BMW M3 CS Review

Robert Farago
by Robert Farago

The M3 CS is one of those rare cars that makes you change your driving habits. Grasp its suede-effect steering wheel and you find yourself in a single-minded pursuit of corners. You hunt for wiggly arrow road signs like a lion searching for a wounded Wildebeest. You scan for curving off-ramps that lead to… curving on-ramps. You waggle to your destination as if you're trying to shake a bad guy. Sure, the 333hp M3 CS can obliterate a straight line. But it's a reverse scuba diver at heart. It lives for the bends.

The CS in question stands for "Competition Sport". It's the performance-enhanced version of the performance-enhanced version of BMW's venerable 3-Series. It's also the last hurrah of the current M3 before the new model, based on the latest generation 3-Series, inspires fresh reverence and awe. To pump-up the volume on the M3's Swan Song, the CS option package adds 19" wheels and tires, dramatically bigger brakes, a faster steering ratio (14.5:1), a less intrusive handling Nanny, aluminum interior trim and optional Interlagos Blue paint. Oh, and $4000.

Unlike its Euro-spec counterpart, the M3 CSL, the CS is not a stripped-down, lightweight flyer. It's a full-fat M3 with a bit more grip. Make that a lot more grip. OK, a double-helping of grip, with a side order of grip, and a large grip cola. Not to mention the extra control that comes from the significantly sharper steering and the enhanced security provided by the car's seriously savage stoppers. All of which puts us back where we started: attacking a sharp corner at speeds that would, seemingly, make a recovery driver's day.

But no, the M3 CS dispatches tight turns with so much flat-bodied, sure-footed poise that cornering quickly becomes more addictive than iced coffee in August. If you're brave enough to write your name in rubber on the outside of the envelope, you can switch into Sport mode, switch off Dynamic Stability Control and put your faith in The Gods of Opposite Lock. At that point, the CS offers even more easily-adjusted tail-out action than a "normal" driftastic M3. The uber-uber-3 is more of a four-wheeled scalpel than a German sports sedan. It offers lateral-G jockeys the kind of finely-honed handling capabilities normally reserved for race-prepared vehicles. And that's where I've got issues.

The car's name, "Competition Sport", is an open invitation to flog your M3 at a purpose-built race track. In case you missed the point, BMW's website spells it out: "For those looking to get even more track-oriented performance out of the legendary M3, we offer the Competition Package." Here's the problem: take your "track-oriented" M3 CS onto an actual race track for anything resembling a 'competitive event' and BMW could void your warranty. And don't think you can cheat. The M3 CS' black box records the time, date and shift points during all your high-speed sorties.

That sucks. The M3 CS' genetic propensity for a closed course– and antipathy towards real world slogging– is obvious from the moment you set off. The brakes are fade-free, but they bite like an amphetamine-crazed rattler. The steering is perfect for mid-corner corrections, but the car changes direction if you even THINK left or right. The suspension is ideal for well-groomed private tarmac, but the chassis jostles when driving over a gum wrapper. The wheels and tires offer more hold than a case of hair spray, but curbing those forged twin-spokes is easier than, um, not curbing them.

In fact, driving the BMW M3 CS at slow speeds is a lot more challenging than you'd imagine. Even if you discount the tightness of our box-fresh test car's six-speed gearbox (1800 miles on the clock), getting all the mechanical elements to work together harmoniously requires no small amount of concentration, and a light touch. In that sense, the CS is a true driver's car. Unlike the "base" M3 (or any current model Porsche), smooth piloting requires large amounts skill, planning and practice. Auto-pilot is not an option.

As you might imagine, give the M3 CS a proper pasting and it all makes perfect sense. But that still begs the question: where? If the race track is verboten, where can you drive a CS fast enough to fully exploit its astounding capabilities? For pistonheads, the obvious answer is "anywhere you can"– unless, of course, a member of law enforcement is asking the question. Driving an M3 CS on a public road is a direct challenge to any sense of self-restraint and, thus, your right to drive.

In the final analysis, the BMW M3 CS is the right car for the wrong world: a track day tool that's a bit too highly strung for the daily grind. That said, there are plenty of pistonheads who'll put up with anything for a moment or two of cornering perfection. And there will come a time when the Bimmer's warranty expires. CS owners live for that day.

Robert Farago
Robert Farago

More by Robert Farago

Join the conversation
  • DaveClark DaveClark on Jun 17, 2006

    Put it down to unfamiliarity or maybe the reviewer wears combat boots to "feather" the pedal and the metal, but I don't find it much effot to drive it smoothly at all, at any speed. It does takes some finesse, but you don't blame equipment when it delivers performance in scale with sensitive input from the driver. It functions very well as a "every day car," but that is a poor characterization of this tour de force. Yeah, roads here in Washington State suck. At speed, expansion joints come fast and many, but one can't have both comfort and performance.

  • Robert Farago Robert Farago on Jun 17, 2006

    I'm not normally a clumsy driver, so perhaps we can put my impressions of hair-trigger responses to a box-fresh press car. Or maybe it's you. There are some drivers who are A) extremely good or B) Willing to live with a hard ride and/or extreme senstivity to driver inputs in order to be able to drive like Hell. Come to think of it, if you always drive like Hell (no nose-to-tail commutes), you'd never know the difference.

  • Lou_BC Mr. Posky outraged over an old guy passing er releasing some gas. How are those sedan sales going?
  • Theflyersfan There's still the serious lingering doubt or fear about sinking so much money into an electric VW, a company notorious for having epic gremlins in that area. Honestly, I want to see long-term, at least 80,000 miles, examples and how they held up. Maybe then.
  • Lorenzo They were willing to go against their customers' preferences to satisfy government, but now that they see it doesn't pencil out, they change their tune. Now is the time to tell 'em what we really want.
  • Tassos Generally I prefer that exploited labor remain domestic like in the service and trade industries. Given the complex and global integration of supply chains and materials sourcing I accept that most manufacturing must be managed by foreign 'kapos'.
  • Lorenzo 1 million barrels is 42 million gallons. The country uses 368 million gallons a DAY. The reserve was set aside after Hurricane Sandy caused a gasoline shortage for emergency vehicles. The hurricane season starts on June 1 and is predicted to be active. Nice going.