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2021 BMW M2 Competition quick drive review: Still got it

The BMW M2 CS has come and gone, but the M2 Competition is anything but a consolation prize.

2021 BMW M2 Competition
Long Beach Blue is so good.
Steven Ewing/Roadshow

The BMW M2 Competition hasn't changed in the eight months since my pal Andrew Krok reviewed one last November. But in the wake of the limited-run M2 CS grabbing headlines and attention, I felt the Competition was worth revisiting. It might not have the CS' 444 horsepower, adjustable dampers or its awesome gold wheels, but the Competition better balanced and less expensive. Yeah, the CS is a peach, but this is the M2 I'd actually buy.

By the numbers, there isn't much of a performance disparity between the two M2s. Both use BMW's 3.0-liter twin-turbo I6 and have an identical 406 pound-feet of torque. The 405-hp Competition is down 39 hp compared to the CS, but that barely makes a difference. In fact, with the standard six-speed manual transmission, BMW quotes the same 4-second 0-to-60-mph time for both cars.

The pair starts to differentiate with the optional seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, which has unique gearing and a different final drive ratio for each M2. The result is a 3.8-second 0-to-60 time for the CS and a 4.2-second time for the Competition. (Yes, the DCT CS is quicker than the manual, but the Competition is the other way around.) This 0.4-second difference is definitely not for nothing, but come on, when will that less-than-half-a-second gap ever matter in the real world?

BMW's Adaptive M suspension gives the CS a bit of an advantage, allowing you to switch between Comfort, Sport and Sport Plus settings to up the punx on winding roads. There are definitely handling benefits, but in its stiffer settings, the CS is a lot tougher to live with everyday.

The Competition isn't exactly a shining beacon of comfort either, but its fixed dampers strike a great compromise between taut and compliant. There's enough cushion for the pushin' to mitigate bouncy highway expansion joints, yet the chassis keeps body roll in check while the M2 hangs on around hairpin turns. The Competition's softer suspension will surely keep it a step behind the M2 CS on a race track, no doubt, but at the same time, it makes the M2 more playful. The Competition is happy to scoot its little butt out if you're feeling hooliganistic, and I definitely appreciate when sports cars aren't so focused on precision that they lose their wild side.

I wish the Competition had the CS' Cup 2 tires, but that's an easy fix.

Steven Ewing/Roadshow

My ideal setup would actually be an M2 Competition fitted with the CS' Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires, since those are some of the best performance rubbers you can buy today, and they account for a large part of the CS' handling edge. The Competition's Pilot Super Sports are fine, don't get me wrong, but I feel like the combination of a less-aggressive suspension and sticker tire would be a real win-win. Luckily, a set of Cup 2s is just a Tire Rack shopping cart away. The CS' gold wheels might be a little harder to source, however.

My last dance with the M2 Comp involves a 400-mile day trip through southern California, starting in Los Angeles and heading over the Santa Barbara mountains after a quick lunch in Ojai. From there, it's due west across the Carrizo Plain to the 101 freeway, followed by dinner (and a cheese danish) in the cute little town of Solvang. Finally, a long drive down the Pacific coast at sunset caps this perfect SoCal day.

Mile after mile, the Competition shines. Even on the hairier sections of Highway 33 north of Ojai, I'm not pining for the CS. Do I want its Cup 2 tires? Heck yeah. But the Competition's balanced chassis, excellent steering and plentiful power make this canyon run a blast. I will concede that the Competition could use the CS' carbon-ceramic brakes, as the M2's stock steel stoppers lack consistent pedal feel and strong stopping force while driving fast on downhill sections. But those ceramics are also an $8,500 upcharge, so it's not like they're standard CS kit.

Here's hoping the next M2 is this good.

Steven Ewing/Roadshow

The other differences are all pretty negligible: The CS is 55 pounds lighter than the Competition, and its small aerodynamic add-ons look cool but don't make much of a difference at public road speeds. Inside, the CS gets Alcantara trim while the Competition makes do with leather, though if you're like me, suede-wrapped steering wheels are a huge demerit (because they're gross). The CS has better seat bolstering, but the Competition's chairs are more comfortable. Oh, and the CS doesn't have a center armrest, so there's no easy place to put your phone or tchotchkes. But hey, 55 pounds.

Arguably the biggest factor in the Competition's corner is its starting price: $59,895 including $995 for destination. Add my test car's $1,200 Executive Package (wireless charging, a heated steering wheel, adaptive LED headlights, etc.) and $2,900 dual-clutch transmission, and that puts it at $64,545. The M2 CS? It starts $20,000 higher -- and that's before you add the DCT or carbon brakes.

None of this is me trying to paint the M2 CS in a bad light, by the way; it's an awesome car, and a hell of a swan song for the current 2 Series coupe. It's also already out of production, so it's kind of a moot point anyway. I'm just reminding y'all that the CS isn't the be-all-end-all of M2 greatness. The Competition is anything but a consolation prize.