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First drive: 2023 BMW M4 CSL. Image by BMW.

First drive: 2023 BMW M4 CSL
BMW has applied the fabled CSL badge to its latest M4, and beefed the car up in the process, but will it live up to the standards of the old 3.0 CSL and M3 CSL?


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2023 BMW M4 CSL

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The CSL name is legendary among BMW enthusiasts. Used only twice before, it graced the classic 3.0 CSL 'Batmobile' of the 1970s and the M3 CSL of the early 2000s. Both became cult heroes. As a result, there's plenty of hype about the new CSL, which is based on the existing M4, but is stripped out and honed for track and road use. Can it live up to the name, and can it really be better than the standard M4 Competition?

Test Car Specifications

Model: 2023 BMW M4 CSL
Price: From £128,820 (sold out)
Engine: 3.0-litre twin-turbo straight-six petrol
Transmission: eight-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
Power: 550hp
Torque: 650Nm
Emissions: 222-227g/km
Economy: 28.0-28.8mpg
0-62mph: 3.7 seconds
Top speed: 190mph
Boot space: 440 litres


In silhouette, the M4 CSL doesn't look much different to the standard M4 Competition, but there are some apparent differences. Not only is there red trim all round, but there's exposed carbon fibre and a more pronounced rear spoiler, as well as a set of massive titanium exhaust tips. But that doesn't tell the whole story, because BMW has done an awful lot of work to bring the weight of the rather chunky M4 down a bit, using carbon-fibre-reinforced plastic, or CFRP, to build even more of the body panels.


The efforts to lighten the car are key to its success (after all, CSL stands for coupe, sport and lightweight), and nowhere is that more apparent than in the cabin. The basic structure is identical to that of the M4 Competition, but BMW has made a few lightweight modifications. Most notably, the rear seats have been removed and the centre console has changed noticeably, too, with a new lightweight design that does without the centre armrest. BMW has also fitted lightweight seats as standard, although our test car came with slightly more adjustable options that weigh a little more. Because BMW has left the touchscreen, climate control and navigation system in place, and has retained the same bulletproof build quality as the standard M4, the CSL is only about 100kg lighter than the standard car, and that number falls with the inclusion of the upgraded seats.


Naturally, the removal of the rear seats has reduced the M4 CSL's practicality somewhat, but it isn't all bad news. The M4 Competition's rear seats don't really have enough headroom for adults anyway, so turning them into an overgrown parcel shelf is arguably a smart move when it comes to user-friendliness. Better still, the CSL has the same 440-litre boot as the M4 Competition, which means you can carry just as much luggage. That said, the reduced comfort in the cabin makes the car a little less capable over long distances.


As well as shaving a few kilos from the M4ís kerb weight, the CSL also offers customers a little bit more power than the standard car. The 510hp straight six in the M4 Competition has been upgraded to 550hp, and in the spirit of lightness, thereís no all-wheel-drive engine Ė the power all goes to the back wheels. That means the sprint from 0-62mph is done with in 3.7 seconds, and the top speed is a plentiful 190mph.

Thatís only a slight improvement on the M4 Competition, but itís still fast enough to worry supercars, and thereís savagery to match. The CSL catapults you towards the horizon with every prod of the throttle and every upshift, while the engine snarls and howls as it goes about its business. Itís always been a cracker of an engine, and the increase in power has done it no harm whatsoever.

Ride & Handling

Because the CSL still weighs around 1.6 tonnes, it doesn't feel all that different from the M4 Competition, but that isn't necessarily an insult. The M4 Competition is a great driver's car, and the CSL simply fine-tunes that capability. It feels a little more hardcore, with even stiffer suspension than the standard car and an almost unacceptable low-speed ride, but the pay-off comes on a good back road or a race track, where the precise handling and impressive body control comes to the fore. Unfortunately, it's almost too capable to exploit on the road, and even though it's too stiff to be an everyday car or a grand tourer, the CSL is an enormously capable sports car. The problem is, the same is true of the M4 Competition.


M4 CSL prices start at just under £130,000, and that's punchy for something with just 40hp more than the standard M4 Competition. In fact, you're paying more than £1,000 for every horsepower. But exclusivity is part of the reckoning, and the CSL certainly has that on its side. Just 1,000 will be built and a mere 100 are coming to the UK and Ireland, but all 100 have been sold already. Whether those 100 customers are getting a bargain is beside the point, really. This is a collector's item.


The M4 CSL is a great car to drive and the performance is outrageous, but then the same could be said of the 'standard' M4 Competition. And that's this car's big issue. Although it's great in isolation, it isn't as flexible or as practical as the car on which it's based, and it doesn't feel special enough to make up for that. Worse still, it doesn't feel special enough to live up to the CSL name.

James Fossdyke - 16 Feb 2023    - BMW road tests
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2023 BMW M4 CSL. Image by BMW.2023 BMW M4 CSL. Image by BMW.2023 BMW M4 CSL. Image by BMW.2023 BMW M4 CSL. Image by BMW.2023 BMW M4 CSL. Image by BMW.

2023 BMW M4 CSL. Image by BMW.2023 BMW M4 CSL. Image by BMW.2023 BMW M4 CSL. Image by BMW.2023 BMW M4 CSL. Image by BMW.


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