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Track Test Review: 2023 BMW M4 CSL

The new CSL is BMW getting back to the basics of driving pleasure.

By Kunal Dsouza Wheels.ca

Oct 28, 2022 6 min. read

Article was updated a month ago

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Images: Lucas Scarfone

Modern performance cars are faster than ever. 500, even 600 horsepower is the new normal and we’re not talking about supercars. Just daily drivable muscle sedans and sports cars that make mind-numbing performance ridiculously easy to achieve.

The BMW M4 Competition with xDrive is a perfect example. Its spec sheets read like a tire-shredding racing machine but its commuter sedan roots are far more pedestrian. With a finely balanced chassis, sophisticated traction, and stability control systems, its 500-plus horsepower is easier than it should be to deploy, even in the hands of a novice. These cars have become so easy to drive that anyone with a driver’s license and a bit of practice can go really, really fast (on a track, preferably).

The downside of this low-hanging fruit of speed is that the tactile and auditory sensations once associated with the best sports cars have been dulled to the point that fake engine noise has to be pumped through the stereo to try and up the engagement factor. A stock M4 is a fantastically capable machine but it can feel more like an immersive video game at times with numb steering and its many electronic safety nannies. The new M4 CSL changes much of that, however, but extremely limited numbers mean that few will get to experience what BMW can (still) do when given the chance to get back to the basics of what made it the ultimate driving experience.

2023 BMW M4 CSL

The M4 CSL is what happens when engineers are given the freedom to override the bean-counting executives and safety police. It’s what made the last CSL so memorable. It was a lightweight offshoot of the E46 M3, and it was a raw, unadulterated experience with a vicious-sounding naturally-aspirated straight-six and the iconic duckbill trunk lid.

A nippy October day with rain on the forecast isn’t exactly the ideal time to try such a formidable performance machine but anytime I get the opportunity to drive at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park (CTMP), I take it. The corners are breathtakingly fast and drastic elevation changes are a challenge for even the most seasoned hot shoes.

2023 BMW M4 Competition

We start the day in an M4 Competition with xDrive. I drove one a year ago and its blistering pace is hard to put into terms. On a wide spacious track like CTMP, it feels at home able to put its considerable muscle to pavement with ease thanks to its all-wheel drive system. I start slow and work on proper turn-in and staying on the right line. Steering that feels great on the street is somehow duller at speed but within a lap you learn to trust its millimetre-precise accuracy even without a full mental picture of the front tire’s contact patches. Thanks to the immense traction, I’m able to blast out of a corner trusting the car’s ability more than my own. If you mess up, safety nannies will step in, but gently, never intruding on the fun, unless you do something really dumb. It’s definitely making me seem like a better driver than I am.

The downside is that after a few laps it starts to feel like work. Jumping into the M4 CSL feels like a fog has been lifted. Immediately the sensations from behind the wheel are clearer and less muddy.

Like its predecessors, the M3 CSL and the M4 GTS, the CSL is the ultimate expression of M4. The M division has worked over almost every component.

2023 BMW M4 CSL

After clipping weight from every possible place, it's 109 kg (240 lbs) lighter. That means standard carbon ceramic brakes, a carbon-fibre hood and trunk lid, and special full carbon buckets that save 24 kg (53 lbs). A rear seat delete shaves another 21 kg (46 lbs). The rear silencer is titanium, and lightweight sound insulation shaves another 15 kg (33 lbs). They’ve even found weight savings through hollowed-out kidney grilles, lighter rear taillights, and floor mats, and by using a carbon centre console inside that still retains the armrest.

Of course, more power from the twin-turbo 3-litre straight-six is part of the equation. It’s rated at 543 hp, up 40 over an M4 Competition. More power and less weight is exactly what’s required from a track special but it would all mean very little if it didn’t give you the sensations you’d expect from something so seemingly race-ready. Thankfully, the CSL delivers, and it delivers hard. From the moment you set off, the sound is more visceral. The shifts from the 8-speed automatic have been specially programmed for the car and they hit hard smacking you in the lower back with every pull of the shift paddles.

2023 BMW M4 CSL

Everything is stiffer, from the engine mounts to all the bushings. A gorgeous cast aluminum strut brace under the hood ties the front end together. It’s as much a piece of art as it is functional engineering. The rear subframe is rigidly mounted to the chassis just like a racecar. You immediately feel the sensations from the road travel up your spine. The sound enters your eardrums with more force. The numb steering from the Competition is a distant memory. This one has feel, probably the best effort I’ve felt from BMW yet.

The car feels twitchier and more nervous but there’s still neck-straining amounts of grip. You’d think losing the all-wheel drive security blanket and adding more power channeled only through the rear wheels would make for a scarier combination but the opposite is true. I find more confidence behind the wheel of the CSL, made possible directly through the chassis that talks to you. The steering is even more precise than in the “regular” M4.

2023 BMW M4 CSL

A few laps are enough to tell me this is the most track-focused, driver-centric product from M I’ve felt yet.

We didn’t get a chance to drive it on the road, so I can’t comment on things like comfort, but other than the tight but still comfortable race buckets, it feels like you could drive this every day but only with one lucky passenger. Only 42 have been allotted for Canada, and even with a base price of $166,500, they are all spoken for. The CSL will be a rare sight, indeed. Its wonderful duckbill trunk lid, an homage to the M3 CSL, and black badging outlined in red are clues for car spotters.

2023 BMW M4 CSL

The M4 CSL feels like a companion and not just a tool. Where the M4 Competition started to get tiresome, the CSL just kept egging me on. “One more lap,” it whispered but unfortunately as quickly as it started, it was time to pit and move on.

By removing comforts, and subtracting weight (or adding lightness) the M4 CSL channels much of what made older M3s so memorable. For this ultimate of ultimate driving machines, less is absolutely more.

 

The writer attended this media drive as a guest of the automaker. Content and vehicle evaluations were not subject to approval.



2023 BMW M4 CSL


BODY STYLE: 2-door,  2 passenger sports sedan

CONFIGURATION: -Front-engine, rear-wheel drive

ENGINE:  3.0-L twin-turbocharged straight-6 ; Power: 543 hp @ 6250 rpm; Torque: 479 lb-ft @ 2750-5950 rpm

TRANSMISSION : 8-speed automatic

CARGO CAPACITY: 340 litres

FUEL ECONOMY : (Premium-grade Gasoline in L/100 km): N/A

PRICE: $166,500 (base)

 Website: BMW Canada

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