Test Drive Report Vol. 8 | BMW E46 M3 CSL

The very definition of an “Ultimate Driving Machine”

How does BMW Cook up a CSL (Coupe, Sport, Light) ?

It’s simple and here’s the recipe: Take a regular E46 M3 “Coupe”, add some “Sport” parts, then “Lighten” the whole package. The result, the CSL (3053 LB) is 240 LB lighter than a regular M3. Weight saving came from removing sound insulation, replacing electric seats with racing buckets. You can even opt-out the air-condition and stereo system.

The handling of the car has been vastly improved. The entire suspension system is reworked with special springs and dampers. Most noticeable is the quicker steering ratio and the improved programming of the ultra-fast Single Clutch SMG II Sequential Transmission. The brakes are from the E39 M5, but on the car I tested, the brakes are further improved by using AP 6 Pots Front Brakes. The engine in the CSL has been tuned to produce over 350HP. This is due to the use of sharper profile camshafts, a bigger air intake with carbon fibre manifold, a refinement of the exhaust manifold, and slightly different exhaust valves.

Wait, there is more. Carbon fibre reinforced polymer aerodynamic body parts were installed to produce more down force at high speed. There is even a hole on the front bumper to re-direct cold air to the carbon fibre intake manifold (which is so beautifully made, it could be considered an art piece).

Finally the 19” wheel and tire combo, along with Michelin Sport Cup tire completed the M3 CSL package.

The result? Astonishing! The M3 CSL lapped the Nurburgring at 7 minutes and 50 seconds. Of course I suspect the ultra grippy Michelin Pilot Sport Cup tires contributed a lot to shave lap time, but hey, the time is a whopping 32 seconds faster than a regular M3. To put things in perspective, this lap time is faster than a Lamborghini Gallardo LP 560-4 and a Ferrari F430 F1. Furthermore the M3 CSL is very rare, in fact only 1,400 cars were ever produced, making it one of the most desirable and collectable BMW on the market.

Driving impression of this automotive jewel

First of all, the car accelerates with a lot more urgency compared to a regular E46 M3. The power delivery of the engine is very linear, power and torque builds up as the rev increases. But you do need to “keep it on boil” to extract maximum performance, unlike the Turbo Charged 1M or the E90 V8 M3.

The induction sound and exhaust note from the Straight Six is amazing, it could be the best of all Straight Six. The sound is further amplified by the carbon fibre airbox and the fact that sound insulations were removed. The transmission is so much better than the SMG unit found on a regular M3. Downshifts are immediate and lighting fast, almost on par with the newer M-DCT unit on the E90. However full throttle upshifts were a bit jerky and can’t shake the fact that it is a single clutch unit from yesteryear. To achieve a smooth and fast upshift, I highly recommend a slight throttle lift during each upshift.

What impressed me the most is the steering, it has quick ratio, amazing road feel and cat-like reflex. Even with a set of less aggressive and softer side-wall Micheline PSS tires installed (instead of the Pilot Sport Cup that comes Standard) the turn-in was still very sharp and accurate. Mid corner grip is plenty and best of all, amazing adjustability of understeer or oversteer dynamic by simply lifting or applying throttle. Couple with the communicative steering, you could do laps at the Nurburgring ALL DAY LONG! The same cannot be said about a BMW 1M, which is a bit nervous at the limit, largely due to its shorter wheelbase and turbo charged torque serge making mid corner throttle adjustment a bit tricky.

This M3 CSL is definitely a keeper!


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