BMW M3 CS Review: Is The Best F80 Yet Too Damn Expensive?

The CS may be the best-sorted current-gen M3 we've driven, but the high cost of entry is a stumbling block

There’s a shadow that looms over all that’s brilliant about the CS. A shadow that threatens to undermine its achievements. An £86,425 shadow I just can’t ignore.

Yes, unbelievably, eighty-six thousand, four hundred and twenty-five pounds is the on-the-road price for the BMW CS. And that’s before we get to options because the best part of £90k, for some reason, doesn’t get you features like carbon ceramic brakes, which are fitted here and add an extra £6250 to the already exorbitant purchase price. Yep, you’re looking at an M3 with a price tag troublingly close to £100,000.

BMW - BMW M3 CS Review: Is The Best F80 Yet Too Damn Expensive? - Features

So, what exactly is different here to warrant a £26k hike over the M3 Competition? For one thing, carbonfibre - the bonnet and most of the aero bits are made from the stuff, and damn, do the ‘naked’ bits look good. I could stare at that unusually-shaped boot spoiler all day.

But it’d be a crime to just sit and gawp at this thing because BMW has had a jolly good fiddle with the way the car drives. The adaptive dampers, traction control, electronically-controlled rear diff and even the electric power steering have all been re-tuned, and although the suspension is broadly the same as that of the M3 Competition, the geometry has been tweaked.

BMW - BMW M3 CS Review: Is The Best F80 Yet Too Damn Expensive? - Features

To go with the fettled dynamics, a little more power has been squeezed out of the 3.0-litre twin-turbo inline-six. Compared to the M3 Comp its output has been bumped up by - hold onto your hats - 10bhp, bringing the total to 454bhp. Perhaps more importantly, torque has risen from 404lb ft to 444. 0-62mph is dispatched in a pleasingly brisk 3.9 seconds, an improvement of a tenth.

All changes which sound fairly minor in isolation, but they add up to something more. The sum of all this jiggery pokery is - by a reasonable margin - the best F80 M3 I’ve driven. When you drive it hard though, it still has that feeling of constantly being on a knife edge. It feels frisky, and not to be trifled with. Only now, when you’re pushing the limits of grip, it doesn’t feel as vicious and unpredictable.

BMW - BMW M3 CS Review: Is The Best F80 Yet Too Damn Expensive? - Features

Speaking of grip levels, another significant change involves the rubber wrapping those gorgeous new 19-inch front/20-inch rear lightweight alloy wheels: the CS leaves the factory with a set of super-sticky Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 semi-slicks. Tyres, which, erm, weren’t fitted to our test car. Instead, it has the no-cost option Pilot Super Sports, which are in a different league. A much lower one. But, it does at least mean this particular CS will be friendlier in the wet.

Most of those aforementioned chassis adjustments were made to complement the stickier Cup 2s, but regardless, the CS still just works, even on less exotic rubber. Body control is - finally - just about sorted, and best if the adaptive dampers are set to Sport. Unlike any other F80 M3 I’ve driven, the steering in this one actually feels natural. And good lord, is the turn-in razor sharp. The front end on this thing is so damn keen, making it a joy to chuck into corners with ever-increasing determination.

BMW - BMW M3 CS Review: Is The Best F80 Yet Too Damn Expensive? - Features

The key to unlocking all of this is MDM mode - just like its less special F80 siblings, the CS has a traction control system that’s easily upset by the straight-six’s fat torque delivery, dramatically cutting power and ruining the flow of the driving experience. Whack it in MDM, and a reasonable amount of slip can occur before electronic intervention happens.

The seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox is effective enough, if not as slick as Audi’s S-Tronic ‘box. The engine meanwhile remains a puzzling part of the equation. It’ll happily rev up to 7000rpm, but doing so is a little needless given just how strong the mid-range is. From 3000rpm, the ‘S55’ pulls ridiculously hard, even if it feels much the same as the standard car’s mildly less potent version. With a new exhaust and less sound deadening there’s a definite improvement in the noise department, but it’s still a harsh din for the ears.

The reduction in sound deadening is exciting when you're pushing it, but a little bothersome when cruising...
The reduction in sound deadening is exciting when you're pushing it, but a little bothersome when cruising...

But do you know what’s an even less pleasant sound? The voice in my head, which - while I was enjoying the hell out of this M3 - was shouting “IT’S NINETY GRAND; IT’S NINETY GRAND; IT’S NINETY GRAND; IT’S NINETY GRAND!!” It seems a shame that the dynamic tweaks that make this car drive like the F80 M3 should always have done are limited to a car that’s really just for hardcore M aficionados drawn to the exclusive nature of the CS - just 1200 will be built. Where’s the M3 for people who want the better chassis without the carbon trinkets and rarity factor?

BMW - BMW M3 CS Review: Is The Best F80 Yet Too Damn Expensive? - Features

It’s this that makes every drive in the CS a bittersweet one. It’s exciting, it’s incredibly capable and with loads of exquisite details (the CS lettering etched in the Alcantara on the dash is a particular favourite) it’s just a nice thing to be around. But for a car pushing £100k with options, it damn well should be.