2021 BMW M2 CS Manual First Test Review: More Than Just a Sporty Car
If you’re washing the dishes while daydreaming about laying on a beach in Cabo sipping a piña colada, are you really washing the dishes? It might be laborious tedium, but if you aren’t conscious of your presence, thoughts, and actions, are you really there? The 2021 BMW M2 CS with the six-speed manual asks that exact question, but of the act of driving, not dishwashing.
We’ve already lauded the DCT-equipped M2 CS as one of the best driver’s cars to ever wear the famed roundel—it might even be the GOAT. Sure, there are Bimmers with a sweeter soundtrack, and there are certainly M cars with more power. But none of them have been as thrilling, as focused, and as complete, as the Misano Blue M2 CS we tested earlier this year.
This Alpine White example is nearly identical to the smurf-CS—$8,500 optional carbon ceramic brakes and all—except for that third pedal over there on the left and that foreign-looking lever in between the front seats. As a result, the manual CS is a few grand cheaper than its automatic counterpart, ringing in at $93,095. But the difference in gearboxes isn’t just mechanical or monetary. It’s visceral—some might even say philosophical.
There Is No ‘Saving the Manuals’
With automatics accounting for almost 99 percent of all new cars sold in the U.S. last year, picking a manual over a transmission as excellent as BMW’s M-DCT isn’t just a move against the grain. It’s a statement, a veritable line in the sand. It tells anyone who will listen that you want to feel like more than just a bag of bones in a bucket seat.
With that said, the M-DCT M2 CS is objectively the better version of this car. It might not be the purist’s choice, but the whip-crack shifts and genius-level programming of that dual-clutch gearbox mean the 444 horsepower and 406 lb-ft of torque from BMW’s twin-turbo 3.0-liter I-6 can be deployed much more effectively. The upshot is the dual-clutch CS is stupendously fast all the time, much more so than the manual—and you don’t even have to work hard to make it deliver.
The M2’s manual gearbox itself isn’t even particularly special. In general, BMWs aren’t as satisfying to row as Porsches or even most performance-oriented Hondas, and the M2 CS is no exception. The action of the gear lever in the BMW feels different from gate to gate. Sometimes shifts are slick and accurate, and sometimes they’re notchy and nasty. But perhaps worst of all, you have to turn off the traction control system in order to disable the automatic rev-matching, something features editor Scott Evans described as “absolutely ridiculous,” and he’s right.
Not to make life even harder for the stick, but the manual M2 CS is also marginally slower than the auto. Our test team logged a best 0-60 mph run of 4.1 seconds in the manual; the automatic did the deed in 4 seconds flat. It was also slower around our figure-eight course, logging a time of 24.0 seconds at 0.81 average g. The DCT car was three tenths of a second faster and pulled 0.84 average g.
But Screw It, Who Cares?
Acceleration figures and lap times, though, are not the sole measure of a sports car’s worth. They never have been and never will be. Dollar figures and lap times be damned. We’re not doing nitpicking here today. The BMW M2 CS six-speed isn’t a numbers car, it’s a feel-it-in-your-bones car, a feast for the senses. An always-on sort of machine that isn’t just fun to drive, but life-affirming, too.
As senior features editor Jonny Lieberman put it: “[The M2 CS is] the car built away from the accountants and the product planners, out of the reach of the marketers. It’s the rare production car, the one that doesn’t make any sense. The one that speeds up your heart, sends your pulse racing, and your brain spinning.”
It doesn’t make you feel like a driving god the way its automatic counterpart does, and it shouldn’t. Instead the M2 CS manual makes you work. It constantly asks critical questions of your driving. Are you sure you’re in the right gear for this corner? Maybe go for a downshift, hmm? How are you going to manage the time it takes to go from fourth to second? All of these and many more.
This car demands your full attention. Because if you aren’t managing what your hands and feet are doing, constantly processing what your eyes are seeing, and reacting to what your butt is feeling, are you really even driving? The manual M2 CS would say, without a moment’s hesitation, no. But those who are willing to pick up the gauntlet and actually pay attention to the car and the road will reap untold rewards.
Practice Really Does Make Perfect
Just as in the blue car we tested earlier this year, the CS’s chassis is superlative. The suspension setup, wheels that weigh just 19.8 pounds each, and the addition of sticky Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 rubber mean you can thread this car along any road with pinpoint accuracy. But there’s something else here, too. Somewhere in there with the bushings and struts there’s a layer of BMW magic that results in a car that is eminently talkative and constantly transfers actionable intel from the road surface to your fingertips.
Thanks to a series of buttons on the center console that let you adjust the steering weight, the eagerness of the powertrain, and the firmness of the dampers, there is a goldilocks setup for any occasion. For this writer, a comfortable chassis, the lightest steering, the angriest powertrain, and BMW M Dynamic Mode (MDM) for the traction control system was the way to go for enthusiastic driving. The steering wheel is a bit too thick and the throttle still blips itself in MDM, though. You can’t win ’em all.
Rev-matching gripes aside, the CS is a joy to drive quickly. The front tires are never overwhelmed into understeer, and because the rear is so hooked up, you’ll never encounter surprise oversteer unless you crack the whip too hard or are driving on rubber that’s still cold. The S55 inline-six that lives under the hood of this car is the same engine we once derided in the F80 M3 (and F82 M4) for its snappy, unpredictable torque delivery. But half a decade of fiddling on BMW’s part has resulted in one of the most thrilling turbocharged engines available today.
“The massive mid-range turbo thrust of this motor is intoxicating, and while you do have to be a little careful with it, it makes the car much more exciting at every corner exit,” Evans said. “It just feels like this car is straining at the harness.” The harder you push it, the better it gets.
The rest of the M2 CS is just as fun to push, especially the brakes. Our test car’s carbon ceramic discs were indefatigable on the road and helped the M2 CS log a best stop from 60 mph in just 101 feet. The steelies might stop in an even shorter distance, but the carbon ceramics’ gilded calipers look the business and the fancy rotors themselves present no compromises. If you want to stop in a shorter distance, you’re going to have to spend supercar money (or buy a Corvette).
Together, the bits of glass, metal, leather, carbon, and rubber that make up the CS create something you don’t want to stop driving. So go ahead. Keep the engine between 3,500 and 6,000 rpm. Ride its mountain of torque from straight to apex and back to straight again. Slide the gear lever from one gate to the next. Wind the wheel with millimeter precision. Dive onto the brakes as late as you dare, lean on the front end, balance the rear on the edge of grip and slip. Do all of this and more, over and over again. And smile. Grin and giggle and cackle with delight.
Eventually you’ll find the answers to the questions the CS is asking. And once you do, the M2 CS becomes more than just a machine under your control—it transforms into the partner that’s always willing to tango. Just remember the moves and keep your rhythm.
The M2 CS will come through, and the experience makes you a better dancer. Plus, you’ll have the added joy of knowing you’re not just a bag of bones in a bucket seat. You’re wholly responsible for the 10-out-of-10 performance because of that third pedal over there on the left and the not-so-foreign lever to your right.
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