Car Magazine: BMW M3 GTS, CSL, Sport Evo – which is the greatest M3?

BMW M3 | August 19th, 2010 by 21
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Car Magazine feels adventurous this week and gives us an interesting comparison, this time, between three BMW vehicles that have and will keep their place …

Car Magazine feels adventurous this week and gives us an interesting comparison, this time, between three BMW vehicles that have and will keep their place in the history of the brand. The latest and greatest M3 GTS is being measured against the M3 Sport Evo and everyone’s favorite, M3 CSL.

“The BMW M3 GTS is a car of superlatives. It is the fastest, most powerful, most track-focussed, most expensive M3 ever, a two-fingered salute to the critics who said the M Division had lost its way after SUV-gate.

Okay, but how does it compare with previous über-M3s, and how does it move the game on versus the most focussed new M3 that doesn’t wear the GTS badge – the Competition Pack?

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Now, I’m sure there’ll be plenty of arguments about this, but for me the GTS’s key in-house benchmarks from previous generations are the E30 Sport Evo and the E46 M3 CSL. No E36s? No. We could have included the E36 M3 Lightweight, but that was North American-only, and therefore featured the lower-power US engine – we’d sooner have a Euro engine. We could have dropped in the E36 M3 R, but these were Aussie-only and essentially built for a race series. Dismissed. Perhaps we could have chosen the left-hand drive E36 M3 GT. Mmm, not quite hardcore enough in this company, but a great car nonetheless. Ah, the perils of an M3 greatest hits – feel free to grumble in the comments section below!

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Which is the best BMW M3 ever?

Much as I absolutely adored driving the GTS, I left the launch feeling that – engine aside – the car’s concept was less convincing than the CSL, that M’s approach had far more in common with a very serious trackday DIY project than a motorsport powerhouse. It feels like a quick riposte to the naysayers, rather than something that was part of the M3 product plan from the beginning. What would you do if you wanted a hardcore new M3 track toy? You’d buy an early car for £30k, strip it, add a cage, drop in some Recaros, fit six-pot brakes, stiffen the suspension, maybe tack on a rear spoiler. You’d struggle to spend £50k in total. Yet that, essentially, is what we’ve got here.

The M3 GTS is a great car – that is absolutely beyond question – but it’s also one that struggles to justify its extremely high price tag.”


Full article continued

21 responses to “Car Magazine: BMW M3 GTS, CSL, Sport Evo – which is the greatest M3?”

  1. Andrew says:

    It’s the CSL – has to be!

  2. BimmerBoost says:

    There is absolutely no excuse for omitting the E36.

    • Laszlo says:

      if the test is a USA test, then there is. The US E36 M3 sux compare to the european version. Only 243 HP and no SMG only 5 speed manual and no special brakes. It was a body kitted 3.2 version of a 328 with sport package. It works great but only compare to the 328/325. The European 321HP SMG equipped model was by far more advanced with its floating rotors or with the 6spd manual.

      • Spooky says:

        I agree that the US version e36 M3 did not compare favorably to many aspects of the European version but this comparison should have included the e36 M3 CSL LTW (lightweight). The concept makes sense, compare the current model and previous model to the “best-ever” classic model but I’d say there are more e36 M3’s out there on track duty than e46’s or e92’s.

      • It was done by a UK magazine.

      • Auday says:

        The E36 M3 was an attempt to soften the car and make it mainstream compared to the E30, unfortunately this went too far, and the car became too soft. BMW balanced it right with the E46.

  3. Laszlo says:

    “…You’d buy an early car for £30k, strip it, add a cage, drop in some Recaros, fit six-pot brakes, stiffen the suspension, maybe tack on a rear spoiler. You’d struggle to spend £50k in total… ”

    this comment is very uneducated. Its missing the facts and purely speculates. The GTS can not be compared to a used M3 supped up and driven through a PEP-BOYS at 60mph.
    First of all the CSL was a street car with lots of goodies and special packages. The GTS is a race car which has been made to handle the street requirements with moderate comfort. Totally different starting point, thus different pricing strategy. Race parts cost lot more then street parts.

    But aside from this, still – a new M3 is 80k usd when new (don’t start with a used car and compare it to a new race car). Add the mods to the engine, transmission, suspension, wheels, special paint, carbon fibers, roll cage, exhaust, electronics, tires, change the panels, etc. Finish the job at BMW quality meaning not behind the garage next to Dad’s old Station wagon and you will end up with a price tag around 125k usd. But you will run into trouble and will have to cut corners, some things will work some not. Why not instead buy 1 perfectly good ready and warranties one from BMW ? Also that one will only ever worth more then what you paid, while the hacked car will loose half the value in a minute you add that roll-bar made from water pipes straight out of Home Depot.
    Sorry, I’m not a fan of paying through my nose, but you can do a lot worse then buying the GTS. (could have as all sold already)
    The GTS is/was a special model and thus it required a special price tag. I’m willing bet that BMW did not make much if anything on a car. Special Edition cars many times are made to promote the model not to make money. They make more money on the 328’s and 528’s not on the special models.
    If they would have looked deeper into the GTS and read the whole list of modified items, they would have not made that dumb comment. Almost everything on that car is different, specially made for a racing purpose but at the same time the car is capable of handling a normal city/highway driving with enough comfort.

    I wish I could have snatched one of the GTS…

    • paul says:

      u will be better off with a second hand CSL…sounds better, weights less and its bound to be a classic

      • wazon8 says:

        If I had enough money, I would go with GTS, simply because I wouldn’t be able to convince me that CSL is better car when I would look only for performance. Don’t get me wrong, I consider CSL as one of the most impresive BMW ever. Great car, no doubt, but is it better than GTS? It depends on what you’re looking for.

    • wazon8 says:

      I am with GTS also. Can’t agree with you more.

  4. 1Mc says:

    What I’m wondering is, if the GTS is more track orientated that the CSL – which it clearly appears to be; then surely we should be expecting a better Nurburgring time than the CSL.

    I’m not making any judgement until I see those track times..

  5. Bandile Sam says:

    In (Black) South Africa more than 50% would go for the E30 Sport Evo M3. I would to.

    • Laszlo says:

      for sentimental value if you are in between 30-40 years of age. otherwise no comparison – CSL GTS all are much better cars in every aspect.

      I agree that by value the CSL represents the best option. More then enough car for an everyday driver and occasional track junkie. The E92 GTS is not for an everyday person. To get the last bit of speed out of that (where it actually shines) needs a professional driver.
      I could not justify the GTS for my driving ever. I’m experienced with some track time under my belt but far from the capabilities of the GTS. I just like it :-)

      I forgot the E36 LTW thanks for the reminder. Yes that car was actually similar to these CSL and GTS in many aspects. I agree it should have been included. Not exactly a performance winner but an excellent overall car. Probably one of the most useful of them with low maintenance and easy drive-ability.
      If they wanted to showcase the highest performing M3’s then its not in a same league but the european E36 Evo-II should have been included in any way.

      • Auday says:

        “CSL GTS all are much better cars in every aspect.”
        if you just want pure driving fun aspect, then the E30 would easily win here.

  6. n8n says:

    CSL FTW!!

  7. Volan says:

    CSL hands down- a well tuned e46 M3 (which is what the CSL is at the end of the day) is hard to beat as the perfect compromise on any level

  8. wazon8 says:

    GTS’s Nurburgring lap time is 7:48, driver – Horst von Saurma. I would say that’s disappointing result. Does anyone have any details about weather conditions during this test? Car is also rumored to be 2,5 sec. faster on Hockenheim Short than M3 e92 DTC.

  9. e46 m3 says:

    Here’s another perfect example how of BMW produces euro-spec cars that are better than the NA stuff we get. I’m still at a loss as to why they didn’t want to sell the E46 M3 CSL over here (in N.A.) – we would surely have gobbled them up left and right… amazing car that is!

  10. ANDU says:


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