We’ll say it now to curtail any suspense: you’re looking at the best driver’s car BMW produces right now.
High praise, we’ll admit. But after a day spent lapping the new 2020 BMW M2 CS around a circuit in Germany, we can’t think of any other current BMW model, either standard or from its M performance car division, that delivers quite the same combination of performance, balance and sheer attitude as this.
Its production is not officially limited, but with the first-generation M2 set to cease production in September, you’ll need to be quick with your order. At $139,900, it costs a not-insignificant $30,000 more than the highly regarded M2 Competition. Expensive? Yes, but it’s still a good deal less than its prime competitor, the Porsche 718 Cayman GT4, which lists at $207,000 in Australia.
One look at it is to realise that justification for the high price tag is not reserved exclusively for the elevated performance and handling. There are also quite a few expensive-looking parts that serve to differentiate it from the M2 Competition launched last year. Included is a new-look front bumper, enhanced with a carbon-fibre splitter element, a carbon-fibre-reinforced plastic bonnet with a large central air vent and a carbon-fibre roof panel – all of which are shared with BMW’s new M2 GT4 race car.
There’s also a larger carbon-fibre rear spoiler than that used by the M2 Competition, along with a reworked carbon-fibre rear diffuser and lightweight 19-inch forged aluminium wheels, which come with the choice of either Michelin’s Pilot Super Sport or, as worn by our test car, more track-focused Pilot Sport Cup tyres – both 245/35 front and 265/35 in profile.
The changes not only give the M2 CS a more aggressive look, but they also bring greater downforce. The head of BMW M development, Dirk Haecker, says lift is virtually eliminated at 200km/h, providing it with what he describes as “more settled qualities at high speed”.
Don't expect any change in weight, though. At 1575kg, it weighs exactly the same as the M2 Competition when specified with the optional dual-clutch gearbox of our test car.
No significant weight saving, then. But the engine represents new performance ground for BMW’s smallest M-car. It’s the same version of the long-serving S55 unit used by standard versions of the discontinued fifth-generation M3 and first-generation M4, with a newly designed exhaust system.
The twin-turbocharged 3.0-litre in-line six-cylinder delivers 331kW at 6250rpm and 550Nm between 2350 and 5500rpm. That's an improvement of 29kW on the less heavily tuned version of the S55 used by the M2 Competition, though torque remains the same.
Drive is sent through a standard six-speed manual or, optionally, the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox used by our test car to the rear wheels. There’s also a reworked electronically controlled Active M Differential that has been tuned specifically for the M2 CS.
With the dual-clutch gearbox, the weight-to-power ratio is 210.2kW/tonne. This is an improvement on the 191.7kW/t M2 Competition, but fails to top the 217.6kW/t of the Porsche Cayman GT4, whose naturally aspirated 4.0-litre flat-six kicks out 309kW and 420Nm of torque, but with less kerb weight (1420kg).
Today’s drive of the M2 CS is limited to a circuit, so we can’t tell you precisely what it feels like on a road just yet. But if there is a circuit to unlock the secrets to the new coupe’s dynamics, it’s the Sachsenring. Best known for hosting the German round of the Moto GP Championship, it’s a challenging place at the best of times – and more so now after a heavy morning shower.
Among the more unforgiving sections is a wildly undulating infield 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 car for track days, it’s an appropriate setting.
Before we get underway, though, the reworked M2 CS cockpit. As you’d expect, it’s largely the same as the M2 Competition, but with a new carbon-fibre centre console that goes without the centre armrest of other M2 models, the same front M Competition Sport seats used by the earlier M4 CS, and some added Alcantara for good measure. It’s not exactly overflowing with luxurious comfort, but nor is it the pared-back road racer some might expect. It’s even got a rear seat.
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 in your hands.
The characteristic turbine whirl at start-up leaves you in no doubt about the breeding when you hit the starter button on the dashboard. There is only one make of car that makes this sound, and it wears a BMW M badge.
The engine first. Subjectively, there’s not a lot that separates it from the slightly less heavily tuned unit used by the M2 Competition. 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 29kW? Not immediately, as peak power is delivered 1000rpm further up the dial than in the M2 Competition, so the M2 CS needs to be worked harder to unlock it. But such is the smoothness of the engine, and the aural rewards when you’ve really got it zinging along, that this is no hardship.
Rather, it’s part and parcel of the new M-car’s hardened and more authoritative character. BMW claims 0–100km/h in 4.0sec, which is 0.2sec quicker than the M2 Competition and 0.4sec quicker than the Cayman GT4. With the M Driver’s package coming as standard, the top speed is limited to 280km/h.
You don’t need to ring the engine to its ignition cut-out to see serious speed, though. With maximum torque arriving at 2350rpm and remaining on tap until 5500rpm, it 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, 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 even if it costs you a second or two in lap-time potential.
It might be nearing the end of its production life, but this remains a wonderful chassis. BMW M’s efforts at providing a perfect 50:50 front-to-rear weight distribution and added stiffness with a series of braces provides 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 an M2 of any kind.
The balance is quite finely struck. While it doesn’t quite match the magnificent neutrality of the mid-engine Porsche Cayman GT4, there are few front-engine cars that come close to matching the ultimate precision offered by the M2 CS. On-track, there remains a small degree of understeer, most notably in high-speed corners. It is intentional says Haecker, who notes it is important to provide a marker for the driver. Still, it is quickly quelled via a lifting of the throttle or by trailing in on the brakes.
It is through the Sachsenring’s challenging esses that BMW M’s 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 new M-car 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 that not only adds structural rigidity, but is also lighter than the previous method we used,” he says.
The steering is sharper as well – or at least gives the impression of being so. The electro-mechanical 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 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 is an added keenness to the self-centring that serves to further heighten the driving experience.
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 purchase.
You can load the M2 CS up 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 M says it 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 eight 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 DSC (dynamic stability control) 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 wheel, 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 400mm front and 380mm rear steel discs grabbed by six-pot callipers and four-piston callipers 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 right now. 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, you could detect the firmness of the MacPherson strut (front) and multi-link (rear) suspension over expansion joints, though any binding conclusions will have to wait until we get it out on the road.
The M2 CS is everything we expected – and more. It is a noticeably keener, more incisive, and ultimately more entertaining car to drive than the M2 Competition 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 bettered. The answer is the superb M2 CS. Question marks about its ride aside, it is one of the best driver’s cars you’ll see this year – or any year, for that matter.
Yes, it’s expensive – almost half as much again as the car upon which it is largely based. But the rewards run deep. We’re already counting the days until we get to drive it on the road.
EDITOR'S NOTE: The 'Ride' scoring category has been rated on a track-only experience, and thus may differ when the M2 CS reaches Australia.