BMW has created something unique in its new M3 CS, mixing lower weight with a unique chassis setup, a more aggressive appearance and the more powerful engine used in the M4 CSL. But unlike that car, the M3 CS has M xDrive all-wheel drive, indicating that its focus isn't solely on racetrack use. Nonetheless, all this loveliness comes at a very high price, so is this one for well-heeled BMW M collectors only, or should it be driven as its technical specification suggests it should?
In the metal
The regular BMW M3 Competition is quite an aggressively-styled sports saloon with its flared-nostril kidney grille, deep front apron, muscular haunches and quad exhaust outlet. And yet the new M3 CS puts that in the shade with a selection of bespoke upgrades. You'll not miss the solid Signal Green paintwork, of course, one of just four hues offered, alongside Brooklyn Grey metallic, Sapphire Black metallic and - unique to the CS - Frozen Solid White.
Up front there's a lighter, stripped-back version of the tall kidney grille with red detailing, along with a new carbon-fibre reinforced plastic (CFRP) splitter. More carbon fibre is used in the air intakes and the bonnet, which is made obvious by the two exposed sections, while the roof and door mirror casings (as on the M3 Competition) are also made of the lightweight stuff.
There's more. As on the BMW M5 CS before it, the M3 CS gets the BMW Laserlight headlights that illuminate yellow instead of white, giving the car a highly distinctive look when the lights are on, referencing GT race cars. If you didn't already think that the CS looked awfully like BMW's racers, you will now.
The matt-black forged alloy wheels suit that vibe too, though the design, unique to the CS, are painted Gold Bronze by default. They measure 19 inches up front and 20 inches at the rear, wearing specially-developed track tyres of 275/35 ZR19 and 285/30 ZR20 sizes, respectively. Normal high-performance tyres can be ordered for at no extra cost and are worth going for if you have no intention of driving the car on a circuit.
From the rear, other than special badging, little has changed, though if you know what you're looking for, you'll spot the new, lighter titanium exhaust silencer. All the weight-saving measures inside (which we'll get to in a moment) and out add up to a 20kg reduction, and it's possible to increase the rigidity of the structure further by specifying a package that includes more bracing under the bonnet.
A red-and-black theme dominates the cabin, starting with the stunning M Carbon bucket seats up front. These are a bit of a pain to get in and out of, but they're incredibly supportive and comfortable to spend a lot of time in. Some will be surprised that they're adjusted electrically and heated, too. Just as surprising, perhaps, is that there are still three rear seatbelts in the M3 CS, hinting at a remit that isn't quite as track-focused as the two-seat M4 CSL.
Nevertheless, the M3 CS does get a simpler centre console than you'll find in the M3 Competition, covered in lacquered carbon fibre, plus a fantastically tactile Alcantara-trimmed steering wheel with a red 12 o'clock marker, ramping up the track-ready feel of the standard M3 interior. The bright red engine-start button and the two mode selection buttons on the steering wheel are carried over, as is the simple cluster of buttons, iDrive controller and M-specific gear lever on the centre console.
From behind the wheel, the M3 CS lives up to its brawny appearance when you want it to, but it isn't as extreme a road car as that image might initially suggest. Still, it took just a few minutes at the wheel to realise that this car has distinctly senior performance and ability. That's despite having spent the day driving the BMW M2 and M3 Touring. As in the latter, the M3 CS has M xDrive all-wheel drive, but it feels feistier even in the dry and more willing to play, too.
Under the bonnet is BMW M's glorious twin-turbocharged straight-six engine. Maximum boost pressure is upped from 1.7 in the M3 Competition to 2.1 bar for the CS and the engine management software is tweaked to suit. That allows for a peak power increase of 40hp to 550hp at a rousing 6,250rpm. The maximum torque figure of 650Nm hasn't changed, but it's available over a slightly wider engine speed range now, from 2,750-5,950rpm, and it continues to define the performance of the M3, giving it a muscular mid-range that's highly addictive.
This means there's technically little reason to race up and down the eight-speed automatic gearbox, but you'll want to just to hear the sound from the new titanium exhaust. This is enhanced noticeably in the Sport Plus setting for the engine, which brings with it razor-sharp throttle response. That in turn is enhanced by the CS-specific engine mounts that are more rigid than standard, though the throttle is actually too sensitive in the Sport Plus mode for smooth slow-speed driving.
Likewise, the transmission characteristics can be altered on the fly through three levels using the Drivelogic toggle on the lever. It varies from smooth as silk at one end to downright extreme at the other in terms of gearchange ferocity and speed. There's a fully manual mode as well allowing the driver to use the little carbon-fibre paddles behind the wheel to choose the gear. Trackday regulars will be glad to note that the system will never change up for you, while down-changes are met with a gratuitous flare of revs. Sure, the option of a manual gearbox would be nice, but BMW M has managed to inject real excitement into the operation of this auto.
BMW M's take on the xDrive all-wheel-drive system is always rear-biased, so no change there, and as ever, there's the even more dynamic 4WD Sport setting to explore. On track, you can turn off the Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) and select a rear-wheel-drive-only mode and even vary the level of traction control. There's also a built-in Drift Analyser to rate your drifting ability.
If you're not prepared to turn off the DSC completely, there's a mid-setting called M Dynamic Mode, which allows more freedom in sliding the car about, but you're safe in the knowledge that the electronics are still looking out for you. BMW M has tweaked the DSC settings for the CS to allow for the fact that it's likely to be driven on track. Indeed, the whole suspension setup was also revisited, meaning bespoke wheel camber settings, electronically controlled dampers, auxiliary springs and anti-roll bars, plus a unique tune for the variable-ratio M Servotronic steering and the 'integrated' braking system.
The driver can choose from Comfort and Sport settings for both the steering and brakes and all these systems are a cinch to operate via the touchscreen. Your favourite settings can be grouped together for quick access via the M1/M2 buttons on the steering wheel.
All the updates lead to an M3 that isn't drastically different to the regular Competition version, but there's certainly more immediacy through the controls, notably the steering, which is sublime. It's a little less comfortable than the regular car in its softest settings, if not uncompromisingly so. We spent a full day at the wheel without complaint, albeit on well-maintained German roads, but the kind of person that enjoys this kind of car won't moan about its ride comfort. Saying that, in its stiffest setting, the damping is too firm for the public road, but we have no doubt it'd be incredible on a smooth racetrack.
This duality of purpose seems to be what the M3 CS is all about, and while the M4 CSL may have the edge in terms of outright excitement, the CS is by any measure a formidable sports car that you'll want to get behind the wheel of at every opportunity. Its all-weather traction allows for that.
What you get for your money
When BMW first unveiled the M3 CS in January 2023, we were given a notional Irish price of €211,660. That's a huge amount of money in anyone's book, but it's also over €60,000 more than the BMW M3 Competition with M xDrive. No logic can explain why the CS is worth the premium, but we suspect that matters little when it will only be produced for a short production run in any case. Despite the hardcore image, it's actually quite well-equipped rather than stripped out.
The BMW M3 CS is for fans of the brand that love the core M3 ethos with its four-door practicality, but want something a little more special than the 'standard' Competition model. And while it is undoubtedly capable of incredibly fast lap times on a track, the presence of M xDrive all-wheel drive hints that BMW M suspects most owners will stick to the public road. There, it is nothing short of sensational, but it isn't as compromised a road car as its sibling the M4 CSL is. The CSL is capable of delivering even bigger thrills, admittedly, but because of its wider breadth of capability, the M3 CS will probably get driven more often. And we hope its owners do just that.