The car community said a collective “ew” when the G80/G82 M3 and M4 were first revealed, but a few years down the line, I reckon there’s a growing number of us who haven’t just gotten used to that big-nostril face, but almost appreciate its brazen nature.
In the M3 CS, BMW has perfected the look with details like a naked carbon fibre front splitter, gloss black side skirts, a carbon fibre rear diffuser and a sculpted carbon bonnet with black accents. All of those go together with the Frozen Solid White paint spectacularly.
The more you look, the more you spot, like the ‘lipstick’ around those giant kidney grilles, and the yellow daytime running lights that are intended to evoke BMW racing sports cars of the past. We also love the 827M design gold 19-inch front/20-inch rear wheels, even if they look like they’ll be an absolute pain in the arse to clean.
Inside, there’s less to differentiate the CS from regular M3s, and the most major difference is an annoying one. We’re talking about the missing front armrest, which feels like a tokenistic approach to weight loss given that this car weighs the best part of two tonnes. You also get an Alcantara-clad steering wheel with a red insert for the 12 o’clock position, and carbon fibre gear shift paddles.
BMW’s changes amount to more than just some (admittedly very special-looking) carbon fibre additions and central armrest theft, thankfully. There’s also a reworked chassis with tweaked spring rates, recalibrated adaptive dampers, a new anti-roll bar and extra cast-aluminium chassis bracing. To make the most of the fiddling, there’s a retuned electronic stability control system and a bespoke, more track-oriented version of Michelin’s Pilot Sport 4S tyre.
You don’t need to drive the M3 CS far to reap the benefits of BMW’s fiddling. There’s more life to the steering, which even gives a bit of kickback through the wheel on some surfaces, and changes of direction occur with a newfound degree of enthusiasm. It does an even better job of shrugging off its porky weight figure than before and generally feels like a more complete, satisfying driver’s car - no mean feat when the ‘regular’ M3 Competition xDrive is pretty spectacular out of the box.
Offering up 503bhp, the M3 Comp really doesn’t need any more power, especially when the all-wheel-drive system will happily lay down the full amount and get you to the speed limit at a frightening pace. Regardless, there’s more here - 542bhp, matching the output of the CSL. The all-wheel-drive system means it's three-tenths faster during the 0-62mph sprint than the CSL, doing the deed in 3.4 seconds. The top speed is 188mph.
The extra power is achieved through cranking up the boost pressure, and that means a noticeable increase in turbo lag. A titanium exhaust silencer gives the CS a slightly more aggressive soundtrack if not one quite fruity enough to stop us pining for the revvier and even angrier S55 of the old F80 M3.
It’s funny how we all moaned about that S55 engine when it first arrived, but now it already feels like a modern classic. And I never thought I’d be sad about losing the old car’s dual-clutch gearbox, but as effective as the new eight-speed automatic transmission is, it’s just not as snappy when working your way up and down the ratios.
The CS doesn’t do anything to address that, but it’s so good in other areas that we don’t mind one bit, nor are we that bothered about the additional power that also brings more lag and risk of your license’s points tally going up a bit.
As with the Comp, it’s an exceptionally complex car to set up, but it doesn’t take long to figure out how best to configure the bewildering number of choices. My preference is to turn everything up to the angriest setting apart from the steering (it’s too ‘mushy’ if not set to ‘Comfort’) and the suspension (because it should be left in its softest setting unless you’re on a silky smooth road or race track), while also setting the electronic stuff to M Dynamic Mode (MDM) which unlocks the ‘4WD Sport’ xDrive setting.
Yes, you can switch it to a ‘2WD’ mode and then decide exactly how off you want to traction control to be from 1-10, but in a car with 542bhp on real roads with dodgy bits of camber and plenty of road furniture to have an argument with, 4WD Sport is ideal.
It gives enough slip at the back end to make the M3 CS feel likely, without feeling intimidating. Allied with that sharpened front end, each corner is an utter joy. It might have been nice to have the experience elevated further with the fitting of Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres, but the reworked 4S rubber works well, while also giving the reassurance that they’ll work a damn sight better in wet conditions.
Although what BMW has changed for the M3 CS doesn’t sound like a huge deviation from the original M3 Comp recipe, those well-measured tweaks amount to much more than you might expect. The CS is one of the best-driving cars we’ve driven this year of any sort - it’s truly remarkable.
The only thing is, the price tag is ‘remarkable’, too. There’s no easy way to say this - it’s £115,900. And don’t go thinking it’s impossible to bump that figure up further - our test car had carbon ceramic brakes fitted to give a new total of £123,250.
This is, of course, a huge chunk of cheddar. But then we are talking about what might just be the best M car in recent times.