In the world of BMW M car fandom, the E46 M3 CSL remains king. It’s likely the most iconic special-edition hardcore track car in the history of BMW M. Fans still drool over its looks, its noise and its handling. So much so that it’s still fetching six-figures on the used market. However, BMW has made a recent attempt to create a new icon, a car that challenges the M3 CSL as BMW’s best — the BMW M4 GTS. But which car is actually better? Australia’s Motoring magazine finds out by pitting the two head-to-head.
Many fans will scoff at the title straight away. “How could you possibly say the big, fat M4 GTS is as iconic as the E46 M3 CSL?” they might say. And that’s if they decide to use pleasant words. But the M4 GTS is a very impressive car in its own right. Plus, BMW has had 13 years of technology development and technical learning between then and now. So the M4 GTS just might have enough to take on the now-famous icon.
First up is the classic, the E46 M3 CSL. For CSL-duty, BMW gave the M3 a drastic weight reduction. Ditching almost all interior amenities, gaining a carbon fiber roof and even losing its trunk floor for one made of cardboard, essentially, were just some of the tactics used to shed pounds off the M3. It then gained some better aerodynamics, new suspension, some more power and the infamous SMG gearbox. All of it combined to make a car that was absolutely brilliant to drive.
The naturally-aspirated 3.2 liter I6 engine is the stuff of legends. Making 360 hp and 273 lb-ft of torque, the E46 M3 CSL was never the fastest car on the road, but it was damn quick for its day. From 0-60 mph, the CSL only took 4.9 seconds, which is decent for today but was very impressive over a decade ago. It was also more than enough to be incredibly fun. But outright speed was never the point of the CSL. With its lightweight chassis and revised suspension, the E46 M3 CSL was an absolute scalpel of a machine. Not many other cars at the time were as razor sharp as the CSL. It was pure, raw, precise and even a bit violent. It was superb.
Though, has time been kind to the E46 CSL? BMW has spent many years developing new technologies and new techniques to make cars go faster, since. Now that the BMW M4 GTS is out, it’s interesting to see the differences between the two.
It starts life as a standard BMW M4 also gets quite a reduction in weight. Carbon fiber aero, a stripped out CFRP interior and a carbon fiber hood all make the GTS lighter than the standard car. Though, some of that weight is added back, thanks to a roll cage and water-injection system. Speaking of the latter, the M4 GTS’ 3.0 liter twin-turbo I6 gets a water-injection system that sprays a fine mist of water into the intake plenum. This helps cool the induction, thus resulting in lower combustion chamber temperatures and allowing BMW to increase turbo boost without risk of engine knock. So the M4 GTS makes 493 hp and can get from 0-60 mph in 3.8 seconds. So it’s a lot quicker than the CSL. It also gets a modern dual-clutch gearbox that shifts significantly faster and smoother than the CSL’s SMG.
Its manually-adjustable suspension also makes it very sharp and very accurate. We’ve heard a lot of mixed reviews about the M4 GTS. Some love it, some hate it. Some say it’s a miss by BMW and some say it’s the second-coming of the E46 M3 CSL. It seems as though the suspension needs to be setup properly for each individual situation for people to really like it. Personally, I’d love to test the M4 GTS on both the road and the track and actually take the time to take the wheels off and adjust the suspension in multiple ways for each. It would be interesting to see how it changed based on suspension tuning.
In the end, Motoring actually claimed that the BMW M4 GTS is the better car of these two. While the E46 M3 CSL is a superb car and one that will live on in the history books, the M4 GTS is just a step beyond. BMW has learned a lot since the CSL and it can show in the M4 GTS.