“Why didn’t you tell me the M2 CS is the best BMW ever made?” senior features editor Jonny Lieberman asked the moment I picked up the phone. I’d test-driven the 2020 BMW M2 CS two weeks before he had, and in fact I did tell him it was spectacular.
“I think this is the best sports car BMW’s ever made,” he continued. “I mean, I’ve driven almost every M5, I think every M3, the M6 and M8s, and I think this one’s better. Remember that water-injected M4 GTS a few years ago? Better than that!”
I haven’t driven every single generation of M3 and M5, so I can’t look you in the eye and tell you unequivocally the 2020 BMW M2 CS is the best M car ever. But I can tell you straight to your face it’s the best M car made in the 12 years I’ve spent reviewing cars, and that time frame covers a lot of good M cars.
No matter what, it’s easy to declare the 2020 BMW M2 CS the best M2 ever. We’ve experienced a bit of a roller coaster ride from the good-but-not-great M235i to the great M2 to the great-in-very-specific-conditions M2 Competition. This time, though, there are no caveats, no exceptions. The M2 CS is fantastic, period.
In fact, the worst thing you can say about the M2 CS is that BMW isn’t building enough of them. Available for one model year only, the 2020 M2 CS hit U.S. dealers late last year and is likely well on its way to being sold out already. If you miss your chance, all that’s left is the used market and the decidedly less-good 2021 M2 Competition (which does not get any of the CS’s upgrades), which remains on-sale for another year until this generation of 2 Series Coupe retires.
The Secret is … Lighter Wheels and an Adaptive Suspension?
You’re probably thinking the engine gets the credit, but the suspension is the real source of the 2020 BMW M2 CS’ magic. Finally fitted with the Adaptive M suspension (and as standard, at that), the M2 CS is thrilling to drive everywhere, not just on a racetrack or a freshly paved road.
How much you loved the M2 Competition depended entirely on where you drove it, because rough roads made the stiffly sprung car skittery and unsettled. It was brilliant on smooth pavement and especially on a racetrack. With tons of grip and predictable handling, it’s the kind of car that responds better the harder you whip it. Unless the corners got too tight, which meant you’d walk a tightrope between terminal midcorner understeer and wild corner-exit power oversteer. To understand what driving the 2020 BMW M2 CS is like, just forget everything negative about the M2 Competition.
The 2020 BMW M2 CS is perfect everywhere: tight corners, long sweepers, smooth pavement, and rough roads. The adaptive dampers, along with lighter 19-inch wheels and stickier Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires, fix every problem we ever had with the M2 and M2 Competition (which used same-size-but-heavier 19-inch wheels with thin-sidewall Pilot Super Sport tires). All the nervousness is gone, replaced with total confidence in the car. There’s always grip, and almost always more than the car is capable of overwhelming.
It Pays Off in the BMW M2 CS’s Handling-Test Performance
Our closed-course instrumented testing revealed mild understeer in a corner’s early and middle phases, but it’s the good kind of understeer that settles the car at the limit. You can kick out the tail with power oversteer at corner exit, but you really have to try. Set it up just right, and you can do a beautiful drift off the turn, but the M2 CS really would prefer to grip and go. The computer-controlled differential is perfectly tuned to push the outside of the car off a corner, to create a little bit of rotation rather than producing a crazy drift machine.
On California’s Highway 33, one of the world’s best driving roads, these on-the-limit behaviors translate to just the right amount of looseness at the edge of grip. Whipping the M2 CS through tight canyon corners with the computer nannies off or in M Dynamic mode, you basically never feel the understeer. And instead of power oversteer, you get just enough slip to point the car out of corners. It feels as though you couldn’t possibly force the 2020 BMW M2 CS to let go at either end on a public road. You actually could, of course, but you’d have to try deliberately to dump the car; drive properly, and the M2 CS is your perfect partner.
Don’t just take it from the grizzled veterans, either. We tossed the keys to our surprisingly quick young gun, associate online editor Nick Yekikian, for a day, and he came back with the same report.
“What stood out to me, more than anything else,” he said, “was the immediacy of the M2 CS. There is no slop in any of the controls—no delay between what your hands/feet do and what the car does next. The whole thing is taut, sharp, and poised without being compromised for any of its aggression. It’s more of an extension of you as a driver than a machine under your control; the CS is a ‘right here, right now’ type of car.”
The brake pedal also enhances driver confidence. Part of what made the BMW M2 Competition so unsettling was the way the pedal went completely wooden when you hit it hard. While the 2020 BMW M2 CS, running the optional carbon-ceramic brakes, still gives a slightly wooden feeling when you’re deep into the pedal, BMW rectified the problem to the point it’s now a minor complaint at worst.
The BMW M2 CS Has How Much More Power? And It’s *How* Much Quicker?
Before you need the brakes, though, you get to uncork the engine. With an extra 39 horsepower to play with versus the M2 Competition, the M2 CS feels much more eager to kiss the redline. BMW did a remarkable job of tuning this turbocharged motor to deliver power linearly, like the best naturally aspirated engines of days of old. Hitting the throttle above 4,000 rpm gets serious real, real quick, and it doesn’t let up. This engine doesn’t just reward winding it out, either, but still packs a punch on the bottom end and midrange.
It’s very likely this will be the last BMW to offer a dual-clutch transmission, and man, what a send-off. M engineers have kept at it, iterating and iterating, and they have this gearbox dialed. Porsche’s PDK has long been the benchmark for automatic-transmission programming in sports cars, and the M DCT in the 2020 BMW M2 CS has finally caught it. The paddles work great, but there’s no need for them, just a want in some circles. It never gets a shift wrong; I just wish there was a better explanation for why it engages like a clunky old single-clutch SMT gearbox at low speed other than “because some BMW buyers think it feels sportier that way.”
Still, we’ll miss it. Every new M car these days is getting a traditional torque converter automatic because those things we used to call “slush boxes” have gotten so good and so quick there’s no longer a performance advantage in the dual-clutch, and therefore no business case for continuing to develop such a low-volume, limited application gearbox.
That anachronism aside, the M2 CS’ overriding character trait is its seriousness. When you push it, there isn’t the playful, easygoing personality of, say, a Porsche 718 Cayman. In fact, driving some of the same roads we used for our 2020 Best Driver’s Car program, I couldn’t help but think of the Cayman GT4.
The two cars share a very purposeful demeanor, placing a higher priority on locomotive achievement than grins and giggles. They’re designed to shorten lap times, but with an enlightened awareness that real-world roads are not racetracks and street cars have to perform on both. The beautiful thing is, when you realize what they’re doing and what they’re capable of, you can drive them in a way that gives you those grins and giggles, and they’re all the better for it.
Putting the two back to back would be a hell of a comparison, too (wink, wink). Compare test results, and the cars are basically identical, though we note the only 718 Cayman GT4 we’ve tested was a manual; we haven’t yet gotten our hands on the PDK version. The dual-clutch automatic 2020 BMW M2 CS hits 60 mph in 4.0 seconds and runs a 12.2-second quarter mile at 119.7 mph, 0.1 second ahead of the Porsche in both metrics and traveling 2 mph faster. The BMW stops from 60 mph in a near-supercar 101 feet, 5 feet shorter than the GT4. The Porsche nips the BMW in handling, pulling slightly more lateral g than the 1.02 the M2 CS manages on the skidpad, and a slightly quicker figure-eight lap than the BMW’s 23.7 seconds at 0.84 g. We chalk that up to, most likely, the difference in curb weight: The M2 CS may be 96 pounds lighter than the last M2 Competition we tested, but it’s still 390 pounds heavier than the 718 Cayman GT4 we weighed.
How would the nuances of their similar personalities shake out? We’ll find out soon enough, but in the meantime, yes, the 2020 BMW M2 CS is the best sports car Bavaria has built in more than a decade—and maybe ever. It’s the best possible sendoff to both this generation of 2 Series Coupe and the M dual-clutch transmission. And hot damn, does it look good in Misano Blue Metallic over Gold wheels. The M2 CS represents the M2 going out on its own terms, and those are some damn great terms, indeed.
Looks good! More details?
|2020 BMW M2 CS|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$96,545|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, RWD, 4-pass, 2-door coupe|
|ENGINE||3.0L/444-hp/406-lb-ft turbo DOHC 24-valve I-6|
|TRANSMISSION||7-speed twin-clutch auto|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||3,517 lb (52/48%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||175.6 x 73.7 x 55.7 in|
|0-60 MPH||4.0 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||12.2 sec @ 119.7 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||101 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||1.02 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||23.7 sec @ 0.84 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||16/23/19 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||211/147 kWh/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||1.05 lb/mile|