021 BMW M2 CS UK test. Image by BMW UK.2021 BMW M2 CS UK test. Image by BMW UK.2021 BMW M2 CS UK test. Image by BMW UK.

2021 BMW M2 CS UK test. Image by BMW UK.2021 BMW M2 CS UK test. Image by BMW UK.2021 BMW M2 CS UK test. Image by BMW UK.2021 BMW M2 CS UK test. Image by BMW UK.2021 BMW M2 CS UK test. Image by BMW UK.








 

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