CarAdvice.au recently had the incredible opportunity to drive both the BMW M4 GTS and E46 M3 CSL back to back before the Bathurst 12-Hour. Both of these cars are the most extreme cars BMW made during their respective eras, so they’re quite similar in scope: Add both power and lightness. So which car is better, the older, more pure machine or the more high-tech and extreme one?
As for the BMW M4 GTS, it’s by far the more powerful car and easily the faster one. Its 3.0 liter twin-turbocharged I6 engine makes 493 hp. To help it make that much power, the M4 GTS employs a technique called water-injection, which is the process of spraying an ultra fine mist of water into the intake plenum. This cools the combustion chamber down, allowing for BMW to amp up the turbo boost. That engine is mated to a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, which is rapid-fire fast. It also has incredible aerodynamics, which are manually-adjustable and very effective. The suspension is also manually-adjustable, making it effective for both track and road use, although even its softest setting is bone-shakingly firm.
All of that power and aero helps the M4 GTS get from 0-60 mph in 3.8 seconds and it sounds pretty raucous doing it. Its titanium exhaust is crazy loud and sounds far better than the standard M4’s. Yet, despite all of that excitement, the M4 GTS can come off a bit too clinical and a bit cold.
What about the E46 M3 CSL?
Many call the M3 CSL the best driver’s car BMW ever made. Its 3.2 liter naturally-aspirated I6 engine developed 355 hp, paired with a six-speed sequential manual gearbox, and helped the M3 CSL get from 0-60 mph in 4.9 seconds. Both numbers are significantly worse than the new M4 GTS’. But that doesn’t really do the M3 CSL justice, as its real party piece is the way it drives and sounds.
By modern standards, the E46 M3 is quite light, weighing in at only around 3,300 lbs. That’s about as much as the M4 GTS is today and the latter car is designed to be as light as possible. The E46 M3 CSL weighed in at 3,053 lbs, which is practically a featherweight by today’s standards. That light weight is thanks to a carbon fiber roof, composite trunk lid, carbon fiber intake and fixed carbon fiber-backed bucket seats. It also makes an unbelievable noise, most of it intake noise that actually sounds like an engine working, not just artificial exhaust noise. It’s wonderful.
It also has revised stiffer suspension and steering, making it sharper than the standard E46 M3. It’s a much simpler car than the new M4 GTS, with no adjustable electronics, no sport modes and no fancy iDrive screen. Hell, air conditioning was an optional extra when it was new. But the E46 M3 CSL is nicer to drive than the M4 GTS is almost every way. I think the only thing about the M4 GTS that’s nicer to use is the gearbox.
However, considering how much the E46 M3 CSL is worth nowadays, it’s not much cheaper, if at all, than the brand new M4 GTS. And the M4 GTS is far faster and far more capable on a track. So which car would you rather have?