When it came time for me to finally test the BMW M4 CSL, I have to admit I was a bit nervous. Prior to driving it, I’d been told that the CSL can and will bite and that it’s capable of lighting up its rear tires at will. So when it was my turn to have a go, on a gorgeous canyon road in Palm Springs, California, I was apprehensive to push it hard. However, I soon found that my worries were misguided and the horror stories of the CSL’s biting nature were exaggerated. Not only will it not bite unless you do something truly stupid but it has so much grip, it immediately inspires confidence.
My time with the CSL on the canyon road was admittedly quite short. Most of my time in it was spent on the road, in traffic. However, that gave me a chance to feel it in normal circumstances as well as twisty canyon driving, which in turn have me a more well-rounded idea of what the M4 CSL is and who it’s for.
What is the M4 CSL?
This is the third CSL in BMW history. The first two were the iconic 3.0 CSL and the legendary E46 M3 CSL. The latter of which is most famous, as it is still regarded by many BMW enthusiasts as the best driving car the brand has ever made. The name “CSL” stands for Competition Sport Lightweight. It originally stood for Coupe Sport Lightweight, but since some sedans have gotten the “CS” name, BMW figured the “Coupe” part of the name needed amending.
The BMW M4 CSL is obviously based on the standard M4 but it’s lighter (still quite heavy, though, at 3,640 lbs), more focused, and more powerful. It’s a stripped out, track-oriented, hardcore performance machine that isn’t for the faint of heart of weak of spine.
What Makes it a CSL?
Its 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged I6 makes 543 horsepower and 479 lb-ft of torque, all of which is sent through the same eight-speed auto as the M4 Competition. Power only goes to the rear wheels, though, which is what frightens so many of its drivers. BMW claims a 0-60 mph time of 3.6 seconds but that’s probably a super conservative estimate. Instead, expect a time closer to three seconds flat. Plus, it’s sort of irrelevant, as straight line speed isn’t what the M4 CSL is all about. Instead, it’s all about how it handles a race track.
To lighten the M4 for CSL-duty, BMW ripped out the rear seats, removed what seems like all of the sound deadening material, gave it some lightweight racing bucket seats, and took out some interior luxuries. There aren’t even cupholders in the M4 CSL, nor is there a central armrest cubby. So it’s not the sort of car you daily drive.
BMW also modified the suspension, which is far stiffer, tweaked the steering, and—perhaps most importantly, gave it a set of Michelin Cup 2 R tires. The latter of which are the M4 CSL’s real secret sauce.
Not for the Faint of Heart
I won’t bore you much with the details of my time stuck in traffic. However, it’s worth noting that it was awful. There’s nothing fun about being strapped into a fixed bucket seat, with no seating adjustments, in a car that’s designed for Nurburgring lap times, in everyday traffic. I might be several centimeters shorter after that drive, as its brutally stiff suspension likely compressed my vertebrae.
As cool as those racing buckets are, their seat back and height positions are fixed and have to be adjusted manually, with tools. The only adjustment that can be made on the fly is to slide it forward and backward, with a lever up front. So since BMW had to give the CSL’s seats a sort of universal position for all the journos driving it that day, none of use were particularly comfortable.
However, most of those complaints disappeared once I hit the canyon. The M4 CSL is monstrously fast. While it doesn’t feel that much quicker than the M4 Competition, there seems to have a more violent mid-range than I remember in the M4 Comp. I pretty much stayed in fourth the entire way up the mountain because I had all the torque I needed, with even minor flexes of my right foot generating wallops of forward thrust. It made flogging the canyon road easy.
The power made dispatching corners easy but what made it fun was its Michelin Cup 2 R tires. Without their staggering levels of grip, there’s no way I would have survived. The M4 CSL has so much instant torque that, with inferior tires, I’d be face down in some rocks right now. But it wasn’t just the rear tires the Cup 2 Rs helped. The front end of the M4 CSL is even less prone to understeer than the already incredibly tenacious M4 Competition. Turn-in is… what’s quicker than instantaneous? Whatever that is, that’s what describes the M4 CSL’s front end. It’s absurd.
Titanium Exhaust for Better Sound
Then there’s the noise. The M4 CSL uses a titanium exhaust, which drastically improves the sound of the S58 engine. In the M3 and M4, the stock S58’s exhaust sounds… fine. It’s just generic six-cylinder engine noise. However, with the CSL’s titanium exhaust, it comes alive. It has a metallic, mechanical wail that reminded me of classic M cars and I loved it. It’s still not perfect but it’s much better than the standard car.
Exhaust noise isn’t the only noise heard in the M4 CSL. Due to its lack of sound deadening, the M4 CSL is loud inside. Adding to booming induction noise and the metallic wail of the exhaust is stones pinging off the underbelly of the car and in the wheel wells. There’s more wind and tires noise, too. Combine all of that extra noise with the brutal suspension, fixed bucket seats, and violent, explosive power and the M4 CSL becomes a raw, sensory overload that can be actually be exhausting after awhile.
Prior to driving the M4 CSL, I actually drove a Rolls-Royce Phantom up the same canyon road and it’s the sort of car that leaves you more relaxed when you get out than you were getting in. After a spirited drive in the M4 CSL, you leave sweating and short of breath, but mostly satisfied. It’s a workout of a car.
I Need More Time
Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough time in the M4 CSL to get a proper read on it, to truly understand what it’s about and whether it’s worth buying instead of something like a Porsche 911 GT3 or Corvette Z06. I do worry that it doesn’t feel much more special than an M4 Competition, or that you might be able to modify an M4 Comp to feel the same for significantly less money.
However, I’ll need more time behind the wheel to figure that out. But just judging it by my quick first drive, the M4 CSL is a raw, violent, and brutally effective car that’s fun to drive and I’m happy it exists.
BMW M4 CSL
- Track Ready
- Great Driving Dynamics
- Sporty Design
- Limited Edition
- Limited Colors