BMW M3 CSL Tools

M3 CSL: The hunt for the top of the BMW M car ends here

We approach the BMW M3 CSL with the goal of answering a seemingly simple question: Is it the point at which BMW M cars have reached their peak?

Except, as we well know, this is not an easy question to answer.

How you answer should depend on how you see the German subsidiary M and its mission. Are there to keep special offers for engineering BMW and M. Before stalking on the racetrack? Or is it intended to ignite enough fire in my belly every day BMW cars They can mix it up with Ferraris and Porsches in the outside lane of an untethered highway, the lights are fully lit move aside Set fingers on the paddles, get ready to drop a gear or two and outrun all the fast track rivals?

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Perhaps you think her view falls somewhere in the middle? M’s mission is to create cars that deliver excitement Feeling To drive a motorsports car with the acknowledgment of your desire to take the long way to the village store, on a Sunday morning to buy coffee beans, newspapers and finger fudge.

In the summer of 2003, when the M3 CSL went on sale, it truly was the best M car. The V8-powered E39 generation left BMW showrooms, and the evil E60, the V10 M5 was still a year away from howling toward the speed limit. 8200 rpm. CSL was, for a fleeting moment, the flagship of M.

What is the price of exclusivity?

It may seem surprising now, but at the time British drivers didn’t quite fall for themselves to get one of the 500 M3 CSLs designated for the UK. Aside from some in the press, many were skeptical that the CSL’s £58,455 price tag could justify the higher price tag on the £39,735 M3 when the power boost – an additional 17 horsepower – was so modest.

In 2003 cars like the CSL or the Porsche 911 GT3 weren’t seen as cast-iron investments, and for good reason – used CSLs will drop to less than £30,000 within a decade. It is a far cry from today’s hot market. This doubt may explain why the BMW GB has reduced its balance from 500 to 422 cars. Potential buyers of that time remember the merchants who offer big discounts, quietly …

There is a panel on the composite center console. Oddly enough, not every car was individually numbered. Instead, it reads: “BMW M3 CSL UK PRODUCTION 422 UNITS 01.07.2003 – 31.12.2003” encourages more sarcasm. Well, if you are cynical like me.

spot the difference

The interior of the BMW M3 CSL

Now here we are, let’s take a good look around the cabin. Regular owner E46 M3 CoupeIt’s fun to play Spot the Difference, and notice how subtly the changes change the character of this car in more ways than meets the eye.

The large, nappa leather-trimmed electric seats were ditched (complete with electrically adjustable side bolsters), replaced by Recaro-sourced fixed-back bucket seats with Alcantara and fabric, and the door cards were abandoned in favor of composite elements with a simple grab handle and door boot. The side mirror controls are located next to the raised handbrake and the little things like the hood with the top cover, the adjustable armrest, the steering wheel controls for the audio system and the cruise control are completely eliminated. All that remains on the suede-wrapped wheel is a single button to shift the stability system to the more relaxed M mode.

These marginal weight savings add a sense of durability to the CSL, as there is little squeal and rattle, while the slim seat is as sturdy as old oak and leaves little wiggle room.

At the rear, there are thinner bucket seats that can still be lowered to access the trunk, but the center seat is used with a plastic console and the lap belt is gone. Climb out and over the CSL-sealed friction panels and the boot no longer features a boot release switch above the number plate (surely I get an extra point for figuring that out?), the rear windows are made of thinner glass, the instrument cluster has been abandoned and the battery under the boot floor is smaller.

But, as you probably know, we’re still in the beginning. Look at this ceiling. The carbon-fibre architecture was the first time an M car featured such an arrangement, while the trunk, front air dam and rear curtain were made from the vehicles.

Heck, that commitment to ridding the coupe of unnecessary weight went so far as to loosen the wires, saving 1.5kg in the process. The end result was a carbine weight of 1,385 kg, which is 110 kg less than the standard M3.

Engineers are also busy commenting. The track has been widened, the ride height has been lowered, there were shorter front springs, hollow and anti-yaw bars, a faster steering rack, increased camber, and bigger tires, new Michelin Pilot Sport Cup tires (on BBS alloys) that will fit BMW once customers sign a disclaimer To say they understood the partial rubber was a bit, ahem, vital on a cool wet road.

These cup tires weren’t just peppy when it’s cold. As I discovered during track tests at the time of CSL’s debut, breaking up in fast corners can be surprising enough for you to make a mental note of checking life insurance and last wills.

Heart of the matter

BMW M3 CSL engine

Then came the oil bits. Gerhard Richter was the engineer in charge of directing M GmbH, and reading contemporary interviews, you get the impression that he speaks the language of a fundamentalist.

When asked about setting CSL goals, he told the US outlet Edmunds“There are a lot of goals but our main goal is for the car to be fun to drive. Raw horsepower is not as important as how agile the car is and how the driver feels. The weight capacity number is the most important number – more horsepower and less weight equals more agility.” .

With the interest in weight loss, attention turned to the S54, a 3.2-liter, straight-six engine, which has already been praised as one of the greats and won the International Engine of the Year award not once, not twice, but three times.

The secret to optimization at perfection (hey, you knew I was going to be biased here, right?) can be found when you look at the circular air intake at the foot of the front bumper. Open the hood and you’ll see that air is passing through the air ducts in the car’s now famous carbon airbox. This massive chamber pumped more air into the engine, while a different camshaft and revised exhaust valves helped bump the power to 355 hp at 7900 rpm and torque to 273 eb/ft at 4900 rpm.

It made and continues to be one of the most amazing sounds ever produced by burning gasoline.


At this point, we should switch to the SMG II transmission with Drivelogic. Now, I’m not a betting guy, but this setup is likely the result of an unhappy marriage of marketing and engineering. Marketers wanted to sell a story — in this case a story of a new technology — and the engineers wanted the speed of the cycle. They turned around the table, agreeing only on SMG’s approach, and then tried to prove their point by tearing down the normal M3 lap time at Nordschleife, with the CSL cutting from 8min 20sec to 7min50sec – fortunately, four seconds faster than a Porsche 911 GT3 (996).

As any review at the time will tell you, the SMG was tough in the way it does its business, but while you could bemoan the decision to ditch the manual gearbox, there’s no denying that it’s an important part of the car’s character and serves to put it in time.

On the road and on the track

BMW M3 CSL Review

Having driven M3 CSLs before – including this particular car a few times – I know what to expect. However, after driving my car M3 E46 Coupe – which I have to stress it has new OEM bushes, new OEM dampers, new Pirelli tires, etc. – I can feel the gains from coming out. And yes, there is a sense of regret that my car will never feel like a CSL.

The steering is noticeably more direct, and in turn, the forward steering changes direction at a rate of response that makes the standard car feel a little drowsy. The ride results in less productivity and vertical movement is reduced, making it feel more serious while on the road. And the induction mandrel in this airbox, which changes and builds in size, starting at 2500 rpm as a zigzag and taking on a piercing resonance that fills the cabin as you pile on the revs, is absolutely divine—a short incantation of listening to this lighten even the darkest of moods.

But how to laugh at the SMG gearbox. In auto mode, it’s very hesitant, very shy, like an educated driver who needs to be stressed. You can drive around its flaws and failures, but it always feels like a piece of technology still in development. Take charge of shifts yourself, and the six-speed Getrag Box will operate with ruthless efficiency, revving up at home in the blink of an eye and mastering velocity-matched speed swings that lift the whiskers on the back of your neck.

BMW M3 CSL Review

The straight sixes are almost intimidated by the airbox, a silky rasp drowned out by the attention-seeking inductive wail, and I must imagine any CSL owner spending a good portion of each flight with the windows ajar, sucking on the acoustic symphony.

The lack of body roll gives an instant CSL that the regular M3 can’t match. And in the latest Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tyres, it’s fun and forgiving on the road, indulging in slips from wet rotors and good-looking corners in a way that would have been Russian roulette on the original Cup tyres.

On the track, everything makes perfect sense. The agility, clarity, and spin of the CSL is just about *everything you could need for a fast, satisfying session on the circuit of your choice. (*As long as you don’t punish the brakes too hard. It still isn’t the best, despite it gaining larger front discs on the M3.)

This is one of those rare cars where a driver can develop a deep and almost meaningful relationship with a machine, confidence heightened as you master the engine design at the front, the power on the rear wheels, and work through the high levels of mechanical grip to play with the corners and encourage the tail to pop out, indulging in The inner brawler as you enjoy the feedback and confidence that CSL gives you as the tires dance between grip and slide.


I’ll be the first to admit that my standard M3 E46 would feel a little clumsy by comparison, on the right track. Earlier M3s, particularly the E30, feel their age when you push them like that. Later M3s, like the successive GTS versions, offered more speed but I don’t think they captured the thrill of driving as well as CSL. Other acclaimed M models—we’re looking at you, the M2—miss the mechanical connection you feel in a CSL.

In fact, having driven the latest M4 CSL, I don’t think any M car captures the magic of losing yourself in the pleasure of fast driving as well as the E46 CSL. So I might go out and say it, and wait for the comments to pour in: M3 CSL is the peak of M.

2003-2004 Technical Specifications for BMW M3 CSL

new price: £58,455
price now: 60 thousand pounds sterling – 100 thousand pounds sterling; Browse Hagerty’s Price Guide
Building number: 1383 worldwide / 422 UK
engine: 3246cc 24v Six in a row
Energy: 355bhp @ 7900rpm
torque: 273 lb-ft @ 4900 rpm
Motion vector: Six-speed sequential manual, rear-wheel drive
0-60 mph: 4.7 seconds from 0 to 62 mph
maximum speed: 155 mph
fuel economy: 23.7 mpg
CO2 emissions: 287 g/km

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