- P​hotos: Kurt Bradley

T​he M2 CS Is The Best Driver's Car BMW Has Ever Produced

S​mall, light, and fast, this is easily one of my favorite cars I've ever driven.

5w ago

L​ightweight specials at the end of a model's life is something BMW is good at. For a years, I raved about the 1 Series M, claiming it was my favorite driver's car until the Porsche Cayman GT4 came along. B​MW has been pleasing purists over the past few years with its M2 and M2 Competition models, giving drivers a lightweight, compact coupe with good proportions and fantastic performance.

When it announced the M2 CS as a hardcore edition to send the current 2 Series generation off into the sunset, I got excited. Getting to finally drive it took some coordination. COVID cancelled a cool drive program in the Palm Springs area, with track time at The Thermal Club on the agenda, so I had to wait until one hit the press fleet. Would my patience be rewarded?

C​overing The Big Specs

BMW's M2 CS gets the 3.0-liter TwinPower turbocharged inline-six from the M4 Competition--known internally as the S55--which produces 444 horsepower and 406 lb-ft (550 Nm) of torque. With a 39 horsepower bump over the M2 Competition, the CS is noticeably punchier across the rev range, with peak torque available from 2,350 - 5,500 RPM, met with a 7,400-RPM redline. Through a 6-speed manual, the M2 CS can sprint from 0-60 MPH in four seconds flat. Opt for the 7-speed DCT, and you'll be able to rush from 0-60 in just 3.8 ticks on your way to a top speed of 174. Upgrading the chassis while dropping weight with some carbon body parts means the M2 CS weighs the same as the M2 Competition, with a curb weight of 3,417 pounds (1,551 kilos).

T​he BMW M2 CS isn't a jazzed up M2 Competition making a money grab. Underneath there are significant upgrades over its already great M2 siblings to make it truly special, while being developed alongside the M2 CS racing model. The S55 engine is one big perk, but there are several 2 Series-firsts including a new adaptive M suspension, CFRP hood, a structural carbon fiber roof, an M2 CS-specific exhaust, new carbon fiber aero parts, plenty of interior bits that make the CS stand out, and optional carbon ceramic brakes. Color choices for the M2 CS are limited to white, blue, silver, and black, with either jet black or matte gold (new to the CS) forged 19-inch wheels.

A​t a base price of $83,600, the BMW M2 CS is a leap over the sub-$60,000 starting point for the M2 Competition. With only a few options available, my Misano Blue tester ticked three options to get the good paint ($550), 7-speed DCT ($2,900), and carbon ceramic brakes ($8,500) to hit a total MSRP of $96,545. That figure may seem big for the racier 2 Series, but it's less expensive than the slower Porsche Cayman GTS 4.0 (which doesn't have ceramic brakes available), and can easily dance with the much more expensive Porsche Cayman GT4.

d​at gold tho

d​at gold tho

Behaving Yourself During Daily Driving

W​hile stuffing a performance car into a compact coupe package, the M2 CS is remarkably civil for daily driving needs. The adaptive suspension works wonders to keep ride quality compliant, and with multiple drive modes on-board, you can set up the M2 CS to be hardcore or comfortable around town. I kept the engine in the efficient mode while setting the suspension and steering in sport, and found this setup gave me good response and fun enough handling while saving some fuel. The electric steering is sharp yet light when you're doing normal driving, but doesn't feel artificial. EPA estimates are 16/23/19 MPG (city/highway/combined), and during my test I gave the M2 CS more sporty exercise, yet still managed 18 MPGs.

Leather-trimmed front seats give you plenty of room, with tons of bolstered support and power adjustments. The 2+2's back seats are good enough for a quick run with adults, but headroom back there isn't great. I wish BMW offered manual front seats as a lighter option that lower the center of gravity. Trunk space is surprisingly large, and can easily gobble up all the luggage or shopping bags you want to stuff inside.

The CS' instrument cluster carries over the digital display that's been in the M2 for a few years, thankfully avoiding the complicated new screen setup in nearly every other BMW. BMW gave the M2 CS similar interior appointments and controls as the other 2 Series coupes, but in an effort to reduce weight, it tossed the center armrest and storage bin, which sucks. Cupholders ahead of the shifter are useful, and there's a small storage tray in front of those for stashing your phone.

To make sure it has plenty of the creature comforts you'd expect in a premium car, the M2 CS has Harman/Kardon's premium audio system, adaptive cruise control, heated front seats, and adaptive full LED headlights. BMW's older iDrive system is installed, and while it's dated and not the most intuitive, there's wireless Apple CarPlay, and the little touchscreen gets the job done.

T​he M2 logos light up at night.

T​he M2 logos light up at night.

M​ade For Ripping Around Fun Roads

In twisty road or technical track conditions, the M2 CS excels. Filled with special parts and tuning to make it better than any other M car available, the CS rips effortlessly. With 444 horsepower on tap, the CS provides plenty of juice that's flexible at any RPM that closes up the gap from corner-to-corner like supercars with much more power. The S55 engine screams at higher RPMs, and the signature M quad-tailpipe exhaust provides a great soundtrack.

I prefer a manual transmission, but the 7-speed DCT is sharp and quick, with paddles that give a nice click met with instant gear changes. Drive mode customizations include suspension feel, engine response, steering weight, and individual configurations for the stability control and transmission aggressiveness. BMW was smart to provide two M-mode buttons on the steering wheel for quick access to your duo of personalized settings. For thrashing the winding roads of Central Texas, I dialed in the engine and steering with hardcore settings, with the suspension in sport rather than sport plus, allowing a hint more travel with less disruption. I also turned off all the nannies, to allow the rear end to slip ever so slightly.

W​eight transfer in the M2 CS is nothing short of sensational. On a twisty road with plenty of tight corners, fast sweepers, and a few S-curves, I gave the CS a proper exercise. BMW did a fantastic job dialing in the M2 CS' chassis, and the adaptive suspension is easily the best improvement over the M2 Competition. Compliant yet responsive, never did I feel like the CS was upset by a small mid-corner bump nor overly sharp or jittery over less than great pavement. The manner in which the M2 CS carries momentum is phenomenal, almost giving you too much confidence with obscene levels of corner entry speed.

I​n the M2 CS' softest steering setting, the wheel has a light and sharp feel, but I prefer the extra weight and input needed in sport+ mode. Through the extra thick Alcantara-wrapped steering wheel, your hands are perfectly connected to the surface beneath. The rack may be electronically-assisted, but it's remarkably precise. The M2 CS' ability to carve the bends is exceptional, and is more enjoyable than many supercars I've tested.

Sticky Michelin Cup 2 rubber measures 245/35/19 up front and 265/35/19 out back. There's just enough meat to give you confident grip, but not too much to make the steering too heavy nor give the M2 CS any tramlining behaviors on the freeway. Carbon fiber aero components give the M2 CS a distinctly sporty look, but BMW insists they also provide real benefit. The extra thick front lip helps plant the front when you're diving into a tight bend, and the trunk lip catches just enough air to stabilize the CS.

A​t nearly $9,000, optional carbon ceramic brakes are costly, but drop a ton of unsprung weight while improving performance over longer, harder drives. Supercar-sized 400mm front and 380mm rear rotors are fitted to the M2 CS, with six-piston front and four-piston rear calipers. The braking feel is wonderful in any condition, and the pedal travel is spot-on. Go with the steel rotors if you plan to regularly track the CS, as the carbon ones will cost a ton to replace. If you're sticking to public roads, go for the lighter rotors, as they'll give you hours of fade-free fun. That and the gold calipers are a lovely aesthetic upgrade.

S​ome Good And Not So Great Things

T​here are few color combinations I've seen on modern cars that look as good as the M2 CS painted Misano Blue against matte gold wheels, and everywhere I took the M2 CS it got the thumbs up. BMW's extra CS interior treatments give it an exclusive feel. I love the distinct M stitching on the seatbelts, headrest, and steering wheel, and the 12 o'clock marker on the steering is extra cool too, with red details neatly hidden beneath the Alcantara.

Thick-bolstered M seats kept me planted nicely, and I love the extra ventilated slots made into them, allowing my back to breathe during more exhaustive driving sessions. The M2 CS' driving impressions were exceptional in any condition. Even when doing daily errand running, which surprised me, coming from a car so focused on outright performance.

I​n an era of wildly complicated cabins and infotainment systems, the dated 2 Series interior is refreshingly simple, even if iDrive isn't great to use. Over time it may hold up pretty well, considering how tidy the controls and displays are. The extra carbon fiber exterior bits may look a bit boy racer, but they fit the part for the M2 CS. I do wish the bumper pieces had a plastic option instead, as chipping them will happen over time, leading to costly replacement.

T​he Ultimate Canyon Slayer

The M2 CS feels like a reborn 1 Series M. That car was a parts bin project, which on paper should have been miserable. Instead it was a gem, that provided a perfectly analog driving experience that's hard to get in any car currently produced. With the M2 CS, BMW captured that sensation in every way, while providing more power and components to tame the most technical canyon road or circuit.

Average drivers will have a blast in the M2 CS, and those with a bit more talent will be rewarded with one of the best driving experiences you can get. Even when compared to some seriously expensive metal I've tested. Even after dealers slap a big addendum on the M2 CS, it's still a damn good package for around $100,000. The CS should stand for "Canyon Slayer."

I​'m stunned with how good the M2 CS is, with an analog experience that's going to be hard to capture in a new car over the next few years. There are few modern cars I've enjoyed as much as the M2 CS. Not only in my top ten for performance production car driving experiences, the M2 CS is easily the best BMW I have ever driven.

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Comments (23)

  • Is the BMW M2 CS a good way to send off the M2? @tribe

      1 month ago
  • Fantastic review as always Kurt!!! Great photography as well. I love the blue paint!

      1 month ago
  • Love the colour ngl

      1 month ago
  • False, it's actually the E31 850csi

      1 month ago
  • $83k, 3400lbs, 18mpg ..... for a 2 series BM....and he's happy about it !!!

    WTF...get some reality into your life

      1 month ago
    • It’s a performance car, that happens to be based on a 2 Series platform, that offers a ton of capability versus its competition for less money. Also: I stated that my combined MPGs were affected by a significant amount of spirited driving....

      Read more
        1 month ago