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2020 BMW M2 CS first drive review: Subtly sharper

The new CS improves upon the BMW M2 Competition in a number of ways, but is it worth the added cost?

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The CS sits at the top of the BMW M2 hierarchy.

BMW

As a rule I'm not really a gold person; silver is more my sort of color. But when it comes to the rims wrapped in rubber sitting in the arches of cars, well, I find myself drawn to the more precious of the two metals. Perhaps it's a Colin McRae/Subaru Impreza thing. And since they're a no-cost option on the US-spec BMW M2 CS, you'd be foolish not to get them.

The rest of the M2 CS is very attractive, too, but it spawned from what was already a pretty fantastic box-arched shape. If you spec Black Sapphire Metallic then the additions for the CS are subtle, as the naked carbon fiber bits blend in. However, look closely and you will spot the splitter, the Gurney spoiler on the trunk lid and the carbon fiber roof. Inspect it even more assiduously and you'll see the vents in the hood, which is now made of carbon fiber, and is half the weight of the standard item.

While you're lifting the hood to inspect the carbon and feel the difference in weight, you'll no doubt glance at what's underneath. Wreathed by the familiar horseshoe of a carbon fiber brace is BMW's S55 twin-turbo straight-six -- the one from the M2 Competition -- but with 39 horsepower more, taking it up to the level of the M3 and M4 Competition. Torque remains the same at an ample 406 pound-feet.

Open the driver's door, drop into the sport seat and you're greeted with a surprisingly plush interior. Yes, the transmission tunnel is a lightweight variant that does away with the standard armrest atop a cubbyhole, but the infotainment system remains in place and the spars of the chunky, Alcantara-clad wheel are festooned with buttons.

Press the red starter button (just behind the wheel) and you're treated to a familiar, slightly hollow straight-six sound. The next few actions are rather rare in a modern car. First your left foot has to depress a clutch pedal. Then you select first gear with an H-pattern manual shifter before switching your hand to a proper handbrake lever. Old-fashioned, unnecessary actions in some people's eyes, no doubt, and that is why the M2 CS can be bought with a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic as well. But, to this 38-year-old dinosaur, there is a simple but very definite pleasure to be had from engaging all four limbs to pull out smoothly from an uphill junction, so I'd stick with the manual.

I have to confess, in traffic and on the highway, I can't feel a huge difference between the M2 CS and M2 Competition. On paper, one of the major changes is a switch from passive to adaptive dampers, but the steps between Comfort, Sport and Sport Plus are subtle to say the least. The secondary ride quality is pretty uniform across all three modes and it's only over bigger impacts and with more speed that you notice a slight ramping-up in the firmness as you progress from Comfort through to Sport Plus. But it's subtle.

You can adjust the drivetrain and steering through a similar trio of levels and when I was able to push the car a little harder, I decided on Sport for the steering and Sport Plus for the drivetrain. Comfort feels like the best mode for the suspension as there still seems to be plenty of support, and even the smidgen of extra compliance from the softest setting is helpful for keeping things controlled on a rough-and-tumble British B-road. All this is easily programmed into the M1 or M2 buttons on the steering wheel along with your desired level of assistance from the Dynamic Stability Control (On, M Dynamic Mode or Off).

The CS' interior is as nicely appointed as any other M2 model.

BMW

With all that sorted out so that you can just concentrate on the driving, the M2 CS is a huge amount of fun. Three-years-old-with-a-new-scooter-on-the-way-to-get-an-ice-cream-with-a-Flake-in-it fun. That much fun. Stretch the legs of the engine and it feels stonkingly fast, with the aggressive Sport Plus setting waking up the active M rear differential nice and quickly so that you can really use the throttle to steer the car through corners. It seems incredibly tenacious at first, and with its short, wide stance, it initially feels like the CS might be quite snappy as you reach the limit of its tires. But the optional Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2s give a nice progression from grip to slip when they are overwhelmed, and the M2's short wheelbase means that slides feel relatively contained. Push hard, turn in with more commitment and you can also feel that there is a little bit less roll in the suspension compared to a M2 Competition, so you can work the shoulders of the tires sooner in a corner.

The gearshift is typical BMW, so slightly longer of throw and lighter of action than you might expect, with a feel that can definitely trace its way back through past generations. It will also automatically match the revs on downshifts unless you turn the DSC all the way off.

You definitely want the gold wheels.

BMW

Overall the M2 CS is still a less-subtle car than something like the sublime Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 (which is a similar price) and sadly it can't match that car for aural entertainment. But there's no doubting the turbocharged punch it delivers in a straight line, and you'll still have a massive grin on your face down a good piece of road. Although they are similar in price and both have six-cylinder engines driving the rear wheels with manual gearboxes, the BMW and Porsche feel like very different cars, to be honest.

In fact I think the bigger conflict for the CS comes from something much, much closer to home. Because much as I loved driving the M2 CS and although I never failed to look back and admire it after I'd parked, I'm not sure I'd be rushing to spend an extra $25,000 over the already brilliant package that is the M2 Competition. I look forward to driving a CS on track at some point as I suspect a little more magic might be unveiled between some striped curbs (and you just know that it's going to be fun to slide around), but on the road I think the visceral gains are very marginal. Perhaps that shouldn't be too surprising when you look at the spec sheet, because overall the weight of the M2 CS is nearly identical to the Competition. Great though it is (and it really is great), I can't help feeling that BMW should perhaps have gone the whole hog, stripped the interior right back and added an "L" onto the end of the "CS."