If you act like a ham-fisted buffoon behind the wheel, it’ll bite you back hard.
Everyone loves to knock BMW’s M division for their cars becoming too this, diluting the sacred nameplate with that, and losing their way with yada yada yada. But every so often, we get a car that goes beyond all the nonsense, silences all the naysayers and keyboard warriors, and proves once again the Bavarians still know how to do an “ultimate driving machine.” That car is the 2021 BMW M2 CS.
Seeing the extremes the M division is capable of is amazing, really. On one hand, we have nonsense like the X4 and X6 M Competition, absurd “SUV coupes” that are certainly speedy machines, but also answers to questions nobody really asked. But on the other hand, the M2 CS is not only one of the purest, most entertaining and and purest new cars you can buy today, but also charmingly imperfect and surely destined to be a future classic. If anything, BMW really does have an M vehicle for everyone, from up-and-coming, image-conscious Bay (or Wall) St. hot shots to dyed-in-the-wool enthusiasts with a lot of money.
The M2 CS is the swan song for the 2 Series coupe, and it closes out the seven-year run with a highly effective formula: take an already good car, and make it even better. Here, BMW starts with the already very good M2 Competition and turns it all up to 11: BMW’s so-called “S55” 3.0-litre twin-turbo inline six, cribbed from the outgoing M3 and M4, still lives under the hood. But while it’s slightly detuned in the M2 Competition, the CS gets the full 444 horsepower and 406 pound-feet of torque.
Naturally, rear-wheel-drive is the only way to have your M2 CS and a six-speed manual is standard, but you can spec a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic. Sure, the CS hits 100 km/h from rest in four seconds flat with the dual-clutch, and the stick adds about two-tenths to that run time, but who the hell cares? What are you really going to do with that extra fraction of a second in your day? Do yourself a favour and stick with the stick; it’s a good transmission, with a pleasantly notchy shifter and the not-overly-heavy clutch doesn’t make you regret skipping leg day. The performance-versus-fun trade-off is definitely worth it, although an easier way to disable automatic rev-matching would’ve been nice.
In addition to the full-send power figures and standard three-pedal transmission, the M2 CS sets itself apart from the “regular” M2 Competition under the skin with BMW’s Adaptive M suspension setup, optional carbon-ceramic brakes, and lighter wheels. This is what happens when the engineers lock the bean-counters in the basement and run wild.
But what truly elevates the M2 CS to the top of the M food chain is just how well it all comes together. We love to knock BMW’s M cars for being too big, soft, heavy, and complicated, but the M2 CS goes against all that. You hear things in this car, like the trademark inline-six burble that quickly evolves into a raspy wail as you flirt with the redline. You feel things, like every single bump, pothole, expansion joint, and pebble on the road, even with the adaptive suspension in Comfort mode, in exchange for the ability to stay flatter than a sheet of plywood in a corner.
You know exactly what’s going on under the super-sticky Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires and the well-weighted steering is actually sharp and communicative, two things virtually unheard of in a modern M car. You have to respect this car, because if you act like a ham-fisted buffoon behind the wheel, it’ll bite you back hard.
And yet if you respect it, the M2 CS also rewards you: where other M vehicles are straight-line missiles that slice-and-dice through right highway on-ramp or spaghetti-shaped road unfazed, almost to the point where it’s boring, this thing is equally unfazed and there’s a big, stupid smile on your face the entire time.
Visually, the M2 CS is pretty much what you’d expect: take the “regular” M2, add some extra carbon fibre bits and new wheels, and call it a day. The 2 Series as a whole has never been the most cohesive-looking BMW thanks to its slightly stubby proportions, but the M2’s beefier stance and CS bits – the carbon fibre front splitter, rear diffusor, larger spoiler, hood scoop, and many more – add a touch of purpose. The checkboard carbon fibre roof looks neat, but if you spec your M2 CS in blue with the gold 19-inch wheels, prepare for some Subaru jokes. You’ll definitely have the last laugh when the light turns green, though.
Inside, the M2 CS is precisely what you’d expect. The overall environment feels solid and fit-and-finish is top-notch, but where other BMWs coddle you with frills like ambient lighting, soft-close doors, and massaging seats, the CS is blessedly focused and distraction-free. There’s no fancy all-digital gauge cluster, gesture-controlled infotainment, proximity key access, cooled seats, or even an armrest. Instead, you get clearly marked analog gauges, a fat Alcantara-wrapped steering wheel, a pair of supportive sport seats – which are at least heated – and lots of carbon fibre.
It’s all-business, but also livable; granted, there’s a decent amount of road noise on the highway and you feel every little bump, but it’s easy to get comfortable, the steering wheel and shifter are well within reach, there’s plenty of headroom thanks to the lack of a sunroof, and if you want to bond with your kids by shredding some tires, the back seats are surprisingly usable.
If you really want an M2 CS, there are two more things to consider. First, availability: BMW is only making 2,200 of these worldwide, so if you’re reading this, it’s probably too late to find one that’s showroom-fresh. Second, price: at $99,595, you have to walk by a lot of other sporty cars to get here. A mid-engine Corvette starts at $69,398. A stick Camaro ZL1 is a hair under $71,998 plus another $8,495 for the 1LE package, and that’s packing a supercharged V8. Kitty corner to the M2 CS in the BMW dealer, you can pick up a well-equipped, stick M3 for just under $95,000. There’s a lot out there in the world of sports cars.
But few can match the 2021 BMW M2 CS for engagement, sharpness, and all-around fun. It’s hardly perfect and you do have to make compromises, but this car takes us back to the days where the M badge actually meant something.