The 2003 BMW M3 CSL is one of my favorite BMW’s of all time, tied maybe with the E39 M5. However, I’m guessing most don’t know about the M3 CSL as it was a very low production, one-off model based on the E46 M3 using it’s wonderful, screaming 333HP S54 engine as a basis. The CSL( Coupe Sport Light) was truly a car in which less is more. Less in terms of things like weight, less in options, the CSL came with a lighter carbon fiber roof(now seen as standard on the E9X M3’s), only optional radio and air conditioning and only in two colors: SIlver Gray and Sapphire Black. The CSL did buy you paper-thin seats, carbon fiber interior paneling, SMG II Drive logic transmission and a “trunk made of cardboard” as Jeremy Clarkson noted in his review. All the weight savings? That was good for nearly 400 pounds dropped from the standard M3’s weight.
The areas where the CSL proved to be “more” than the standard M3 were fairly obvious and expected. It was first more in price, 20,000 British pounds more than a standard M3. For that extra 20k, you got about 360 horsies out of the 3.2L S54 block and with a much louder engine note – and that’s definitely not a bad thing. The horsepower and sound increases were compliments of the much larger air intake added to the engine and denoted by the large, singular intake port on the left side of the front bumper. Revised cam shafts and engine software also helped to turn the standard M3’s screamer engine into a howling beast.
The CSL was again less in terms of production figures though coming in at less than 1,400 units world-wide, excluding the U.S. which was shunned by BMW AG and denied access to purchasing BMW’s lighter weight heavy-weight. It was also less in terms of the odds of not shunting one of the beauties. A more focused track car than the standard M3, the CSL came with custom Michelin tires that were similar racing slicks(requiring you to sign a waiver that you understand the danger of the tires in certain conditions), something you didn’t want to push when cold. For those of you that follow news of the Nurburgring, you know many a CSL have fallen victim to the severe camber changes, weather fluctuations and blind corners of “die Grune Holle.”
However, for those that have lived on and are still with us, the lucky owners of CSL’s certainly have a precious gem on their hands, likely to only appreciate with time. Not sure? Just look at the E46 CSL’s grandfather, the 3.0 CSL of the mid-1970’s and considered by some to be one of the most definitive BMW’s ever to grace asphalt.
The original “Batmobile” CSL was designed to compete in touring car series across Europe and to do so BMW constructed road-going 3.0 CSL’s for homologation purposes. It began the same principles carried over to it’s E46 descendant: use of lightweight, exotic materials, reduction in luxury items such as leather and revised suspension and engine work. In the last few years the older CSL’s of the flared-wheel arched and outlandishly painted 1970’s have begun to go for near $50,000 a car and are only likely to increase. It doesn’t take rocket science to know that the E46 CSL will more than likely than not follow suit and appreciate as it’s one of BMW’s few production made, truly driver-oriented cars of modern times.
Fifth Gear’s Comparison of the CSL to the standard E46 M3: