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Even better than the real thing: BMW M3 CS. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.

Even better than the real thing: BMW M3 CS
So what is the BMW M3 CS you might be asking? And does it have any relevance when a new M3 based on the class-leading new 3-series is imminent, likely to be complete with a V8 engine under its bonnet?

   



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It is easy to draw parallels between our beloved car industry and the music world. Normal service sees the media and public fawning over the youngest and newest arrival on the scene, whether that be the Arctic Monkeys or the latest Audi super-saloon. Every now and then though, a few of the oldies get through the age net and stand alone, seemingly eternal, time not dulling their abilities nor their cool. We like to think of the BMW M3 as the U2 of the car universe, and now there's an even more focused version called simply the M3 CS. We spent a couple of weeks in its company.

So what is the BMW M3 CS you might be asking? And does it have any relevance when a new M3 based on the class-leading new 3-series is imminent, likely to be complete with a V8 engine under its bonnet? Let's look at the facts first.

The bottom line: price. At the time of writing, the regular 3.2-litre M3 coupe costs 42,405 on-the-road in the UK. The M3 CS retails at 44,805. Is the CS version worth the 2,400 premium? Well, when you take into consideration that the M3 CSL was a whopping 13,650 more again, and the CS is supposedly a half-way house, then you may start to get a little interested. Right, so the CS does without the sub-zero cool carbon fibre roof, and the hardcore sports front seats, but those and the trackday (or dry road) only tyres appeal to a small minority of drivers.

On top of the regular M3's specification, the CS adds larger drilled and ventilated disc brakes (as used on the CSL), a more direct steering rack and M Track mode - basically a button on the steering wheel that increases the amount of slip the stability control system will tolerate before it intervenes. Aesthetically, the M3 CS is fitted with beautiful 19-inch alloys (in the same style as those fitted to the CSL) and is available in the 'Interlagos Blue' colour of our test car. Inside, the three-spoke steering wheel and the handbrake lever are trimmed in Alcantara and there is a bespoke 'Alu Tec' metallic finish to some of the surfaces.

We loved the exterior colour of the M3, and when clean, it was the recipient of many an approving glance from the average man (and woman) on the street; those wheels are partly responsible for this. On the inside, the BMW press office had ticked the box for full Nappa leather on the options list. The quality and suppleness of the leather is unquestioned, and the 'M' emblems embossed into the headrests add to the occasion. However, we're beginning to think that someone at BMW UK has a red leather fetish, as this is the third M-car we've driven in the last few years so equipped! BMW kindly suggests sensible paint colour and leather trim combinations in the dealer brochure for the M3, and funnily enough, Interlagos Blue is never matched with Red Nappa leather...

Anyway, personal colour preferences aside, there is little wrong with the cockpit of the M3, despite the existence of a newer 3-series in the family. The instruments are just perfect, with a different tacho red line when the engine is cold being a favourite feature of mine. Ergonomics are first rate, and the tactility of the switchgear is not out of place in today's market. The car pictured was fitted with optional satnav, and it admittedly feels a little dated now that we're accustomed to the I-drive interface, but it still does its job as well. When I start banging on in a minute about oversteer and heavy braking, let's not forget that this M3 is a comfortable four-seat coupe, with plenty of space for the rear occupants, and a decent size boot too. The interior of the BMW M3 is a very nice place to while away the hours, whether they be on motorway or track.

Ah yes, now we're getting to the nitty-gritty of the review; how does the M3 CS drive? My first acquaintance with the car was actually on the test track at Millbrook, where I took the CS for a few laps before I was told what the exact differences were between it and the stock M3. Those minutes were eye-opening and I got out of the car buzzing with adrenaline in a way that the normal M3, good as it is, never managed. Looking at the spec sheet, I was admittedly surprised to discover that the mechanicals are only modestly changed, but the overall result is profoundly effective.

Out on the road, our first few days with the M3 CS were in greasy December conditions, which in many powerful rear-wheel drive cars would stop serious play. Not in the M3; the electronics are so well judged that you find that you can confidently drive up to and over the limit of adhesion, with the odd excursion to the land of sublime oversteer before the DSC system reckons it's time to save you from yourself. Even in these conditions it is possible to feel all four tyres working hard in unison to keep you and the car pointing in the right direction. With more miles, we engaged the M Track button on the steering wheel, and to be honest, it made precious little difference on already slippery tarmac.

Later in our time with the M3 CS, we were blessed with dry weather and roads. Finally, it was time to unleash the beast within the M3. Under these circumstances, the traction and stability control system can be turned off with abandon and the car's limits have more to do with your moral and legal obligations to the general public, not to mention your driving licence... Grip levels are huge, but the M3 impresses most with its communication; through the seat of your pants, through your right foot on the perfectly weighted brake pedal and through the tactile Alcantara rim of the steering wheel. The BMW M3 CS rivals any car for pure driving enjoyment.

Needless to say, the M3 is quick. BMW quotes identical performance and fuel consumption figures on the M3 CS as for the M3 coupe, with 0-62mph coming up in 5.2 seconds and 21.1mpg on the Combined Cycle. We bettered 22mpg for most of our time with the car, with 20mpg showing on the trip computer after an extended hard drive on our testing B-roads. Given the performance on tap, that is not a bad result. Call it the placebo effect, but we were convinced that the CS felt quicker too.

Though there is nothing new about the straight-six engine in the M3 CS, it really should be remembered how special a powerplant this is. BMW's motorsport division manages to extract 343bhp from 3.2 litres of naturally aspirated volume. This is in no small part thanks to the high-revving nature of this hand-built unit, the trick variable valve timing on both camshafts and an individual throttle body for each cylinder. The engine note at start-up will bring a smile to the owner's face, which we found turns into full-on tears-in-eyes laughter if you find a long enough tunnel to extend the M3 through the upper reaches of 2nd and 3rd gears. This engine is unequivocally one of the best of all time, and though the next M3 is unlikely to house it, it will live on in the recently announced BMW Z4M Coupe and the Roadster equivalent.

It is a testament to the excellence of the M3's chassis that the sonorous engine does not dominate proceedings. There may well be a new M-car around the corner, with a fancy new engine and searing performance, but we believe that this generation of the BMW M3 will go down in automotive history as one of the best of its kind, and the M3 CS is the version to go for. Think of it as the finely polished swagger of Bono on stage, safe in the knowledge that it doesn't matter what anyone else does now; it will be remembered for all time.

Shane O' Donoghue - 2 Feb 2006



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2005 BMW 3 Series specifications: (CS manual)
Price: 44,805 on-the-road (test car had extras fitted).
0-62mph: 5.2 seconds
Top speed: 155mph
Combined economy: 21.1mpg
Emissions: 323g/km
Kerb weight: 1570kg

2005 BMW M3 CS. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.2005 BMW M3 CS. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.2005 BMW M3 CS. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.2005 BMW M3 CS. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.2005 BMW M3 CS. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.

2005 BMW M3 CS. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.2005 BMW M3 CS. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.2005 BMW M3 CS. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.2005 BMW M3 CS. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.2005 BMW M3 CS. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.



2005 BMW M3 CS. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.
 

2005 BMW M3 CS. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.
 

2005 BMW M3 CS. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.
 

2005 BMW M3 CS. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.
 

2005 BMW M3 CS. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.
 

2005 BMW M3 CS. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.
 

2005 BMW M3 CS. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.
 

2005 BMW M3 CS. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.
 

2005 BMW M3 CS. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.
 






 

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