There are two BMWs most often considered to be the best driving cars the brand ever made—the E30 M3 and E46 M3 CSL. Some fans are in camp E30 M3, while others are in the CSL’s camp. However, there’s a new special Bimmer that throws a monkey wrench into the mix, one that could be every bit as special as its legendary predecessors—the BMW M2 CS. In the most jealousy-inducing three-way comparison I’ve seen in ages, EVO Magazine put all three aforementioned cars together to see which was best. Do we officially consider the winner to be the best driving BMW of all time?
The three cars are separated by literal decades. BMW launched the E30 M3 in the late ’80s and it’s the only M car in history to start out life as an actual DTM car and be homologated for the road. So when it comes to actual motorsport pedigree, the E30 M3 is unmatched here. However, it’s also completely outgunned. Its 2.3-liter naturally aspirated four-cylinder can barely muster 200 horsepower and it needs to be revved within an inch of its life to make that power.
Fast forward a few decades and you get the E46 M3 CSL, which might not have the motorsport pedigree of the E30 but is far, far more powerful and capable. Instead of a tiny, buzzy four-pot, the CSL has a 3.2-liter naturally aspirated inline-six with 360 horsepower. Unfortunately, the CSL only came with a six-speed SMG sequential manual gearbox, rather than a six-speed manual. However, its chassis was so good—and still is—that its driving dynamics more than made up for the sloppy transmission.
Far more recently, the BMW M2 CS became something of a modern classic. It’s far different from either of the other two cars, though. Its 3.0-liter straight-six packs two turbochargers and makes 444 horsepower and it was paired with either a six-speed manual or a seven-speed DCT. It also has an electronically controlled limited-slip rear diff and all sorts of traction control electronics to help it out. It’s a far more technologically advanced car than the two other cars and that has its pros and cons. The one absolute pro is that the M2 CS will destroy the other two cars on both road and track.
So which one is best? I won’t spoil it, as it’s well worth a read. But the results are more interesting than you might think.