The standard BMW M4 is already a wildly capable car.
Despite its sizable footprint and hefty curb weight, it has enough power, suspension, and brakes to eat up a canyon road. However, BMW felt it left performance on the table and decided to push on. The result is the 2023 BMW M4 CSL, a hardened, lightened, track-focused special edition variant that ditches all notions of daily driving comfort in favor of outright speed and performance.
With a starting price of $140,895, the CSL is a whopping $61,300 more than an M4 Competition. Therefore it has to offer an incredible driving experience to live up to that price tag. It may already hold the title for the quickest production BMW ever to lap the Nürburgring, but what matters here is how much of that raw speed translates to fun in the hands of someone without a racing license. And after hustling it up a canyon road, it’s clear that the CSL has more than enough theatrics to back up its hefty price tag.
The CSL, in its name, used to stand for Coupe, Sport, and Lightweight, a moniker used only twice before it made it onto the back of this M4. It first appeared in the 3.0 CSL of the mid-1970s, then on the e46 M3 CSL of the early 2000s. Today, however, the German carmaker wants to replace the meaning of that first letter with “Competition,” mainly as a nod to this latest car’s incessant pursuit of lightness and performance.
The CSL starts with a pair of manually adjustable M Carbon bucket seats which eliminate 53 lb while also removing its rear seats and accompanying hardware to save an additional 46 lb. This special M4’s unique wheels, springs, struts, and carbon-ceramic brakes save another 46 lb, while a significant reduction in sound deadening cuts a further 33 lb.
The M4’s diet doesn’t stop there, however. It may look far more aggressive than the car upon which it’s based, but its carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic roof, hood, and trunk lid are mainly there to remove weight. With its molded rear lip spoiler, the trunk saves 15 lb by itself. Combine these weight-saving efforts, and the CSL’s curb weight shrinks to 3,640 lb. Although still hefty by sportscar standards, it’s 240 lb lighter than an M4 Competition.
The other side of the CSL’s equation is its beefed-up output. Thanks to revisions to its engine management system and boost pressure up from 24.7 psi in the Competition to 30.5 in the CSL, its twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter straight six now develops 543 hp and 479 lb-ft of torque. These figures come in at the same 6,250 rpm and 2,750 rpm, respectively, as they do in the Competition, but thanks to this car’s updated throttle calibration, they come in much more aggressively.
Like the e46 M3 CSL that preceded it, this latest interpretation is only available with a ZF eight-speed torque-converter automatic transmission. Power also only goes to the rear wheels, making the CSL’s run to 60 mph 0.2 seconds slower than an xDrive-equipped M4 Competition, at 3.6 seconds. As it’s free from an electronic limiter, this sporty coupe tops out at 191 mph, whereas the standard car stops pushing at 155 mph.
From the instant you press its red start button and its straight six’s blaring cold start roars through the cabin, the CSL doesn’t let you forget that it’s special. With little sound deadening to protect your ears, its raspy exhaust note is always present, with no need to pipe it in digitally. This car is not concerned with quietness or comfort, it’s built for fast driving, and that’s all it wants to do.
Thanks to its solid engine and transmission mounts, the CSL vibrates far more than any M4 before it. It retains the same drive modes, Comfort, Sport, and Sport+ modes, as the standard car, except that the first only slightly eases up the CSL’s firmed-up suspension. It’s harsh around town, but that’s what we’d expect from a track-ready sports car.
The CSL’s tight suspension delivered a composed and neutral drive up a twisty canyon road. There’s no body roll to speak of, and this beefed-up M4 confidently puts all of its power down. Since its lightweight wheels and brakes significantly reduce its unsprung weight, it’s not surprising that it is also quick on its feet to turn into a corner. Plus, with its Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 R tires brought to proper operating temperature, it delivers a substantial amount of grip, pushing its limits far beyond what I can explore on a public road.
Like in the M4 Competition, the CSL’s steering is far from talkative but is impressively fast. Even subtle wheel movements result in substantial direction changes. It’s the type of steering that rewards thoughtful inputs while punishing ham-fisted maneuvers. Driving this car at speed requires your total concentration. It may be incredibly capable, but drive it aggressively, and it can easily bite back.
Its powertrain is in part to blame for its on-edge nature. It may have peak power and torque figures as an M4 Competition, but its throttle calibration is more of an on/off switch, which is great for a hot lap on a track, but tricky for on-road use. This is also evident around town, where the CSL can be jerky out of full auto mode, lurching forward like an early 2000s supercar. Combine the quick steering with near-instant power delivery, and you get a sports car that is both exciting and a bit terrifying.
Thankfully, the M4 CSL’s carbon-ceramic brakes offer plenty of stopping power and are surprisingly easy to modulate around town. They are perhaps the most docile part of the car.
A new titanium silencer saves a further 9 lb and adds more noise and tone to the M4’s already raspy note. Like the rest of the car, it sounds much more aggressive than standard, as it fully uncorks the CSL’s straight-six. It’s over the top and fits the car’s character perfectly.
Although its matte gray paint hides most of its exterior carbon bits, its interior leaves them exposed for you to enjoy. The most prominent is its exposed carbon center console, which plays off the carbon inserts in the steering wheel, paddles, and dashboard. There are lightweight materials regardless of where you look.
Instead of sitting in the CSL, you plop into its fixed-back manually-adjustable M Carbon seats. Like in a proper track car, there’s no quick height adjustability, and along with the leg-splitting carbon insert found in most M products, these particular seats add tons of bolstering with minimal padding. Although these make the CSL miserable to drive around town, they add to its sense of occasion.
The rest of the M4 CSL’s interior is like any of its standard production siblings. Screens, tech, and safety systems and all.
BMW plans to build just 1,000 units of its latest special edition coupe, each with a starting price of $139,900 plus $995 for destination. This planned production run makes it the rarest CSL ever, as the German carmaker produced 1,383 M3 CSLs and 1,265 3.0 CLSs.
While the 2023 BMW M4 CSL may cost $61,300 more than a standard Competition model, it offers its driver substantially more as well. It feels raw, engaging, and thrilling to a heightened degree. While the standard M4 is a wildly capable car, it is often muted and a bit disconnected from its driver. It’s far from as tactile as older M models. The CSL, however, is a step in the right direction, piping in real noise, vibrations, and terrifying performance that makes for an exhilarating drive.
If anything, the CSL highlights what the current-gen M4 is missing. It’s too subdued, quiet, and compliant. The CSL demonstrates what BMW’s M division can accomplish when tasked with building a car that chases a particular goal instead of a wide gamut of behaviors. The CSL is focused, raw, and exciting, but due to its limited run, it’s one of the best M cars few people will ever experience.