We adored the BMW M4 CS, but came away surmising that it was too expensive for a car that wasn't markedly limited in production. No doubt BMW M fans with money didn't care what we said and went out and bought it anyway. Now the same enhancements have been applied to the BMW M3 Saloon to create the M3 CS. It's a little less expensive and potentially a little more limited in numbers, so is the result of this test drive a foregone conclusion?
In the Metal:
Though the BMW M4 Coupe is more expensive to buy, I've always preferred the look of the mechanically identical M3 Saloon with its more aggressive rear bodywork and stance. The fact it's a little more practical is a bonus rather than the reason I favour it. And the M3 CS receives some useful visual tweaks to leave you in no doubt that it's a bit more special again. Up front, there's a more aggressive looking bonnet, made from CFRP (Carbon Fibre Reinforced Plastic) and a carbon fibre splitter, balanced aerodynamically at the back by a new 'Gurney' spoiler and diffuser borrowed from the mighty BMW M4 GTS (both made from CFRP). The rear lights of the CS have been darkened, the four stainless steel exhaust outlets are of a different style, there's a set of simply jaw-dropping Orbit Grey Matt alloy wheels included (20-inch rear, 19-inch front), shod in Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres, and buyers get to choose from Alpine White, San Marino Blue Metallic, Lime Rock Grey Metallic, Frozen Dark Blue II Metallic or Black Sapphire Metallic for the paint colour.
Inside, the M3 CS is based on the equipment level of the M3 with Competition Package, so it features fantastic lightweight M sports seats up front, but exclusive to this model is two-tone (Silverstone/Black) leather upholstery with lots of Alcantara to give it the feel of a racer. This pseudo-suede material features on the pared-back centre console (saving some 2kg apparently) and on the dashboard, where the 'CS' logo is found. That perforated finish is also used as the 12 o'clock marker on the optional Alcantara-trimmed M sports steering wheel, while M stripes are woven into the seatbelts. That simpler centre console is pretty much the only nod to weight and equipment reduction inside, though, as the M3 CS is generously-equipped.
There wasn't much wrong with the BMW M3 with Competition Package that this CS model is based on. That remains the best the M3 can be in terms of chassis setup and the CS isn't very different in that regard. The focus instead was on a modest increase in engine performance, so power is upped 10hp to 460hp and maximum torque jumps a useful 50Nm to 600Nm. The twin-turbocharged 3.0-litre straight-six didn't exactly lack go in the first place, but revisiting the car confirms that it still feels ferociously fast when let off the leash. We saw 260km/h on a derestricted section of German Autobahn without much of a run up and the way it pulls and pulls when you're already doing quite high speeds is bordering on unnerving. For the CS, the variable exhaust has been tweaked and in Sport Plus mode it's particularly loud and 'expressive', adding to the fun no end.
The driver can tweak the power steering, engine map, transmission (the super-sharp M DCT dual-clutch gearbox is standard), stability control and damping as ever, and that's key to an M car's breadth of capability these days. The M3 CS is perfectly happy to tackle a long motorway journey (maybe opt for the less track-focused tyres if that's how you're going to use yours...), then spend a few hours on a race circuit, then get back on the road to drive home. That's precisely what we did with it, and it performed impeccably, all the time being a real sense of occasion. On the track, we were able to push beyond the considerable limits of the car and see how it reacts, and it really is a brilliant chassis that's a huge amount of fun.
Memorable aspects of its dynamics include: incredible front-end grip, even when pushed around a constant circle that should cause terminal understeer; huge stability under extremely heavy braking and also during injudicious lift-off of the throttle during high-speed cornering and direction changes; real adjustability on the throttle at and beyond the limits of adhesion of the tyres; and seemingly endless acceleration.
The M3 has always been a thrilling car to drive, and the CS specification just enhances that, widening its envelope of operation. It's not one that experienced drivers will tire of, that's for sure.
What you get for your Money:
This is where the M3 CS comes a little undone. The BMW M3 with the Competition Package and the M DCT gearbox costs a little over €110,000, making the CS a sizeable €40,000 extra, with no option to reduce that by going for the extra interaction of a manual gearbox. Like we said in our M4 CS test drive, if that price included the excellent carbon ceramic brakes, then it might be a little more palatable. Nonetheless, production of the M3 CS will be limited to approximately 1,200 units and, according to BMW, the European allocation is almost sold out, so it seems that there are plenty of enthusiasts willing to pay the premium to have one of the last iterations of this BMW M3 before an all-new car arrives in a couple of years.
Logically speaking, the BMW M3 CS Saloon is bad value for money. It costs nearly €50,000 more than an 'entry-level' M3 and yes, it really is a sensational car to drive an it really does look incredible, but is it €50,000 more incredible? Probably not. Saying all that, these cars are rarely bought with the head, and M3 lovers around the world with money to spare (of which there are many) will drool at the prospect of this special variant. And so they should, as it's a thrill to drive. We can only hope that it's used as it was designed to be rather than tucked away as part of an appreciating collection of limited edition cars...