After nearly two decades, BMW M has finally brought the “CSL” moniker back to the M4 – successor to the vaunted E46 M3 CSL. And with only 1,000 units worldwide, it promises to be an extremely difficult car to find, just like the original. But not only is it exceptionally rare – it’s painfully clear that BMW has taken meticulous steps to ensure that the newest CSL captures every bit of the magic the last modern CSL did.

Exterior Styling Cues

The most obvious reference to the E46 M3 CSL is the totally unique ducktail-style rear trunklid. Made entirely of carbon fiber, its only apparent uses seem to be paying homage and saving a bit of weight. But BMW says it adds downforce, stability, and maneuverability at high speeds – which I’m inclined to believe. The M4 CSL also receives unique wheels, which the E46 CSL did with aplomb, as the style is still wildly popular to this day.

Just like the E46, the G82 receives unique “CSL” badging on the trunk lid, though, that’s admittedly a bit of a given. And while we’ll talk a little bit more about the carbon roof later, even the roof has special, CSL-specific touches on the G82 – and that is a clear indicator to me that this car is just as much “performance benchmark” as it is “homage edition”. The front apron has also been clearly redesigned.

While less obvious than the E46’s asymmetrical intake holes, the G82 CSL gets a clearly trim-specific front clip optimizing air flow and clearly establishing itself a world apart from any pedestrian M4. Finally, both cars are only available in a very limited color palette – the G82 M4 CSL is available in Frozen Brooklyn Grey metallic, Alpine White, or Black Sapphire metallic. The E46 M3 CSL was available in Silver-Grey metallic and Black Sapphire metallic.

Interior Touches

Like the E46 M3 CSL, the M4 CSL promises to be an extremely driver-focused car – and you can’t be that without a driver-focused cockpit. The seats are radically more aggressive in both cars – the E46 receiving Recaro-derived race seats, the M4 receiving super light, radically reimagined carbon fiber chairs. More on that later. The M4 CSL has been awarded unique “CSL” door sills, parading to the rare viewer that it is in fact a CSL.

Lastly, the Alcantara-wrapped steering wheel clearly denotes the CSL’s intended use – to get sideways, quickly, rarely. Don’t forget the bespoke center console, made entirely of carbon fiber. While many cars since the E46 have received similar center consoles, only the M4 CSL has received a fully carbon, totally unique design – very similar the E46 M3 CSL’s.

Carbon Fiber Everywhere

The E46 M3 CSL was one of the first production cars to use carbon fiber extensively, hunting for every bit of weight loss the BMW M engineers could find. In fact, it’s likely the reason that every M3 since has come standard with a carbon fiber roof. Cutting pounds is still a priority with the newest G82 M4 CSL – starting with the hood, trunk, and – naturally – the roof. You can also find it inside the car.

In front of you, covering the dash and shifter bezel in front of you; and behind you, the front seat’s purposeful structural carbon fiber not being hidden at all. Those seats are saving about 53 pounds over the already aggressive M4 seats, and they’ll remind you of it every time you see them. Don’t forget the rear diffuser, made entirely of carbon fiber, and the massive front lip, also entirely carbon fiber.

And just like the E46 M3, it gets an entirely bespoke center console that loses the armr est in favor of – you guessed it – more carbon fiber. Particularly clear references to the E46 M3 here include the center console and trunk (the trunk being intentionally designed to reference the E46 M3).

Better Performance

Finally, the M4 CSL delivers a familiar performance bump over the car it supersedes. Good for an additional 40 horsepower and a loss of 240 pounds, it’s easy to draw a comparison to the M3 CSL’s 17 horsepower gain and roughly 242 pounds of weight reduction – almost freakishly similar. Just like the E46 CSL, the M4 CSL gains some enhanced, lightweight suspension and bracing components. Springs and struts are trim-specific, as well as a reduction in sound insulation in both models. Its automatic only – like the E46 M3’s “SMG” gearbox – because they’re the fastest shifting gearbox. All things CSL equate to all things speed – an ethos that carries into the G82 M4 CSL.

Everything Else

The E46 M3 CSL was an incredibly important car in BMW M’s history. It helped to show BMW was serious about enthusiasts, and serious about performance – touting a 7:50 Nurburgring time to boot, faster than official times for the decade newer F82 M4, Supra, and even the M2 Competition. And that makes the M3 CSL outstanding, by any metric you choose.
The M4 CSL promises a similarly age-defying performance.

With internal-combustion engine’s death on the horizon and options for truly engaging driving experiences looking increasingly grim, the newest CSL represents what could be a last hurrah. But most importantly, it does justice to its namesake – which these days, is much easier said than done, which is why most automakers do exactly that. There’s no lip service here – the M4 CSL is the homage we always wanted and were never sure we’d get.