► Most hardcore BMW M2 driven
► 444bhp, extra aero and lighter
► Is it worth the extra £20k+?
BMW’s 2002 and this all-new M2 CS are separated by more than 45 years of automotive history and evolution. But despite a 320bhp difference in power output, the basic DNA of the two Bavarian Motor Cars has not changed all that much between the reigns of chancellors Schmidt and Merkel.
Rear-wheel drive still prevails, as do manual transmission, independent suspension, four disc brakes, round instruments and a four-seat, two-door, notchback bodystyle. The ultimate ‘02 series model was the 2002 turbo; I briefly also owned one of those way back when. Today, immaculate turbos change hands for up to €100,000, the equivalent of a new M2 CS with carbon-ceramic brakes. The M2 CS once again made my heart beat up to the Adam’s apple, reignited dormant fires and brought the scattered testosterone leftovers of experiencing those ’02 models to the boil.
Scooped: the new all-electric BMW iM2 due in 2022
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves…
The 2-series coupé introduced in 2014 is the sole survivor of the RWD/AWD platform BMW is busy phasing out. The latest 2-series modesl already use a front- and all-wheel drive platform, but the 2 coupe’s replacement, due late 2021, is the last rear-wheel drive BMW to switch to the modular CLAR matrix seen on the 3-series.
The current M2 Competition and this new CS are rear-wheel drive only, but you can choose between a six-speed manual and the seven-speed dual-clutch auto. A limited-slip differential is standard on both versions. There is also, of course, no escaping the visual impact of the bespoke duotone alloys, the shiny carbon-fibre splitters and gurney flaps, the yawning extra bonnet vents and the car´s self-conscious stance that shouts ‘catch me if you can.’
Although the CS is limited by production capacity which ends in summer 2021, it is not, strictly speaking, a few-off collectible. But what really hurts the value for money calculation is the virtually identical performance across the range. Fitted with the Drivers Package standard only on the CS, both M2 editions are governed at 175mph, so the only quantifiable difference are the two tenths of a second the CS (4.2sec from 0-62mph) gains over the Competition.
More to the point, the acceleration duel between the DCT-equipped 410bhp model and its manual-transmission 450bhp counterpart ends in a dead heat. Penny pinchers, then, struggle to make a case for the CS. After all, the Competition version is just as fast and the 340bhp M340i xDrive matches at least the M car´s acceleration.
So, why bother with the CS?
The answer is because you can, and because numbers seldom tell the full story. After all, the CS out-Ms even the (outgoing) M4 in terms of thrill and entertainment.
Directional stability? Yes, but only intermittently once grooves and camber changes get in the way, Russian roulette in the wet due to the low-grip and unprogressive semi-slicks. Handling attitude? Playful, but with little room for error, this explosive mix of initially nose-heavy and then eternally tail-happy is quite obvious in MDM mode and notorious with DSC switched off.
Steering? It does change direction swiftly and with the accuracy of a balding bookkeeper yet feels somewhat under-geared and quite heavy at first before, eventually, relaying the road to your palms in 3D, via VR and by AI. Brakes? Fantastic even with the standard steel rotors, the stopping power is neatly balanced between silly and stellar, but the pedal feels heavier than expected over the final 50 yards.
So far, so predictable…
Yes – after all, the above description applies more or less to all three M2 variations including the Mk1 model. What makes the CS special are the challenges and rewards presented by these genetic gifts.
The engine spreads peak torque over a wider rev range than the powerhouse of the Competition, the extra grunt has an afterburner effect on mid-range in-gear sprints, the more aggressive gearing keeps the fire burning in fifth and even in sixth. We saw an indicated 186mph at 7000rpm, which still felt somewhat restrained and a couple of clicks off the beast’s real limit, despite plenty of vroom and boom.
Unhinge the compact kraftwerk in fourth, and even short straights shrink fast enough for at least one more unbudgeted upshift. Nail the accelerator when the traffic lights change colour, trust the trick M diff and the electronic supervisors to prevent the shaved Pirellis from offending public decency.
What about the twisty stuff?
Even though the M2 CS meets most expectations, the score card also shows some misses. The steering is as meaty as the thick-rimmed helm that activates it, and although one can select from three different calibrations named Comfort, Sport and Sport Plus, the variation is primarily weight-related. The adaptive dampers cover the same spectrum, taking recurrent pothole-induced hits amplified by those broad-shouldered, grip-is-everything tyres in Sport Plus. The impatient throttle response varies from anticipatory obedience to slingshot quick.
While changing direction and reducing speed are well synchronized in terms of effort and response time, the overly light and anonymous clutch action is out of place in a jazzed-up Q-car. So much so that, all things considered, I’m leaning towards the two-pedal configuration.
The stunning DCT adds a touch of racetrack spontaneity for an even wilder driving experience. The manual box is ambitiously spaced and pleasantly old-fashioned, but the sluggish shift action and clutch can dent the experience.
The direct forerunner of the M2 CS was the 1-series M coupe. Like the M coupe, the CS prefers clear terms and conditions before committing itself to the ultimate equation with multiple unknowns. Tight bends are fine, but less so when dotted with split-grip tarmac, large puddles and mean cross grooves. Fast corners are easy-peasy, but ideally not when paired with quilted blacktop and deep aquaplaning ruts. High-speed autobahn esses can be a thrill, but not when interspersed with sudden lift-off or braking manoeuvres, ill-timed gearshifts or kamikaze lane changes.
BMW M2 CS: verdict
What unites both the M2 CS and the hottest of 2002 classics so many years ago is the fine art of flow, the elegance of motion and the high school of bonding with the driver. While the older BMW would need to be worked quite a bit harder, it’s not as over-sexed as the CS, which loves to drop in an epic cliff-hanger when you get hot and heavy, albeit protected by four airbags and several dozen electronic controllers.
In short, the top-of-the-range M2 is actually neither the most compelling M product, nor the smartest horse in the 2-series corral. Having said that, I still prefer it by a small margin over the M4 because it uncages the tiger inside with such a ballsy, shameless and gloriously vulgar coolness.
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