Words: Calvin Chan
Published: October 19, 2022
CANADIAN TIRE MOTORSPORT PARK - To celebrate their 50-year milestone, BMW’s M Divison has launched a limited edition model called the M4 CSL, a sports car that focuses on power, lightweighting, and track performance. It’s a badge that has only been used a few times in BMW’s storied history, in the iconic 1972 BMW 3.0 CSL and the 2004 E46 M3 CSL.
Unlike the M4 GTS from 2016, the CSL ethos is all about saving weight - it does stand for Competition, Sport, and Lightweighting, after all. Compared to the standard M4 Competition, a total of 108 kg kilograms have been shaved off for a final curb weight of 1,651 kg - still a porker but not bad when you consider that it weighs the same as a Porsche 911 Turbo (992).
Where did all those savings come from? Replacing many of the aluminum body panels with carbon fibre reinforced plastic ones saved 11 kg. New carbon ceramic brakes and lighter alloy wheels knocked off another 21 kg. The new carbon bucket seats? 24 kg. Deletion of the rear seats, another 21 kg. Getting rid of sound insulation materials nicked off 15 kg, while the titanium exhaust silencer saved 4 kg and other small auxiliary changes saved another 3.6 kg.
And the exterior’s design philosophy has also followed that theme, with a front grill that houses fewer vanes, giving it a cleaner and more aggressive look similar to that of the M4 GT3 race car. The carbon fibre roof is standard and a new ducktail spoiler nods to the first 3.0 CSL. There are red accents everywhere including the rear badges, the DRLs flash in both white and yellow just like in the M5 CS, and the taillights feature a thin threaded design. Not that the CSL really needs to stand out - there are only 1000 of those being produced globally, with only 42 coming to Canada.
The interior also gets the CSL treatment, which is similar to the CS models: red paddle shifters, suede steering wheel, deletion of the center console, and full carbon bucket seats without recline, heating, or ventilation, and need a torque screw to adjust the seat height. If you prefer a bit of comfort, you can still equip your CSL with the heavier, heated bucket seats with electric adjustment for no added cost, but they weigh about 14 kg more. We think BMW could have even gone to more extremes with the CSL, seeing as how limited it is. Why not add lighter and thinner windows, door strap pulls, hollow out the door panels until they are bare, and a manual transmission too, which should be much lighter than this torque converter.
BMW has tinkered with the powertrain as well, allowing it to set the fastest BMW production lap record around the Nordschleife. The S58 3.0-litre twin-turbocharged inline-six has benefited from a new ECU tune and increased boost pressure from 24.7 psi to 30.5, along with updated engine mounts, that bumps up the total horsepower by 40 hp, up to 543 hp. Torque remains the same at 479 lb-ft, and an 8-speed ZF automatic transmission is the only choice, as is rear-wheel drive.
The ride height has been dropped by 7.6 mm compared to the M4 Competition, with optimized spring rates and camber angles for the CSL. Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 R tires are standard-fare but buyers can also opt for more street-friendly Michelin Pilot Sport 4 S tires at no cost instead. When all is said and done, the CSL will sprint from 0-100 km/h in 3.7 seconds, two-tenths faster than the M4 Competition RWD, but two-tenths slower than the AWD - such is the advantage of four driven wheels off the line.
At $166,500, the M4 CSL commands a serious bit of coin but from what we can gather after a few wet laps around the Canadian Tire Motorsport Park Grand Prix circuit, was that it has what it takes. It’s a much more raw and pared-back experience compared to the regular model. With much of the sound insulation stripped away and with the new exhaust system, the buzzing and booming of the inline-six permeates the cabin and dominates your eardrums with a mechanical symphony. Kind of reminds us of the Nissan GT-R. Even through my helmet, I could hear pebbles and stones bouncing off the undertray as I pulled out of the pit lane.
Light rain was trickling down but the entire track was damp and cold. BMW equipped the more street-friendly Michelin Pilot Sport 4 S tires instead of the Cup 2 Rs since they were much easier to bring up to temperature, and should have a slight advantage in the wet. The CSL may boast a ton of mechanical grip but the front end still lacked the confidence for us to truly explore its limits. Trailbraking led to fishtailing, but we slowly found harmony with the steering and pedal inputs, and were able to focus and figure out where the grip was on the drier parts of the track. Not to mention, this was the first and only current CSL in the country, so binning it into a barrier wasn’t a story we wanted to explain to the BMW reps over lunch.
Nevertheless, we still tried to extract as much out of the CSL as we could, and right off the line we immediately noticed its sharper steering compared to the standard M4. Quicker and more direct, you can accurately place the front wheels where you want them, but you still need to be measured with your initial inputs. The CSL was clearly and meticulously crafted for drivers who prize handling and have engaging, winding roads to explore in their backyard.
And the acceleration was absolutely potent, squirreling up the rear wheels without hesitation, so we really had to ensure the grip was there before hammering it down the back straight. We hit 220 km/h before easing off the throttle and letting it coast into the start of the esses at Turn 8. There are heaps of low and mid-range muscle, so you can make outrageous progress without ever breaching 5000 rpm. We couldn’t put the power down as quickly as the xDrive models, and the CSL wasn’t as nearly as forgiving if you’re too abrupt with your inputs, but it felt more alive as a result. More punishing, yes, but so much more rewarding when you finally learn to trust its superb brakes and exceptional stability, and finally nail it down right through the apex.
What was missing from our drive was the opportunity to take the CSL on the street and see how its adjusted dampers, spring rates, and tires hold up on everyday roads. What is clear though is that this pricey limited-edition BMW M4 CSL is up against some serious competition from the likes of the Porsche 911, Audi R8, and even the Chevrolet Corvette Z06. But it will definitely live in more rarified air, and those lucky enough to own one will relish in the CSL’s raw and engaging behaviour, fully amplified by BMW’s dedication to lightweighting and a sole focus on the driver. That should be enough for most. Happy 50th, M.
Model: 2023 BMW M4 CSL
Paint Type: Frozen Brooklyn Grey
Base Price: $166,500
Price as Tested: $166,500
Length/Width/Height (mm): 4,793 / 1,920 / 1,386
Curb weight (kg): 1,651
Engine: 3.0-litre twin-turbocharged inline-six (S58)
Horsepower: 543 hp @ 6,250 rpm
Torque: 479 lb-ft @ 2,750 - 5,950 rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, RWD
Tires: Michelin Pilot Sport 4 S