An unexpected surprise at the launch of the new BMW M5
was the presence of three M cars: an immaculate example of the iconic M635CSi, an M Coupe in Imola Blue and the bang up to date M3 CSL. Having not driven these cars in the past, we first of all nicked the keys to the M3 CSL and headed out into the French countryside for a gentle drive...
Minutes later we saw over 140mph (on a private road of course...) and whooped and hollered like a pair of hillbillies watching a rodeo at the shear pace of the M3 CSL. Before you even step into the CSL it is obvious you are going to have fun. The too cool for words carbon fibre roof is the most palpable clue, along with a gorgeous set of 19-inch alloys. Look closer at those wheels and you'll see that they are wrapped in a rather exotic Michelin Cup flavour of rubber. Nestling behind the wheels are an upgraded set of discs. Jump into the unyielding bucket seats and grip the suede trimmed steering wheel and you can't help but smile.
My co-driver for this brief drive suggested that we try the different control systems and gearchange speeds of the SMG gearbox. Then we realised that there was little time for that so just turned everything up to hardcore! The Sequential Manual Gearbox (SMG) in the M3 CSL was tagged SMG II (the M5's is SMG III), and allows the driver to select how quick the gearchanges are. Of course, the quicker the gearchange, the less smooth it is too. Or so the theory goes. While pootling away from Pau circuit and through a small village, even with the fastest setting selected, changes were smooth and fuss-free.
As soon as the road opened out though and full bore acceleration was required, the changes verge on being violent! It adds so much to the experience. I must admit to being guilty of dismissing anything but a manual as a lesser driving experience, taking away some of the driver's input. For instance, the DSG 'box we tested in the Audi TT
is a work of technical genius, but I'd still have a manual. The DSG unit is much smoother than the SMG 'box, especially when at full chat, but the SMG is much more appealing to the driving enthusiast. The aggressive changes are fun, but one key feature of the SMG unit is that it allows you to sit on the rev limiter if you want to, and that is an important difference.
As in the DSG, downchanges are accompanied by a fabulous throttle blip to match the engine and road speed. This allows you to make the most of the engine's noise. Now, in his review of the M3, Jenkins mentioned the hairs on the back of his neck doing Mexican waves when the M3's engine was revved. In the case of the CSL, it's as if the Mexicans have had too much tequila and are getting more excited! The sun was shining so we had both windows lowered, allowing the glorious sound to permeate the cabin. It is all too easy to speed in this car - a licence loser for sure. That is unless you happen to frequent trackdays, which really is the raison d'Ítre
for the limited edition M3 CSL.
We didn't have time to compare the CSL to the M5 on the Pau circuit, but in the interests of research we sniffed out a few interesting corners on the road. This is where the M3 came alive, diving into the apex and just tracking true to the chosen line thanks to the immense grip from the semi-slick tyres. The steering is nigh on perfect, though one of the most outstanding aspects of the car is its brakes. Admittedly we didn't test their longevity, but the actual braking power on tap is phenomenal, hauling the car down from the kind of speeds the M3 is capable of with real seat belt testing retardation. The regular M3
is a great car, and on paper the CSL doesn't appear to be a significant upgrade, but it is much more than the sum of its parts. The price for the CSL was considered to be excessive, but as there were only 422 right-hand drive cars made, exclusivity is guaranteed. I want one.