The engineering is formidable, with features such as a magnesium sump, a forged crankshaft, two variable-geometry turbochargers, and a closed-deck crankcase, but it carries it all lightly. All you need to know is that it’s high tech and it works enthusiastically, but it’s not the CS’s highlight. It’s the chassis. One of the M3’s biggest shortcomings was the lofty feeling of its rear roll center. That’s gone.
It’s only 66 pounds lighter than the M3 Competition Package, and part of that is the loss of the entire center console cubby to save every available ounce. Sure, there’s a carbon-fiber roof, and its CFRP hood is 25 percent lighter than the metal one, but the car still weighs 3,494 pounds. Inside, the center cubby’s departure leaves the interior looking a bit disjointed, stranding a lone USB plug behind the handbrake lever. The heavily contoured front seats work brilliantly, with a two-tone leather and Alcantara mix, while there’s also a Harman Kardon sound system, Navigation Professional and climate control.
There are aero fiddles, too, with a bigger front splitter that smells like speed-hump bait and a trunklid spoiler that looks suspiciously as if it was swiped off an Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio. But the biggest leap in sheer speed comes from a set of Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires that are progressive and easily manageable, as well as being Super Glue sticky.
There’s more. It scores toys such as an active M differential, the adaptive M suspension and a Sports exhaust, all to help with the pieces of road between the braking point of a corner and the next straight bit. Its three-stage dampers work best in Comfort mode on the road or in Sport if the blacktop is super smooth (and almost never in Sport+ mode, which is so comically hard it could crack diamonds). There is a separate adjustment switch for the steering, and it, too, has two good modes (Sport and Sport+) and one you’ll want to skip past every time (Comfort).
In sum, the CS is an M3 that likes to play. We smacked it up to its speed limiter on the Autobahn, hurled it around a couple of slalom tracks, ripped around a two-mile track and basically just threw it everywhere. And that’s a major difference from even the Competition Package: Not only can you throw it in to corners instead of always caressing it, but the car will like it. No previous version of this M3 is as coherent.
It has exquisite balance, and responds accurately and quickly to steering inputs. Its performance envelope accommodates both gentle and heavy-handed drivers, and gives them similar point-to-point speed, no frights, and lets them gorge on giggles. It ripped to the speed limiter on the Autobahn without a trace of instability, even under heavy braking, and shone with all three adjustable modes in Sport.
On backroads, though, the car was undoubtedly quicker and calmer with the damping in Comfort mode, where it kept the rubber on the road longer, though it felt sharper in Sport. Its ride quality is a bit of a shock, too, and isn’t much firmer than a standard 3 Series despite running on forged alloys and 265/35 R19 front and 285/30 R20 rear tires.
The biggest jump forward is its high-speed stability, especially direction changes in the seven-speed dual-clutch’s top three gears. The stock model could feel a bit tiptoed at the rear, but the CS sits flatter and feels lower, whipping through with a balance that allows quick drivers to lean on the tail or the nose without puckered privates. It came as a shock when M’s suspenioneers insisted they had only tweaked the skid-control software and the hardware was untouched. The coding tweak squeegies out the last iffy piece of handling from the M3, leaving a confident, poised and cheerful companion.
It is at its best when it’s being utterly hurled at corners, as more energy equals more accuracy. It’s a lot more than just more bite from the tires, and it even has the good manners to be incredibly forgiving when you push too hard. The steering ranges between relatively heavy and really heavy (Sport+), but it’s always accurate and always fast, though the wheel is now so fat it feels like gripping a pair of Coke cans.
The optional carbon-ceramic brake rotors make a quick car even quicker by taking advantage of the added grip of the Michelins, though it can still be caught out over bumps that unweight the tires. The beauty of it is that the CS feels balanced in a way that the M3 wasn’t before, and agile in a way that feels like a slightly larger M2. All the while, as the chassis’ cornering muscle is trying to pull your head off your neck, that engine keeps punching and howling and then, when you think you’ve got it covered, you find launch control and it punches even harder. There’s enormous depth and range to its vocals, too, and where the old M3 sixes howled and screamed to their rev limits, the CS maintains its manliness all the way to 7,600 rpm.
M quotes a 0-to-62-mph time of 3.9 seconds and a 174-mph top speed, with another 10 horsepower (up to 453 horsepower) and 37 added pound-feet of twist (now 443 lb-ft) over the Competition Package. For added impressiveness, that’s up 28 hp over the stock M3. The straight-six always starts in its Efficient mode (instead of Sport or Sport +), so there’s a subdued menace to its daily greeting. The four-pipe exhaust leaps to a more in-your-face threat in its harder modes, filled with a deeper growl, cracks and burbles, and it snarls at every flick of the gas.
The engine’s secret weapon is its torque. The M3 CS can blast to the limiter in a straight line, but it is hugely impressive when it’s short-shifted on the wheel-mounted paddles controlling the seven-speed M Double Clutch Transmission (the only available transmission, for better or worse), letting you keep your foot in it even over bigger bumps. It’s got the mid-range gristle to be just as fast out of corners as if you’d been at 7,000 rpm. It’s one for the M3 fans, for sure, and it’s finally an F80 M3 you could properly love and live with every day, even with its ridiculous pace.
There will only be 1,200 of them sold worldwide, and Europe’s share is almost sold out already. The U.S. scores the lion’s share, but M won’t build our 550 cars until June, so don’t expect to see the $97,000 sports sedan on a corner anytime soon.