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The Bandit

Updated: Mar 24

TV and film have given us endless iconic motor cars over the years, and perhaps never more so than back in the 1970’s and 80’s. As a car obsessed young lad growing up in those days, my world was full of the wonderful and exotic cars that flickered across my four channel television; James Bond’s white Lotus Esprit in The Spy Who Loved Me, the Dukes of Hazard’s bright red forever jumping Dodge Charger, the Fall guys brown and gold GMC non-stop skidding truck, right through to Knight Riders talking solid black Pontiac Trans Am called K.I.T.T.


But there was another Trans Am that I thought was particularly awesome back in those days, and that was the one Burt Reynolds drove in the 1977 film, Smokey and the Bandit. With its black paint, contrasting gold cross spoke alloy wheels, sunken headlights (so that was where McLaren’s inspiration on the P1 came from, I knew it!), and gold eagle adorned across the bonnet, I thought it was height of American muscle car coolness; my toy Matchbox version of it was a favourite at the time and had the scars to prove it. Of course, little did I know the 1977 Trans Am “muscle car” only squeezed a paltry 200bhp from its vast 6.6litre V8 engine due to brutal US Government fuel economy and emission regulations. Nevertheless, that colour combination was in my young mind the height of cool.

Forty odd years later and I’m suddenly transported back to those heady days. Parked up in front of me is BMW’s latest M car, the M2 CS. Painted in sparkling Sapphire black paint and shod as it is with stunning and contrasting gold wheels. It looks epic. Shy and re-tiring this M2 CS’s colour scheme is certainly not! But frankly, neither is the rest of it. Lightweight Carbon fibre is lavished over the (very low – more of that later) chin spoiler, roof top, M wing mirror caps and rear Gurney spoiler, all adding to the already muscular and slightly cartoonish shape that is the M2. But all this Carbon Fibre doesn’t mean the M2 CS weighs less than the Competition model. “They weigh about the same, all things considered, unless you equip the M2 CS with the carbon ceramic brakes which saves about 25 kilograms (55 lbs),” BMW M CEO Markus Flasch told bmwblog. “The reason for being the same weight as the M2 Competition, is the additional things we put in.” i.e. Adaptive M Suspension.


If that wasn’t enough, there is a large vent in the bonnet to help cooling and huge Carbon Ceramic brakes (£6,250) fill those wonderful forged 763M gold alloys (£500), shod with Michelin Pilot Cup 2 tyres. And the vast front calipers, a different shade of gold again to the alloys, but somehow this all works together to provide an extremely aggressive, and it has to be said, one very purposeful looking motor car. Not sure I’d have been brave enough to tick the “gold wheels” option if I was spec’ing the car, but having seen them in real life it’s a definite thumbs up from me.


This M2CS represents the last hurrah for the F87 M2. Originally released back in 2015, the M2 has continued to evolve overtime and perhaps more so than in other M car models of its generation. The Competition version, a now familiar M car iteration was released only two years ago, and that version saw a significantly reworked car, the biggest change being the inclusion of the BMW M built S55 engine fitted from the F80 M3 / F82 M4, albeit in a detuned stated, and replacing the ageing N55 motor.


And it’s this S55 3 litre Straight-six twin-turbocharged engine that is one of the major highlights in this CS version. The Competition version before it was tuned to produce 404bhp, whilst in this CS that has been increased by a further 10% to 444bhp and a peak torque of 550Nm – that’s 30Nm more than the 5.0 litre V10 in the E60 M5 for those of you who like me crave an irrelevant, I mean relevant, data point. And from another and perhaps more relevant perspective, that’s 79bhp more than the original and not unsubstantial 365bhp in the original 2015 M2. What this translates to in the real world is a face mangling 0 to 62mph time of 4.0 seconds (DCT, 4.2 seconds in Manual) and a top speed restricted to a pretty interesting 174mph (Car Magazine reported 186mph with revs to go) – a near 200mph 2 series, who would have predicted that?

Of course, having all this power and torque is one thing, but keeping the CS attached to the road surface and being able to reign that speed in quickly is equally, if not more important. Fortunately then, those clever folks at BMW’s M division have fitted as standard some pretty trick Adaptive M suspension designed with motor racing know-how; after all this is a car that is intended to be able to perform the every day driving and then rock up and tear round your local motor racing track at the weekend. As such, the damper settings can be adjusted between Comfort, Sport and Sport+, the latter delivering the firmest chassis setup that minimises body movement and maximises dynamic performance.


As far as stopping goes, M Sport brakes are fitted and benefit from the motor racing experience of BMW M GmbH. Compared with the M compound brakes featured on the BMW M2 Competition, the brake discs are larger (front: diameter 400mm, rear: diameter 380mm) and the brake callipers – painted in a bold red colour – have also been upgraded (front: six-piston fixed callipers, rear: four-piston fixed callipers). The BMW M2 CS however, is also available with the option of M Carbon ceramic brakes, as fitted to our test car, with six-piston callipers at the front and four-piston units at the rear, with the callipers painted in gold.

Electric Power Steering with M-specific characteristics controls power assistance electronically according to the car’s speed and the Drivelogic settings selected. It allows the driver to adapt the level of power assistance to suit their personal preferences and is also adjusted in line with the three suspension modes and the three throttle mapping modes. So, there are set-up options, but compared to some of the more grown up M cars they are fairly straight forward: Three settings for Steering, Throttle Mapping and Damper setting. Of course, on top of this, the Dynamic Stability Control can be switched to M Dynamic Mode, which allows for added rear end playfulness, or if you have the driving skills and belief of Lewis Hamilton, you can turn everything off.


To make sure you keep the car on the black stuff and yet still be competitive around the weekend race track, BMW have fitted the front wheels with 245/35 ZR 19 Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres and 265/35 ZR 19 tyres at the rear. BMW will allow customers intending to use their M2 CS mainly for everyday driving to select the no‑cost option of Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres, which of course generate more grip on wet roads than the Cup 2 tyres – more of that later. Most surprising is the option that is not offered, and that is Michelin Pilot Sport 4S’s. Without doubt, and I know I speak for several friends too, these are by far the best for fast road driving on the UK’s roads, having really impressive handling in both wet and lower temperature conditions than either the Super Sport or Cup 2’s, as well as excelling in the dry


Interior wise, it’s generally a standard M2 affair, only without a central armrest (weight saving?), an abundance of Alcantara and Carbon fibre and a seemingly thicker than normal Alcantara wrapped steering wheel with a perforated top dead centre marking.

Driving


What I’ve always loved about the M2 throughout its iterations, is how approachable the car is from a driver confidence perspective. Familiarity of course breeds confidence and the compact size really helps that when you push on. But before I get a chance to let it loose on the open roads, we pop up to the roof of BMW UK’s Farnborough car park to allow Dean to grab a few images as the late August sun starts to gently fall towards the horizon. Twenty minutes later and at last we’re all done and I can head out on to the public highway, but not until I have negotiated 10 floors of car park.


I’d like to think I’m able to keep my cool when driving cars of this rarity and value, but I have to admit to questioning whether I required a new pair of under pants after that god awful scraping noise came from that beautiful carbon fibre chin spoiler on the first down ramp. Luckily no damage done, but my god that front end is super low to the ground, just see the pictures if you don’t believe me. Needless to say, every other down ramp was approached crab style and for the following week I avoided all speed bumps and kerbs, no easy task let me tell you.

And then finally we’re out on the roads. It’s 7:30pm and its still daylight, the temperature is 22degC, the roads are bone dry and the engine oil is nicely warmed. Dean has plotted an awesome route for us as we head home down to the South Coast and finally Brighton. As we leave the city limits of Farnborough, we head south along the A285 before joining the A272 towards Petworth and heading east before reaching the A281. If you know these roads, then you will know what a wonderful playground they can be for the keen driver, a perfect place to explore what this M2 CS is capable of.


Within a very short time I’m deliberately provoking the throttle hard to see where the initial traction limits off, it’s quickly apparent the grip levels with these Cup 2’s is a step above what I’m used to, but also confidence inspiring when the limit of adhesion is reached, letting go in a very predictable manner.


On these twisty but flowing roads the M2 CS is superlative, carrying huge speeds through the corners. I quickly switch the cars traction control system to M Dynamic Mode, this allows the rear axle to dance through and out of the corners. I leave the dampers in comfort initially, and although the body roll is extremely well checked, the car feels more natural in its middle Sport setting. With Dean in the passenger seat, screaming encouragement the fun levels are amazingly high as we nail some of these familiar corners on the button, this car is hugely rewarding to drive. And that engine. The S55 is by far my favourite petrol Turbo M engine of the modern era, it’s just so characterful both in the way it pulls, and in the way it sounds. Even how loud it is; it’s an absolute aural joy and yet never becomes too boisterous or shouty.

The engine itself doesn’t pull hard until just before 3,000rpm where the whole 550Nm of Torque comes in fully, and from there all the way to the redline somewhere north of 7,500rpm it pulls really hard. In many respects it’s normally aspirated in character and in the way the engine gains speed as it races towards the redline, and hunting that redline it is totally addictive. However, to do so is also unnecessary as the mid-range torque is just so ferocious, more like a S54 engine on those go faster 90’s drugs. It’s brilliant and made even more brilliant by the sweet shifting six speed manual gearbox fitted to our car; it’s such a joy to change gear.


Better still, this gearbox has rev matching enabled and it’s the best application of it I’ve tried in a BMW or Mini to date. It takes very little time to get used to it and just means that when you’re grabbing that next gear, or shifting down during your braking, the engine is exactly where you want it, every time, then you’re straight back on the power with no interruptions. What both Dean and I both found though, is that from a throttle mapping perspective, putting in its calmest mode, known as “Efficiency”, offers a lot more controllability around these fast British and bumpy A roads. Leave it in “Sport” and an enthusiastic push of throttle on corner exit leads to the Torque briefly overwhelming the rear Cup 2’s which spoils the experience as the power is briefly cut to compensate.


The Carbon Ceramic brakes themselves are also earning their keep on these fast roads. It’s not the stopping power which really impresses, although I swear, they could make our planet slow its rotation a little if asked. No, it’s their precise modulation that really stands out. I can only imagine that these would really come in to their own on the race track, but I’d happily option them even if I was fast road driving only, they really are a seriously good piece of kit.


Over the next several days the M2 CS switches between fast road car, daily driver, teenagers’ taxi and motorway cruiser. The warm August days that we experienced at the start of our time together give way almost overnight to colder temperatures and torrential rain. But that is the luxury of having the car for this amount of time, it allows a more rounded impression to be gained, as much to enjoy its virtues as to discover its flaws, of which it has a few; and there’s nothing wrong with that.


The electric steering rack and oversized wheel deserve some criticism in my eyes. The rim is a great size but its thicker than it needs to be, and I think it loses some steering delicacy because of it. The feedback on the steering is good enough to inspire huge confidence when pushing on, but feels quite numb in normal driving even in “Comfort” mode, even to the extent that when the car tracks along tarmac undulations or poor broken road surfaces there is a tugging against the wheel which feels quite artificial. This was highlighted to me never more than when I jumped back in my own E90 M3 after dropping off the CS. I seriously thought the steering in my M3 was broken and I actually stopped the car in the BMW Car Park to get out and give everything a shake and a wiggle. Only then did I realise there was just a huge amount of information coming into my hands that I’d not experienced over the past week in the M2 CS. On a positive note, the dead ahead feel is vastly better than earlier BMW electric steering racks; Mrs Carters M140i is particularly guilty of this deadness.


Suspension wise I think the damping and the three set-ups are superb and brilliantly well judged, specifically in Comfort and Sport for road driving. And whilst the initial damping is a serious step up from the original M2, there is a stiffness that some may find a little too much for everyday driving. Personally, I found the car very comfortable even over two long four-hour motorway journeys that I made in the last days with it.


And those Cup 2 tyres. Whilst they are absolutely sublime and offer monstrous grip in the dry, they are near heart attack inducing when the roads are wet or damp. This was illustrated not more so than whilst gently accelerating over a narrow water run off on an otherwise dry road in Ashdown Forest, the car rotating in a flash, only the full DSC saving what I would expect would have been a clenched tooth inducing low speed 360 spin. I can only imagine that more than one M2 CS will find its muscular rear end inserted bluntly in a Hawthorne bush / dry stone wall / roadside barrier (select as applicable) during the winter months. As I mentioned earlier, I’d be asking BMW to swap those Cup 2’s for a new set of Pilot Sport 4S’s before delivery.


And then finally there is the price. At £81,115 tested, this little 2 series is serious money. A quick search online reveals a whole range of high-end performance machinery for around that price. A new Porsche Cayman GT4 is under £75,000, a brand-new Lotus Evora under £80,000 and a 2014 Porsche 911 GT3 with 15,000 miles is yours for under £90,000, really, and from Porsche themselves. Alternatively, I’ve had numerous healthy discussions with seemingly everyone about how easy it is to make an M140/M240 or M2 Comp go faster and drive round corners betters for far less money than a new M2 CS. Yes, everyone has a view on this it seems.

Verdict


So, this M2CS has its faults and it is expensive, but frankly I find it all the more endearing because of it. And whilst the colour scheme of our loan car was a modern and German incarnation of the Bandit’s Trans Am (Golden Eagle bonnet decal the exception), and it’s certainly a bit of Bandit when it comes to relieving you of pound notes from your wallet, it still is a very special car in my opinion.

I also hear from my contacts in the BMW dealer network that a bunch of orders were cancelled during these recent lockdown months, and that if you want to spec a factory car, you can. So, combine that with the fact those Cup 2’s will lighten the production numbers versus on the road survivors in a few years’ time, and I think there is a chance for this M2CS to be quite a rare and special car. This little Bandit of an M Car is “the” M Car of its generation, and quite possibly the long awaited spiritual successor to the 1M. It’s that good a drive.


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