With every upgrade the BMW M2 has improved. It was brilliant to begin with, but the Competition was better. It had charm and pace in spades and really looked the part. But clearly M GmbH was building to something even more special. Something befitting an even more resonant nameplate: the CS. Those letters aren't applied lightly because they are accompanied by serious expectations. Could a subcompact model based on the F22 2 Series really follow in the footsteps of giants?
A new 450hp output, retention of the six-speed manual and an active M differential are a good place to start. The CS has 405lb ft of torque, too, and its rear-drive chassis gets lightweight suspension components and adaptive dampers, plus optional carbon ceramic brakes. This might be the smallest full M model, but its technical specification does not want for seriousness. The carbon splitter, spoiler, roof and mirror caps, and CFRP bonnet, go some way to illustrating this fact, even if the car still weighs 1,550kg.
Even in its three-pedal guise (an M DCT is also available) the CS is quick off the mark; officially 62mph comes up in 4.2 secs - it's two-tenths quicker with the auto - and top speed is 174mph. Those are grown-up numbers, but also the least you'd expect on encountering the car in the metal. The styling upgrade is commensurate with the on-paper performance, thanks in large part to the 19-inch Y-spoke forged wheels, which come in a high-gloss black as standard or in matte gold if you prefer. Spec the latter with carbon ceramics and their gold M calipers and you have yourself a proper street fighter. Talk about stance.
Inside, the M2 CS gets a carbon fibre veneer on the transmission tunnel and door handles, which sets off those slender M Competition bucket seats and an Alcantara-wrapped steering wheel nicely. Tech wise, the M2 is still a nice mix of digital and analogue, and it still wraps around you like a small coupe ought to. You sit low and midway up the wheelbase; where the outgoing M3/M4 could feel big on narrow lanes, the CS, even with its blistered arches and wider tracks, absolutely does not. Couple that to a satisfyingly springy clutch pedal and a gear lever which slots home with real positivity, and the car feels like its on your side from the get-go.
It's also wonderfully suspended. This much is apparent immediately, and it's a relief; the previously passive M2 was very good, but it wouldn't have taken much to make the ride unrelenting. The obvious fear that BMW might have been tempted to turn the wick up too much is unfounded though - instead it has deployed the extra bandwidth afforded by multi-stage dampers beautifully. In 'Comfort' there is real suppleness over B road bumps, while not sacrificing a modicum of body control. Pliancy and purpose are dispensed in almost equal measure.
Unsurprisingly, the driver is permitted independent adjustment of all three main parameters, engine, chassis and steering. Firmer suspension settings do not upset the CS, although its gentlest mode is so beguiling that there's precious little reason to exchange it. Inevitably 'Sport Plus' unleashes the engine's full potential, while the middling 'Sport' makes the steering feel about right for road use. There's not too much extra feedback to get excited about, although its hard to fault the consistency or confidence flowing back towards you through those front struts. Factor in the car's relatively small footprint, and the CS is very easy to get to grips with.
That's good because you'll want to start exploiting the straight-six almost immediately: it's a marvel. Bassy and silky at the same time, it's tractable from low revs but still explosive up top. Peak torque arrives from 2,250rpm and hangs on till 5,500rpm, before the meat of its shove arrives at 6,250rpm. This means that it always seems to be building, which is nice when you're chasing revs and rising volume almost constantly. Cup 2 rubber and that limited slip diff mean that traction is excellent, although not to the extent where it would negate adjustability - oh no, the CS has plenty of that, and you're free to indulge it at virtually every opportunity.
Naturally for something so short (and built by M GmbH) it will play the hooligan if you want, but the loveliest thing about the CS is that it's no less enjoyable to thread it along a lane in a much smoother manner. That's thanks to the generosity of the engine, the calibre of the controls, the quality of the ride and the come-join-me flair of the handling. In many ways it doesn't feel like an uprated model at all; the CS seems terrifically cohesive, like it were the starting point for the M2, not the end. Certainly it's going to have you driving back up and down the same stretch of road - we did, if only to re-explore the wonderful turn in and even footing, and introduce a kick of corner exit rotation or a millisecond of slippage, all without leaving the same accomodating window of chassis talent. The CS never feels less than alive or agile or like it might not be able to answer any dynamic question you pose it. It's dynamite.
If there's a complaint - and we like to have one or two - it's that the brake pedal itself doesn't offer much in the way of feel and for all the quickness of the steering ratio, it never delivers Porsche-grade detail. But the M2's wonderful balance, explosiveness and obliging style make those foibles barely noticeable. You're simply too busy working the controls and riotously threading it between verges to care. And if you do ever start to ponder it, you're immediately forced to concede that the CS's plinth top-like triumph is still built atop a practical front-engined coupe with back seats, a sizeable boot and plenty of kit. Yes, it's outstanding approaching its limit and laughably indulgent beyond, but it's also happy cruising along on a motorway or trickling through a city. It's still a BMW 2 Series, in other words. Just the best one ever made. As we all hoped it would be.
SPECIFICATION | 2020 BMW M2 CS
Engine: 2,979cc, twin-turbo straight-six
Transmission: 6-speed manual, rear-wheel drive (7-speed M DCT dual-clutch optional)
Power (hp): 450@6,250rpm
Torque (lb ft): 406@2,350@5,500rpm
0-62mph: 4.2 seconds (4.0)
Top speed: 174mph
Weight: 1,525kg (1,550kg, then minus 22kg for ceramics)
MPG: 27.2 (30.1)
CO2: 238g/km (214)
Price: £75,320 (as standard; price as tested £83,050 comprised of 19-inch non-run-flat Matt Gold Style 763 M wheels for £500, M carbon ceramic brakes for £6,250, Reversing assist camera for £330 and Electric front seats with Driver memory for £650.)
(Figures in brackets for DCT)
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