BMW M3 CS 2019 review
Once a finely focused light performance sedan, the BMW M3 spiralled into a big bruising muscle car.
Chief among changes was the engine - the naturally-aspirated four turned into a six, the six turned into an eight, and then the eight turned into six again, but with two turbos.
Just before the V8 – a wonderfully syrupy engine even if a large departure on form – was perhaps the epitome of the modern M car: the M3 E46 CSL.
Lighter, simpler but with a howling naturally-aspirated straight-six engine, it gave the enthusiast everything they could want from a mid-size performance car, except luxuries. And here we go again.
Vehicle Style: Performance medium sedan
Price: $179,900 plus on-road costs
Engine/trans: 338kW/500Nm 3.0-litre 6cyl turbo petrol | 7spd automatic
Fuel Economy Claimed: 8.8 l/100km Tested: 15.0 l/100km
So the new CS is to be the apotheosis of the F80 generation M3. Moving on from the E46’s CSL nameplate – Coupe Sport Lightweight – the M3 Club Sport is a sedan to the same formula – lightened, simplified, and brilliant to drive.
The last part of the equation is the shame for the last five years of M3, a fun but wieldy brute that packed plenty of punch with less predictable poise.
The CS has been revised underneath its skin not just to be lean but to be swift. The lightweight forged aluminium links and wheel carriers of the Competition carry over but certain suspension geometry, adaptive damper response, electromechanical steering, rear active locking differential rate and dynamic stability control system have been finely tuned to hone the best dynamics the M Division could find.
The footprint is made of 19-inch front and 20-inch rear lightweight forged alloy wheels, with 265/35 front and 285/30 rear Michellin Pilot Sport Cup 2 rubber - sticky semi-slick road tyres that need some warming up to work.
Weight reduction of over 10kg comes in the form of an exposed carbon-fibre roof, carbon-fibre reinforced polymer bonnet (with a beefy buldge and rear-facing vent to suck away hot air), gutted luxuries and simplified interior.
There are some features still, such as adaptive LED headlights, keyless entry, air condition and an 8.8-infotainment with sat nav, but you won’t find safety tech such as automated emergency braking, lane departure warning or even a reversing camera.
The centre-piece of performance is M’s 3.0-litre straight-six twin-turbocharged engine, pumped up to produce 338kW at 6250rpm and 600Nm from 4000-5380rpm - increments of 7kW and 50Nm over the nearest M3 Competition. The redline will scream (before blipping out) at 7600rpm.
Just 1200 units will be made worldwide and Australian stock (with no current restriction on orders) is priced at $179,900 - $10,000 short of the M4 CS and over $30,000 above anything else in the M3 stable.
Standard Equipment: Leather and cloth seat trim, manually-adjustable front sports seats, climate control, keyless entry and start, LED headlights, auto lights and wipers, 19- and 20-inch alloy wheels
Infotainment: 8.8-inch touchscreen, iDrive centre console controller with handwriting recognition, voice recognition, satellite navigation, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, USB input, DAB+ digital radio, ConnectedDrive online services, nine-speaker audio
Cargo Volume: 480 litres to rear seats
It’s an M3 at heart, with all of the familiar M3 cabin design cues, yet dry of its usual conveniences. The practical (and heavy) centre console is gone, replaced by a single-piece Alcantara unit that’s slim and devoid of any storage, and a lone USB port sits facing the driver below the handbrake. Across the dash is a matching swathe of the same material where the letters ‘CS’ are embroidered into the skin.
It feels special with an aura of the E46 CSL’s sparse nature in the air, instilled most from the full Alcantara steering wheel that’s a modern-day mirror.
The seats are lighter than normal with hugging support and good lumbar adjustment but are surprisingly comfortable over longer trips. The rear seat is spacious for legroom but again lacks any mod cons, with the usual air-vents and 12v plug gone in favour of the slimline console.
What is useful is the 8.8-inch infotainment system, with cost-option Apple CarPlay available and sat nav as standard, and the rotary controller below remains which makes using the system simple. Two cup holders also made it into the mix and the boot is unchanged at 480-litres large.
ON THE ROAD
Engine: 3.0-litre twin turbo inline six-cylinder, 338kW @6250rpm, 600Nm @4000-5380rpm
Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch auto, rear wheel drive
Suspension: Adaptive dampers, MacPherson strut front, independent rear
Brakes: Four-wheel ventilated and cross-drilled rotors
Steering: M Servotronic electric power steering with variable assistance
Erupting into a throbbing clatter of sound on a cold start the straight-six turbo needs a little warming up before it turns into a luscious soaring powerhouse, but there’s a perilous amount of grunt on tap from the get go, particularly if the semi-slick tyres aren’t equally brought up to operating temperature.
But once in the ballgame the rubber is glue on the road, helping only to record the same 0-100km/h in 3.9sec but immensely grippy where it really counts.
It’s logical to first look at the M3 CS as the M4 CS’s four-door equivalent, but somehow its far from being the raging bull that the M4 delivered, riding on rails rather than hoofs.
What’s immediately noticeable is sweet steering, less obstructed by artificial weight and more direct in its connection to the front-end. Flicking into corners it has pin-point accuracy without a whisper of doubt as to how it will react, communicative in feel and confident on mid-corner bump.
The suspension setup is stiff in Sport and Sport+ settings but it’s less unsettled over bumps and pot marks than the typical M car, giving grip and adjustability in corners that would normally wiggle and slip. With settled compliance and balance it rarely feels like it wants to bite, but there’s a powerhouse under the bonnet that’s rapid in response and won’t shy from frying tyres.
Crisp through each one of the seven-speed automatic transmission's gears that are best directed from the steering-wheel-mounted paddles or gear lever, the standard sports exhaust system opens into firing artillery well past 6000rpm.
It’s short of the sweetness of the E46 but finally feels like the approachable muscle car those Germans dreamed of years ago.
It’s also happy to cruise the suburbs - though more work than conventional 3-Series - and the suspension is slack enough in comfort that it's liveable. The throttle response defaults to economy mode on start-up too for a relatively slim 8.8L/100km claimed fuel consumption rating on the government combined cycle, but we maxed that well into the teens.
ANCAP Rating: 5 Stars - The BMW 3 Series range model scored 36.76 out of 37 possible points when tested in 2012.
Safety Features: Dual front, side and curtain airbags, electronic stability and traction control.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years/unlimited km
Servicing: Capped-price servicing is available for the first five years of ownership, or up to 80,000km if pre-paid.
Basic pre-pay packages cost from $3350 to $8450 which include fluids, spark plugs, filters, brake discs and pads and windscreen wiper rubbers.
Service intervals are determined by sensors that monitor the car’s health.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
The Audi RS5 is the smooth operator in this segment – blistering quick but with almost too much precision that it lacks the playful character and reward when wringing the CS’ neck.
The Alfa Romeo Giulia QV brings an equal amount of gristle and menace with a race car-like front-end setup that doesn’t quite match the more pliable nature of the CS. But like the RS5, it comes in at a more affordable price point and with much more gear.
The Mercedes-AMG C63 has something none of the rivals here can touch – a thumping big V8 motor. But if you’re here to get in touch with something that closely resembles the CSL formula, it might be too much fun with not enough purpose.
- Audi RS5
- Alfa Romeo Giulia QV
- Mercedes-AMG C63
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL RATING: 4.5/5
It took until the end of a generation but the M3 CS is the triumph we’ve been waiting for – powerful and gutsy yet finely balanced.
It’s a triumphant but sad adieu to the F80 generation M3, the culmination of 28 years that might drastically change as hybrid and all-wheel-drive technology edges into the fray.
Alex Rae is Drive’s Melbourne based reporter with over 10 years’ experience in the automotive industry as a photographer and journalist. Having studied both engineering and the arts, Alex understands what makes things tick while appreciating that sometimes it’s all about form over matter…