It’s the big five-o for one of the most iconic motorsport brands in the world: BMW M. The celebrations were already underway as every M model produced in 2022 wearing a badge inspired by the original BMW Motorsport logo. But those are like the party hats for this birthday, and BMW just revealed the cake: the M4 CSL.
This is only the third time in BMW M’s 50 year history that a road car has worn the CSL badge. It stands for “Competition Sport Lightweight”, referencing the significance of reducing weight to succeed in motorsport. That was the principle employed by BMW Motorsport with the 3.0 CSL “batmobile” racecar that won the 1973 European Touring Car Championship on its debut. For the batmobile to exist, BMW produced a road-legal homologation special by the same name.
The next one came after more than 30 years as the E46 M3 CSL that went into production in 2004. It followed the same principle of reducing weight to chase performance and pretty much introduced the concept of a carbon fibre roof for a road-going sports coupe. It was 110kg lighter than the standard M3 and the diet included the deletion of the rear seats, the audio system, the air con, reduced noise insulation, and more lightweight materials. While the bump in performance from the engine was minor, the M3 CSL received a host of other upgrades for the suspension, brakes, tyres etc. This was not a homologation special, but a very special creation nonetheless and only 1,383 units were produced.
Jump ahead 18 years and we arrive at the M4 CSL. It’s based on the M4 Competition, the current BMW representative of the two-door, front-engine, sports coupe category. While it’s the heaviest CSL to date, this car underwent a diet to lose 100kg by using carbon fibre for more of the body panels, bespoke lightweight alloy wheels, carbon-ceramic brakes, reduced insulation, removing the rear seat, and fitting special carbon fibre bucket seats. Like the M3 CSL, BMW even removed the carpeting from the cockpit and the boot. There’s more carbon fibre reinforced plastic around the dashboard and cockpit too.
Supplementing the weight loss, the M4 CSL also gets a slight bump in performance over the regular M4 Competition. It has the same 3.0-litre twin-turbocharged inline six-cylinder engine but it now makes 550hp, 40hp more, while the torque remains the same at 650Nm. However, the reworked powerplant can now maintain peak torque for higher revs. The engine continues to be mated to an 8-speed ZF automatic but it has been reworked for sharper response. As a hardcore M model, the M4 CSL is a rear-wheel-drive offering which makes for a claimed 0-100kph time of 3.7 seconds and a top speed of 307kph.
Then we have the improvements to the chassis which are inspired by the M4 GT3 race car. It is more rigid than the standard car, combined with new struts and braces. The suspension setup is stiffer for angrier driving dynamics. The front-wheel camber has been increased as well for better grip through corners. Overall, the car sits 8mm closer to the ground, enhancing the aggressive stance.
While BMW states that the M4 CSL is a road car first and a track toy second, the Bavarian brand did test it thoroughly around the Nürburgring Nordschleife. The end result is the fastest M car around the green hell completing a lap in 7minutes 20.207 seconds (full notarised lap). This impressive time was aided by the fact that the M4 CSL wears track-focussed sticky Michelin Sport Cup 2R tyres which don’t offer much utility for daily driving.
In terms of design, the M4 CSL has added aero elements, also in carbon fibre, such as the front splitter, the side skirts and the dovetail spoiler integrated into the boot lid. The kidney is different too. No, it’s not any bigger but there are only two broad bars across it instead of the many vanes on the regular M4. This further helps reduce weight and perhaps improves cooling but does leave the radiator more vulnerable to debris from the car ahead.
There are plenty more visual cues for the M4 CSL such as the red accents around the grille, on the side skirts, over the roof and around the bonnet indents where the paint gives way to the visible carbon fibre weave underneath. It also gets the racing-inspired yellow Laserlight headlamps as seen on other hardcore BMW M models like the M5 CS.
The M4 CSL does debut new LED taillights with a wire-like light signature which looks cool and saves weight too.
The highlights of the M4 CSL cabin are the M bucket seats made out of carbon fibre. These seats look fantastic with their glossy finish and red accents. The back is not adjustable, and there’s not much padding for comfort. You can slide it back and forth on the floor, but you’ll need a BMW technician to adjust the height. However, you can take off the headrest to drive while wearing a helmet which can be stored in the netting that has replaced the rear seats. There are plenty of CSL logos around the cabin just in case you or your guest should forget what kind of M4 they are sitting in. The Alcantara upholstery completes the race-ready look of the cabin.
The M4 CSL is also the most usable CSL model as it still gets air-con and the 10.25-inch infotainment system with 11 speakers. The central display is a modern necessity to interact with the iDrive system to set up the M4 CSL. For example, to control the 10-stage M Traction Control system, cycling through the transmission and exhaust modes, or checking your driving telematics such as the M Drift Analyser.
BMW will only be producing 1,000 units of the M4 CSL, making it the rarest CSL to date. It’ll cost a pretty penny, with prices starting at around USD 140,000.
While BMW is marketing the M4 CSL as the fastest factory-spec BMW M model because of its Nürburgring lap time, this limited edition car is better valued for its rarity and story. You can probably buy a used M4 Competition xDrive, slap on some track-focussed parts for faster lap times, and still be spending less than the price of the M4 CSL. Or you could spend more money to get yourself a 911 GT3 which would be a lot faster anyway. Personally, the M4 CSL seems too tame for the badge it carries as it does not have any crazy design elements and nor is it stripped of weight to the point of impracticality like a Lotus would be. Visually, the M4 GTS left more of an impression, while the M3 CSL became an immediate icon. With a bloodline so illustrious, the M4 CSL on its surface feels underwhelming.
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