After watching Henry Catchpole’s fantastic comparison test between the BMW M4 CSL and the legendary E46 M3 CSL, I came to an interesting realization—the E46 is cheaper. Being such an incredible rare, special car, the M3 CSL was always pricey and has long been worth north of six figures in American dollar-bucks. However, after a quick look at Collecting Cars in the UK, you can get an M3 CSL for around £80,000-£90,000.
On the flip side, the BMW M4 CSL costs about £125,900 in the UK, which is quite a bit more than the M3 CSL. And after Catchpole drove both, he preferred the classic M3 CSL over the M4 CSL. According to Catchpole, the E46 CSL has the better engine, is more charismatic, and more enjoyable to drive, despite the M4 CSL being faster in every single way.
So why would someone spend all that extra money on the newer car when they could spend less on the classic? There are a few reasons. For starters, performance. The M4 CSL is far faster and more capable on track, which will make it the better track day weapon if lap times are important to you. There’s also reliability. The M4 CSL is going to be new, come with a warranty, and have no miles on it. Whereas the M3 CSL is going to have quite a few miles on it, and 20-year old rubber, bushings, gaskets, and hoses that will all need replacing. Also, the M4 CSL’s eight-speed ZF automatic is far better than the M3 CSL’s SMG.
However, there are countless reasons to get the E46 M3 CSL instead. For starters, it has the better, more exciting engine of the two. The M4 CSL’s S58 engine is incredibly effective, with 543 horsepower and instant grunt, but the M3 CSL’s 3.2-liter free-breathing I6 is a thing of real joy. It makes all the right noises, has a more linear powerband, and is just more enjoyable to use. It also looks significantly better, as the E46 is one of BMW’s better coupe designs and the M4 CSL looks like an irradiated rodent. Another reason is value. The E46 M3 CSL will always be a legend. People still drive it and come away in awe of its sensational driving dynamics and, 20 years later, it’s still beating new Bimmers for driving feel. So it will almost certainly never be worth less than it is now.
But there’s on reason more than any why you should spend your money on a classic M3 CSL instead of the new car—a manual transmission. Now you might be saying “Nico, you’re an idiot, the M3 CSL never came with a manual transmission.” And to that I’d say you’re right and you’re right. Yes, it’s true that the M3 CSL never came with a manual but that doesn’t mean you can’t have one with a manual. There’s one shop in the UK that specializes in converting M3 CSLs to have manual transmissions and, from what we’ve heard, it’s a must-have modification. The only real driving downside of the M3 CSL is its annoying transmission, so if you can replace it with a proper manual, there may not be a better driving BMW in history. Do you really want to turn that down and spend more money for an M4 CSL?