GREER, S.C. – It’s difficult to understate how fun the 2024 BMW M3 CS is to wrangle around a racetrack. However entertaining and capable you might be thinking it is now, it’s safe to raise those expectations, because this high-po M car variant is a (wealthy) track rat’s dream.
I drove the new-for-2024 M3 CS on the road just prior to heading down to BMW’s Performance Center in Greer, S.C., and similar to Editor-in-Chief Greg Migliore’s take, I found it to be quite the rapid sweetheart. However, those Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires, endless carbon ceramic brakes and 543 horsepower from the 3.0-liter twin-turbo inline-six (40 more than the Competition) simply can’t be exercised to their fullest on the street.
The changes BMW makes for the “limited edition” CS variant are a lot more extensive than the short list above, too. BMW re-tunes the dampers, installs revised anti-roll bars and sets unique camber settings. The stability control system is tuned for track work; lighter-weight wheels are used, and 75 pounds in total is shaved off the curb weight of a regular M3 Competition xDrive.
As soon as you settle in and get comfortable with how quickly the world moves by you thanks to the more powerful inline-six – which gets its extra power thanks to greater boost pressure and engine software management – it becomes abundantly clear how drivable and weapon-like the CS is. All-wheel drive can often feel like a crutch in performance cars, but the M xDrive system here in combination with the track-tuned stability control utterly rules. Exiting corners in a rear-drive M3 is a great lesson in patience and car control. Exiting a corner in the M3 CS gives you a sense of invincibility that your heavy right foot can do no wrong – to a degree, of course. You can still loop it in rear-drive mode should a bout of overexuberance strike you at the wrong time.
Get the CS into its happy M Dynamic Mode (MDM), though, and you’ll get the most satisfying amount of slip from the rear as you stick more and more of your toe into the throttle, all while the fronts claw you forward and out of a slow corner. Stability control is still present, but all of the car’s pure elements are working together to make it feel as though it’s just you and the car with nothing in between. I don’t want to call it video game-like, but I’d be lying if driving the CS doesn’t feel much harder than clipping apexes and maximizing throttle input on corner exit in Gran Turismo with a simulator rig. That sense of suspended reality applies to the amount of grip afforded by the hilariously sticky Pilot Cup 2 rubber. BMW had other M cars on hand with the more street-friendly Pilot Sport 4S tires installed. The difference in road-holding, braking performance and sheer grip in every scenario is enormous. Think you went too deep and missed the apex? Think again. Come into that series of sweepers with a little too much speed? Nope, you just weren’t going fast enough before. The BMW Performance Center’s track is designed to teach folks how to drive, so it features tons of different corner types and elevation challenges, and the CS made a joke out of them all. The sheer ease at which it makes navigating a technical track was enough for me to start cackling after a few laps. This chassis with these tires equates to a delicious recipe for track-driving elation.
Also giggle-worthy are the violently quick shifts from the fettled-with eight-speed automatic, which is the only transmission option for the CS. Go flat out, and the shifts from second to third and from third to fourth will light up the rear tires briefly. The extra power versus the next-tier-down – an M3 Competition xDrive – is clearest here, and while BMW claims 543 total horses, the way this car moves out down a straightaway makes it difficult to believe there aren’t some reserve ponies BMW isn’t talking about. When you pull fourth gear and the numbers in the digital speedometer don’t seem to skip a beat in their rapid rise upward, you know the car is scary-fast.
The CS-tuned “M Servotronic” steering is weighted beautifully for attacking a racetrack and understanding grip levels, too. You’ll want the slightly heavier “Sport” mode, but just like many other new M vehicles, the steering is still light but also beautifully precise. Its stiffened chassis makes a big difference versus a non-CS model, as it gleefully changes direction with greater control and chassis predictability. The 3,915-pound curb weight certainly sounds like a lot for a track phenom, but it carries that weight in such a balanced and easy-to-control manner that it never feels like a hindrance or barrier to speed. Of course, the lighter the better, so the extra-hardcore track-day enthusiasts might prefer the rear-drive M4 CSL, but then you lose the ruthless all-wheel drive system that makes the CS such an easy-to-control dance partner.
Also unlike the CSL, the M3 CS is a delight to use as a daily driver. Electrically-operated heated bucket seats, the presence of rear seats, greater sound deadening and a more agreeable ride all make it the superior extra-M car on the road. For how much fun it is to drive on the racetrack, it’s a genuine achievement that the CS is not an abominable penalty box for bopping up to the grocery store and back.
Having driven the entire line of M3 and M4 cars both on the road and the track at this point, I can safely call the M3 CS my favorite of the bunch. That’s the opposite of how I felt about the previous generation’s CS models that simply made too many compromises – such as the bizarre door armrest deletions and bone-crunching ride – for dubious performance gains. The price and limited production of the CS are the two big letdowns, as it starts at $119,695, or $34,400 more than a completely base M3 Competition xDrive. Plus, BMW will only be producing the CS for a limited amount of time, just as did past CS models like the retired M5 CS.
From a performance and equipment perspective – and maybe even an appearance one if you like to live on the wild side, this special M3 variant is one to admire. Get the CS out to your local racetrack and revel in the capability it exhibits. As it stands today, you’re going to be hard-pressed to have more fun in any other new car with the BMW roundel on it.
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