It can be easy for car companies to get a little too self-referential, too in thrall to their own history. Remember when Jaguar redesigned the XJ and created a totally new car that looked almost exactly like every other XJ from the prior two decades? Or when Ford kept using stick axles in Mustangs, with a few exceptions, until 2014? BMW tends to go in the opposite direction, periodically trying on new identities to see what fits. Sometimes that works to rare effect—the Bangle-era V-10-powered M5 was both wildly new and wildly excellent—and sometimes not. But legions of Bimmerheads resent the fact that BMW refused to basically just keep building the E46 M3 forever and ever, like Porsche does with the 911 or Volkswagen with the GTI. They made the M3 sedan as big as an E39 M5, and look at the grille. But heartsick aficionados of compact Bavarian straight-six coupes have a new crush, in the form of the 2020 M2 CS. It’s like an E46 with an extra 111 horsepower. And it starts at only $84,595.
HIGHS: Hits 60 mph in 3.4 seconds, throwback size and proportions, glorious steering feel.
We concede that this is a lot of money for a 2-series. But what a 2-series it is, armed with the outgoing M4 Competition’s 444-horsepower 3.0-liter inline-six and, in this case, a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission (a $2900 upgrade). While you can also get the M2 CS with a six-speed manual, the dual-clutch ‘box makes it a quicker car and one that doesn’t skimp on driver involvement. For instance, even when using launch control—your ticket to a 3.4-second zero-to-60-mph time—the driver needs to dial in the optimum engine rpm for launch using the cruise-control toggle. Anything much more than about 3000 rpm and the clutch engagement sends the 265/35R-19 Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 rear tires up in smoke. All-wheel drive would solve that traction algebra, but what’s the fun in that? Also, all-wheel drive—an option in the new M3 and M4 Competition models—would likely bring along a conventional automatic rather than the dual-clutch transmission. Even with its traction-limited launches, the CS’s 3.4-second 60-mph time outran the last M2 Competition we tested by 0.6 second, and its quarter-mile time, an 11.7-second wind sprint, improved by 0.7 second, while crossing the line at 120 mph. The CS’s extra 39 horsepower obviously aren’t just on paper.
Squeezing four seats into an 89-cubic-foot cabin makes the M2’s cabin tight in a way that evokes nostalgia for BMW coupes of yore. (Should you get pulled over and need to retrieve your registration, the glovebox is an easy reach.) The overly chunky steering wheel is modern BMW, but the signals that come through it are high fidelity in the old-school manner. Which is a good thing, because the stubby CS is not a casual drift machine like the new M3. It’s a squirming, writhing handful, albeit one that logged 1.04 g on our skidpad. That’s steady-state cornering, though. Add some throttle to your lateral acceleration, as in a corner exit, and the CS is happy to remind you of the limits of its contact patches. Through the wheel, it feels as if you can discern individual molecules of Michelin straining to maintain purchase on the pavement in a million little battles. This is a car that slays hairpins, an all-time autocross weapon, but maybe not the perfect tool for a 130-mph sweeper.
LOWS: One year only, $96,545 for a 2-series?
The CS’s exterior is restrained, but there are tells that this is the ultimate 2-series. The roof is exposed carbon fiber, as are the mirror caps, front splitter, and rear spoiler and diffuser. The hood is also carbon fiber, with a huge functional center vent that BMW says aids both cooling and downforce. Carbon-ceramic brake rotors—as fitted to our test car, an $8500 option—returned a 138-foot stop from 70 mph and a 291-foot stop from 100 mph with zero fade, both super-impressive results, particularly for a front-engine car.
With its compact proportions and snarling 7600-rpm inline-six, the M2 CS really does feel like a direct evolution from the best M cars of yore, even retaining the old-style low-profile kidney-shaped grille openings. This is BMW showing that it knows how to build a killer little coupe, exhilarating and humming with nervous energy. Unfortunately, the CS is a one-year-only model, with the 2020 edition representing both the beginning and the end of its run. Which leaves us with the same question we had back in 2006, the last year for the E46 M3: Why can’t they just keep making this?
2020 BMW M2 CS DCT
Vehicle Type: front-engine, rear-wheel-drive, 4-passenger, 2-door coupe
Base/As Tested: $87,495/$96,545
Options: M carbon-ceramic brakes, $8500, Misano Blue paint, $550
twin-turbocharged and intercooled DOHC 24-valve inline-6, aluminum block and head, direct fuel injection
Displacement: 182 in3, 2979 cm3
Power: 444 hp @ 6250 rpm
Torque: 406 lb-ft @ 2650 rpm
7-speed dual-clutch automatic
Suspension, F/R: struts/multilink
Tires: Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2
F: 245/35R-19 (93Y) DT1 ★
R: 265/35R-19 (98Y) DT1 ★
Wheelbase: 106.0 in
Length: 175.6 in
Width: 73.7 in
Height: 55.7 in
Passenger Volume: 89 ft3
Trunk Volume: 14 ft3
Curb Weight: 3544 lb
C/D TEST RESULTS
60 mph: 3.4 sec
100 mph: 8.2 sec
1/4-Mile: 11.7 sec @ 120 mph
130 mph: 14.2 sec
150 mph: 20.9 sec
Results above omit 1-ft rollout of 0.2 sec.
Rolling Start, 5–60 mph: 3.9 sec
Top Gear, 30–50 mph: 2.2 sec
Top Gear, 50–70 mph: 2.7 sec
Top Speed (mfr’s claim): 174 mph
Braking, 70–0 mph: 138 ft
Braking, 100–0 mph: 291 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft Skidpad: 1.04 g
C/D FUEL ECONOMY
Observed: 17 mpg
EPA FUEL ECONOMY
Combined/City/Highway: 19/16/23 mpg