Ever since it arrived, the BMW M2 has been a bit of a standout star of the M family.
The most accessible model in the M range, sure, but the M2 represents more than that. It is more of a spiritual successor to early M3s than the larger, heavier, and much more powerful M3 and M4 that have evolved over time.
Now, as an extremely limited and incredibly fine-tuned halo for the M2 range, the swansong of this generation has arrived in Australia: the 2021 BMW M2 CS.
Like the M4 CS before it, the M2 CS features plenty of Alcantara trim, and of course no lidded centre console. Unlike the M4, though, the M2 CS keeps its regular door trims and forgoes the race-spec pull straps.
The front seats are the M4 CS units, deeply bolstered, and with deep flow-through cut-outs to ensure plentiful airflow under the heat of competition.
In typical M-fettled fashion (and following in the footsteps of the bigger car), the M2 CS lists a carbon-fibre bonnet, roof, mirror caps, front splitter, rear lip and rear diffuser among its highlights. Despite all the 'lightweight' carbon addenda, kerb weights are unchanged from the M2 Competition, but at least it's no heavier.
Even as the most compact full-blood M-car, the price tag still isn't small – $139,900 plus on-road costs is the tip-in point for the M2 CS. A full $37,000 more expensive than the already accomplished M2 Competition.
|2021 BMW M2 CS|
|Engine||3.0-litre twin-turbo inline six-cylinder|
|Power and torque||331kW @ 6250rpm, 550Nm @ 2350–5500rpm|
|Transmission||Six-speed manual or seven-speed dual-clutch automatic|
|Drive type||Rear-wheel drive|
|Fuel consumption (claimed)||9.6L/100km (auto), 10.4L/100km (man)|
|ANCAP safety rating||Not tested|
|Warranty||Three years/unlimited kilometres|
|Main competitors||Porsche 718 Cayman, Audi TT RS|
|Price||From $139,900 plus on-road costs|
|0–100km/h||4.0 seconds (auto), 4.2 seconds (man)|
Of course, the engine side of things balances the ledger slightly with a tweaked-up 331kW and 550Nm from the M2’s 3.0-litre turbocharged inline-six engine. That’s 29kW more than the M2 Comp
Die-hard purists can opt for a six-speed manual (a first for a CS model), which should be capable of a 4.2-second 0–100km/h sprint, or there’s a seven-speed dual-clutch also available (for an extra $7500), with a slightly quicker 4.0-second claim.
Actually, that should be ‘could opt for’. Of the 86 cars allocated to Australia, only single-digit stock levels remain unclaimed. Get in quick, as this is sure to be a rare and special little beast.
Even BMW M CEO, Markus Flasch, nominated the M2 CS as the M-car he’d buy if he were looking for one to take home. But I imagine with his pick of company vehicles, he probably won’t have to shell out for one himself.
Sticking with numbers for a sec, though, the new BMW M4 Competition, with an eight-speed auto and 375kW at its disposal, is just 0.1sec quicker (3.9sec), while the 353kW manual M4 ‘basic’ takes a matching 4.2 seconds. When comparing like-for-like, the junior-burger CS has had its performance substantially upsized.
So, to put that performance potential to the test, BMW Australia brought us to Phillip Island to sample the most potent M2 on the racetrack.
Arriving in the shadow of the bigger M3 and M4 twins, the more compact (and to some eyes less imposing) M2 looked like it might have its work cut out for it. No such chance, though. There's thoroughbred M-division DNA all through the CS, to the point where it really gave the bigger cars a run for their money.
The thing is, the M2 CS isn't simply a scaled-down M4. It's an entirely different vehicle.
Whereas the bigger car has a highly technical edge, and feels monstrously capable and settled, its more compact cousin feels light on its feet. The M2’s more compact dimensions give it a refreshing nimbleness, which comes across as a much more analogue experience.
You still have the option of preset M driving modes to add weight to the steering or sharpen the throttle response in the most extreme of the available modes. The M2 CS also adopts M4-style adaptive damping, giving the option to firm up control for more pointed driving.
Once you're out on the track, the eager little M2 never relents. It has a monstrous enthusiasm for revs, and leaps forward frantically as you plant the throttle. All of that big engine, small car energy could be a potential recipe for disaster. There's a fairly short wheelbase underpinning the car, though not so short as to make it a hazard.
Instead, you get this delightful connection between driver and machine. Add a couple of degrees to the steering wheel and instantly receive a couple of degrees through the road – as it should be, direct and connected.
Let your racecraft get sloppy, and introduce too much throttle too early on your way out of a corner, and rather than quickly swapping ends, the M2 CS fires a warning shot of slip to give you time to arrest your slide before it escalates.
The soundtrack is pretty addictive, too. It comes from an era right before exhausts are rendered completely characterless by ever-tightening drive-by noise emissions. It still roars in your ears, and it can still pop and crackle without being an antisocial lunatic.
With only a couple of quick two- and three-lap sessions, it's hard to gauge how the brakes hold up to sustained use. But with 400mm front and 380mm rear rotors clamped by six- and four-piston callipers as part of the CS upgrade, there should be enough there for most uses. It's the same package as the optional M Sport package from the M2 Competition, which replaces the regular 380mm, 370mm, four- and two-piston package.
The only thing that isn’t clear, at least to me, is whether to opt for the automatic or manual.
BMW's seven-speed dual-clutch auto is still a very sharp ’box, even though it's approaching the end of its lifespan. Although it can be smooth and supple in light running, out on the track it has an appropriate mechanical edge that works well with what the M2 CS offers.
On the other hand, the manual transmission option is 100 per cent aimed at the hearts of purists. It doesn't have a slick rifle-bolt shift action, but it does still slide through the gate with a reassuring accuracy and deft lightness.
I’m not so sure about the pedal placement, though. All three are tucked in closely together, so the M2 CS manual may be a little less user-friendly for anyone sporting a size 10 or above. At least the clutch pedal is light, and sure to make commuter use easier to live with.
It's also best to focus on the M2 CS for its on-track (or on-road) thrills, and perhaps not so much for its presentation and technology. It's not bad, really, but as a model nearing the end of its run, there are some older bits here and there.
Of course, it could be a part of the appeal, but in the case of the M2 CS you forgo features like climate control, but do still get LED headlights, push-button start, satellite navigation and digital radio (on an 8.8-inch display), 12-speaker Harman Kardon stereo, adaptive M suspension, lightweight 19-inch alloy wheels, and a set of nifty carbon exterior elements. There's also the option of carbon-ceramic brakes and Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres if you're really serious about track life.
You don't get some of BMW's latest fun trinkets, like a digital instrument cluster or head-up display, or the latest advanced safety and driver-assist suite. Arguably, the M2 CS is all the better for it, too.
Still, if you happen to be one of the lucky few with your name against an M2 CS order, I salute you. If you’re on the edge thinking of one, get in quick, as you won’t be disappointed.
BMW may make an ever-increasing slice of its income from SUVs, but the M2 CS proves that BMW, and M in particular, knows how to make cars that are fast, engaging and involving.