BMW M2 CS (2020) International First Drive

BMW M2 CS 2020 9

It's widely believed the M2 Competition is the best M car BMW makes, but when we got word the Munich-based brand was readying a CS (ClubSport) version, our eyes lit up in anticipation. Only 30 units of the visceral compact sportscar will be coming to South Africa (later this year) and our international correspondent Greg Kable got to sample it before its official debut.

What is an M2 CS?

We’ll say it now to curtail any suspense: you’re looking at the best driver’s car that BMW produces, which is lofty 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 contemporary BMW model that delivers quite the same combination of performance, balance – and sheer attitude – as this newcomer.

First, a bit of context... You may remember the M4 CS – this car follows the same philosophy. The M2 CS is the last hurrah for the company’s junior M car prior to the introduction of a new 2nd-generation model in 2021. Its production isn't officially limited, but with the production of the M2 scheduled to end in September 2020, you’ll need to be quick with your order. BMW is set to auction off 28 of the 30 local units, meaning that they will swop hands for well in excess of R1-million apiece. Expensive? Yes, but likely no more so than its prime competitor – the Porsche 718 Cayman GT4, which is listed at R1.55 million. 

It takes one look at the M2 CS to realise that justification for the high price tag isn't reserved exclusively for the elevated dynamics; there are quite a few expensive-looking addenda that serve to differentiate it from the M2 Competition. Such details include a new-look front bumper with a carbon-fibre splitter element, a carbon fibre-reinforced-plastic bonnet with a large central air scoop and a carbon-fibre roof – all of which are shared with BMW’s new M2 GT4 race car.

The bonnet scoop is a clear giveaway that you're looking at an M2 CS. Those are 19-inch forged aluminium wheels too.

There’s also a larger carbon-fibre rear spoiler, along with a reworked carbon-fibre 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 gumboot options 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 200 kph, providing the car with what he describes as “more settled qualities at high speed”. Don't expect any reduction in weight, however... at 1 575 kg, 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, but with a newly designed exhaust system. The twin-turbo 3.0-litre inline-6 delivers 331 kW at 6 250 rpm and 550 Nm of torque between 2 350 rpm and 5 500 rpm – an improvement of 29 kW 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 6-speed manual 'box or the 7-speed dual-clutch automatic, the latter of which featured on our test car. There’s also a reworked electronically-controlled Active M Differential that has been tuned specifically for the M2 CS. When equipped with the dual-clutch transmission, the M2 CS's power-to-weight ratio is 210 kW per tonne. This is 18 kW more than the M2 Competition, but fails to top the 218 kW per tonne of the Cayman GT4, whose naturally aspirated 4.0-litre flat-6 churns out peak outputs of 309 kW and 420 Nm.

What's it like to drive?

The test took place on the tight and twisty Sachsenring circuit in Germany.

Today’s drive of the M2 CS is limited to a spirited circuit excursion. But if ever there was a circuit on which you could unlock the secrets to this car's dynamics, the Sachsenring is it. Best known for hosting the German round of MotoGP, it’s a challenging course at the best of times – and more so now, after it's been doused in 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 underway, though, the reworked cockpit. As you would expect, it’s largely the same as that of the M2 Competition, but there's a new carbon-fibre centre console that goes without the usual centre armrest, M Competition Sport front seats (as fitted to 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 produces such a provocative inline-6 sound. Subjectively, there’s not a lot that separates the engine from the M2 Competition's motor. 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 29 kW over an M2 Competition? Not immediately, because peak power is delivered 1 000 rpm 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 it delivers when you’ve really got it zinging that this is no hardship. Rather, it’s part and parcel of the new M car’s hardened and more authoritative character.

The M2 CS has an F30 M3 Competition equalling 331 kW of power now.

BMW claims 0-100 kph in 4.0 seconds, which is 0.2 sec quicker than the M2 Competition and 0.4 sec quicker than the Cayman GT4. With the M Driver’s package fitted as standard, the M2 CS' top speed is limited to 280 kph.

You don’t need to wring its neck to extract serious speed, however; with maximum torque arriving at 2 350 rpm and remaining on tap until 5 500 rpm, the beefed-up Bimmer engine 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, plus agreeably smooth on downshifts. However, it lacks the intrinsic involvement of a manual, and as the very reason for this car is to create a more intimate connection between driver and machine, it’s probably well worth considering the stick-shift version, even if it costs you a second or two in lap time potential.     

The 1st-generation M2 may be nearing the end of its production life, but the chassis remains a marvel. BMW M’s efforts to provide a perfect 50:50 front-to-rear weight distribution and increase stiffness (by adding bracing) provide 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.

While the test unit was specced with a dual-clutch 'box, there is the option of a 6-speed manual.

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 that come close to matching the ultimate precision offered by the M2 CS. A small degree of understeer remains, most notably in high-speed corners. This is intentional, Haecker says, to provide a marker for the driver. Still, the front-end push is quickly quelled by lifting off 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 carbon-fibre 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 'wheel's self-centring motion that serves to further heighten the driving experience.

For the first time, an M2 model comes with adaptive suspension dampers.

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 grip. 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 the M2 CS 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 8 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 400 mm front- and 380 mm rear steel discs grabbed by 6-pot calipers and 4-piston calipers respectively, are strong and offer quite a bit of feel through the pedal. Alternatively, buyers can opt for pricey carbon-fibre discs.

With all of our time spent on track, we’re not going to pretend we know much about the M2 CS’s ride quality. 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.

Should I buy one?

The last hurrah of the current M2 does not disappoint.

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, at least 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 quality aside, it's one of the best driver’s cars you’ll see this year. Yes, it will be expensive and extremely exclusive, but the rewards run deep. We're already counting the days until we get to drive it on the road.  

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