When you drive the new BMW M4 CSL, it’s hard to not be impressed by its capability. It’s so fast, so incredibly grippy, and so brutally effective at transforming horsepower into speed that it’s impossible to not be left in awe. However, as impressive as it is, one has to wonder if it truly feels as special as the predecessors that share its badge. So in this new video from Hagerty, Henry Catchpole drives the M4 CSL back-to-back with arguably the best driving BMW in history—the E46 M3 CSL.
On paper, the M4 CSL flat-out demolishes the E46 M3 CSL. It makes almost 200 horsepower more, hits 60 mph around two seconds quicker, and has so much more grip it makes the E46 M3 CSL look sloppy. However, the E46 is lighter, its engine is normally aspirated and therefor more playful, and it makes a better noise. Its steering is purer, it looks about a million times better, and it has a far smaller footprint, making it easier to place on the road. So which car is actually better when you stop looking at spec sheets and put tire to tarmac?
There are some things the M4 CSL does better than its iconic predecessor. Its transmission is far better. The eight-speed ZF auto in the M4 CSL might not be the sharpest, most exciting gearbox to use, especially in a car like the CSL, but its shifts are far quicker and smoother than the frustrating SMG in the E46. There’s also the brakes, which benefit from twenty years of technological advancement and are immense. Stomping the stop pedal in an M4 CSL is light kissing a brick wall at speed.
However, that’s really about it. One thing Catchpole notes is the engine. The E46 M3 CSL’s 3.2-liter “S54” straight-six is pure magic, with a character, soul, and noise that, as he puts it, the M4 CSL’s S58 engine can’t hope to match. Sure, the M4 CSL is so much faster it’s laughable but there’s no doubt in his mind which engine he’d rather use.
The M4 CSL is a good car, one that’s immensely impressive, but it isn’t in the same league as the E46 M3 CSL, in terms of specialness or character. If you want to see why, this video is a much watch because Catchpole puts both cars back-to-back on track and tests the M4 CSL on the road. You can see and hear how both cars compare and, afterward, there’s just no arguing his conclusion.