The F80-generation BMW M3 hasn’t enjoyed universal critical acclaim in its standard form. For every one of its plus points, there’s a drawback, two particular criticisms being unpredictable handling on the limit and the diesel-like torque delivery of its gruff-sounding twin-turbo straight-six.
Following on from the well-received Competition Package upgrade of 2016, BMW has taken the fettling a stage further with this new M3 CS limited edition.
It follows a recipe very similar to that of the excellent BMW M4 CS, which we drove almost exactly a year ago: a bit less weight, a bit more power and torque, fancier trim, a new suspension set-up among some other upgrades, and quite a few more £ on the list price.
The BMW M3 range now looks like this:
- BMW M3: from £59,905
- BMW M3 with Competition Pack: costs an extra £3000
- BMW M3 CS: £86,425
What elevates the BMW M3 CS above the regular M3 (apart from £26k, of course)?
Lots of CFRP (Carbonfibre-Reinforced Plastic), including the bonnet and roof, helping to save around 10kg in kerb weight versus the standard M3.
On the visual front, the easiest spot-the-difference clues are a new front splitter with an exposed carbon finish, and a prominent boot lip spoiler, again made from CFRP, above a new diffusor.
The rear lights are darkened, and gloss black exterior trim is standard. Alpine White is the standard colour, with four alternative options: Lime Rock grey, Black Sapphire or San Marino blue in either metallic or a matt ‘frozen’ finish – as per the car tested here.
Torque has increased by around 10% versus the M3 Comp Pack, from 406 to 443lb ft. Likewise power has climbed by around 10bhp, to a peak of 454bhp.
Performance is similar to that of the M4 CS, with 62mph reached from rest in a dizzying 3.9sec (compared with 4.3sec for the standard M3), helped by sticky Michelin Pilot Cup 2 tyres. Ordinarily the M3 is limited to 155mph, but the CS has the electronic buffers removed as standard, for a top speed of 173mph.
The suspension set-up is firmer than the standard car, and the adaptive dampers have been recalibrated to suit the characteristics of the tyres.
Plenty of upgrades then, although the £26k price hike does still seem a bit steep. And you’ll still have to pay extra for Apple CarPlay, speed limit display and a reversing camera.
Is the BMW M3 CS a limited edition?
It is, limited to approximately 1200 cars worldwide, with a number of UK-spec right-hand drive cars planned as part of the run. So there is a little rarity value to justify the price.
What’s it like inside?
You’re cradled in a low-slung driving position by the plush-feeling leather sports seats, with plenty of adjustment.
Just like the M4 CS, there’s a whole lot of suede-like alcantara material deployed throughout the cabin, including the dashboard, with a neat CS cut-out motif.
Unlike the M4 CS, the M3 keeps its usual interior doorhandles, rather than replace them with cool but fiddly racecar-style fabric doorpulls.
More suede appears on the transmission tunnel and handbrake gaiter (the M3 still has a proper handbrake). The fab-feeling alcantara steering wheel fitted to this particular test car is an optional extra.
How does the BMW M3 CS feel like to drive?
Let’s get a caveat out of the way – this was a brief drive during the Nurburgring 24h weekend, around the traffic-clogged roads nearby to the Nordschleife while the race raged on in the background. We’ll assess the car in more depth on UK roads soon, but here are some first impressions.
The power steering is best described as nice but a bit odd – it feels great at low speeds, with an authentically meaty, weighty feel in each of its three modes (like all modern M cars, there’s a plethora of modes available for steering, dampers, engine and transmission).
At higher speeds, its response is progressive immediately off-centre, allowing you to feel the front tyres bite and assess the movement in their contact patch, and then becomes very fast as it moves further off-centre. None of the steering’s three modes feel entirely natural, but you do tune into it with time, and begin to revel in its accuracy and speedy response. The M3 CS is a car you drive quickly, with slow hands.
The feel of the front tyres biting into the tarmac is a big part of the M3 CS’s dynamic character. It’s fitted with soft-compound Michelin tyres and they’re blessed with great response on warm roads. BMW deliberately chose 19-inch wheels at the front rather than 20s for optimum response. At the rear they grow to 20 inches in diameter, and the tyres are wide, measuring 285/30 for the best possible traction – of which there’s plenty.
Scroll through the engine modes to Sport+ for maximum boost from the turbos and the throttle response is abrupt, as is the sensation of immediate engine braking off-throttle. There’s very little in the way of turbo lag, and acceleration is so rapid as to feel almost shocking, helped by peak torque’s broad spread from 4000-5380rpm.
Nobody’s likely to accuse this version of the M3 of feeling like a diesel. Or sounding like one – the regular car can sound monotone and uncharismatic, but the CS has a barrel-chested burble at low speeds, rising to a metallic snarl at high revs. Clear of the traffic on some of the quiet, well-sighted roads further away from the Nurburgring on warm tyres, it sounds and feels a bit like you’re in the 24h race.
The retuned adaptive dampers imbue the CS with great body control, and although the ride is firm it’s by no means unbearably so – but it’s worth bearing in mind that the roads near Nurburg are particularly smooth.
While the regular M3 and M3 Competition Package can be specced with either a manual or dual-clutch auto transmission, the M3 CS is available only with the latter. It works very well, and in manual mode the metallic shift paddles on the back of the wheel feel good, too, with a proper click feedback to every shift.
The brakes are powerful and full of feel through the small brake pedal (BMW autos retain a regular-sized narrow brake pedal). ‘M compound’ calipers are standard-fit, with four pistons at the front, two at the rear. Carbon ceramic discs are an option.
It would be interesting to try the car in colder, wetter weather to see how the tyres feel.
The BMW M3 CS is a truly exciting car to drive, capable of thrilling its driver more convincingly than the regular M3. It feels better-sorted dynamically than the standard car, too, with superior feedback and body control (during a brief drive on new tyres on warm roads, at least).
It’s a shame it’s so expensive; £86k is a heck of a lot of money to pay for a saloon car, rarity value or no. Were it more affordable, it would be a very difficult car to ignore.