• Auto123 spent a day testing the M4 CSL, a track monster good for 534 hp & 479-lb-ft!
• Only 42 units are planned for Canada - including the model we drove.
• Basically, this is a track race car you can obtain a license plate for.
Bowmanville, ON - The letter M is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. Not the one in our alphabet of course, but rather the one used by the wizards at BMW's performance division.
Of course, such an anniversary brings with it a lot of new things, especially in an era where the electric future promises to change the automobile as we've known it for just over 100 years. One of them is the M4 CSL coupe, limited to 1,000 units worldwide.
It's this sharper M4 that we were able to test drive at the big CTMP (Canadian Tire Motorsport Park) track on the outskirts of Toronto. The German automaker’s strategists couldn't have found a better location to illustrate the virtues of the sharpest BMW M4 in history.
But Mother Nature had plans of its own. More on that in a bit.
What exactly is an M4 CSL?
The three letters at the end of its name sum up the character of this special M4 coupe, which shares its genes with the M4 GT3 used in motorsport. CSL stands for Competition, Sport, Lightweight. Very few cars have had the honor of wearing the badge; those include the 1973 3.0 CSL coupe and the 2003 M3 CSL (an edition that never made it to the Canadian market, alas). That's not to mention the 2016 M4 GTS, a car that respected the three-letter philosophy without officially wearing the designation.
Obviously, to set itself apart from other “regular” M4 coupes, the M4 CSL gets an exclusive body style on the outside. First, there's that frosted Brooklyn Grey finish, exclusive to the special variant. It requires an extra $4,000 you won’t have to pay for either of the other two available colours, Alpine White non-metallic and Sapphire Black metallic.
Then there are several components and accents made of exposed carbon-fibre, and some thin red stripes that look great.
On the carbon-fibre hood, two stripes in the centre confirm that the hood is lighter than usual. Note that the roof and the trunk are also made of that light-weight material. As well, the trunk stands out with its duckbill-shaped spoiler at the end, a nice touch.
The 827M multi-spoke wheels in matte black add to the spectacle, with a diameter of 19 inches at the front and 20 inches at the rear. Buyers can choose between tires designed for closed-course use - Michelin Cup 2 R tires - or slightly more everyday performance tires - Michelin Pilot Sport 4 S tires. Because yes, this track race car is actually allowed to run on Canadian roads.
That said, it’s pretty likely of the 42 units to be handed out to Canadian buyers over the next few weeks, very few will be used for grocery store runs and such. Still, they will be used on road to get to the track, at least.
Behind the wheels is an upgraded braking system, M engineers having chosen to insert carbon-ceramic disc brakes; the red calipers are there to sell the seriousness of the components.
The car also gets a reworked suspension, a bigger aerodynamic package than usual, especially at the front where the carbon-fibre spoiler integrates rather well with this loaded bumper. The grille is exclusive to the M4 CSL and is even lighter than the one used on the M4 Competition.
Eagle-eyed folks may have already noticed the 50th-anniversary emblems on both ends of the coupe or the laser-lit headlights and marker lights.
As for the interior, let's just say it's a lot less practical than other M4s because of the rear seats, of which there are none. They’re replaced by two cavities overhung by restraint nets... for carrying two helmets!
There's also a great Alcantara suede steering wheel and one-piece bucket seats, which greatly limit driver adjustments. The seats are pretty tight and you have to pull out the ratchet to adjust the height.
Beyond these more ‘basic’ aspects of the M4 CSL, there's little-to-no evidence in the front row that you're sitting in a more explosive M4.
On a diet
As is very often the case with versions aimed at driving purists, a weight-loss plan was necessary, if only to improve the car's agility. As a result, no less than 108 kg were stripped from the coupe compared to the M4 Competition, via the changes made to the seats, wheels, brakes, suspension components, hood and hood cover, among others.
Behind the wheel of a beast... on a wet and cool track!
The supply-chain crisis that has been affecting the globe for the past few months also slowed down the organization of this event, which should have been held in the middle of the summer season. A car as sharp as the M4 CSL is at its best when grip is optimal, especially when it’s fitted with track tires. But because of delays, we tested the car on a soggy, cold surface in mid-October with fallen leaves splayed around the CTMP track.
The organizers had planned for this, swapping the tires for the more user-friendly high performance package. In fact, the manufacturer, on the advice of the team of experienced instructors on hand for the event, even obliged us to stick to Sport mode during the on-track session. The more explosive Sport Plus mode was off-limits.
Despite these few constraints, we were all enthusiastic to get on with the test drive of the M4 CSL. It's not every day such an opportunity comes along, after all!
On the track
The CSL experience begins as soon as you sit inside the cabin; the super-tight seats remind me that I too should be on a diet. No matter, such buckets are very reassuring when pushing hard on a closed circuit.
Take note: BMW told us that the M4 Competition's carbon seats - which are very supportive, but a little less so than those of the M4 CSL - are also available free of charge to those who prefer the more comfortable and heated option.
The hands happily grip the Alcantara suede steering wheel and the carbon-fibre paddles and the driver's environment are beautifully crafted. It contrasts with the more deafening sound coming from the exhaust system. Remember that the M4 CSL is as soundproofed as a 90s-era Honda Civic, which is to say very mildly - and that's just as well, because at high revs, the inline 6-cylinder engine emits a very melodious symphony, thank you very much!
From the moment I got going in the pits at about 40 km/h, I noted that the M4 CSL is not as mellow as its Competition sibling. The suspension rebound is also much firmer. Even small pebbles that accumulate on the pavement in the pits are felt in the steering wheel, a sign of the precision of this steering column.
The trouble is, on this day the high-performance tires never quite reached their optimal temperature to offer the kind of grip the car needs to go all out. From the first acceleration, the M4 CSL was much sharper, more precise, more demanding.
My instructor, Jean-François Dumoulin, reminded me of the rain line to follow, but also not to rush the car, because with only two-wheel drive and so little grip on the road, it would be all too easy to lose control of the first BMW M4 CSL in the country... yes, the first!
After a first lap of the circuit - taking care to get used to the explosiveness of the beast - I was able to open up the machine (a little), especially in the long straight where the digital gauge reached around 215 km/h. On wet pavement, I must remind you! At high revs, the M4 CSL spits its venom through the exhaust system, an experience worthy of a race car.
Fortunately, the brakes are reassuringly effective, so much so in fact that mostly I was braking too soon before corners. The steering, at the risk of repeating myself, is sur-gi-cal, and the gear changes are abrupt. To the point where one of those changes, right at the split-second when the car was slightly lifted off the ground, resulted in a ‘tiny’ spinout of the rear end. Fortunately there were no consequences, thanks to the onboard systems.
The M4 CSL gave me another scare when I took a corner with too much speed and a bit too much action on the steering wheel. This had the effect of launching the car into a skid, controlled once again by the vigilant presence of the car’s safety systems, along with a corrective turn of the wheel. Those systems were active, yes, because the conditions compelled organizers to limit the car's capabilities by leaving all the driving aids engaged. And frankly, I couldn't have asked for anything better for those four or five laps of the Ontario track.
The final word
Already, almost all 42 Canadian M4 CSLs have been sold or reserved, this even though the starting price is $166,500 with only that Brooklyn Grey paint option.
While its pricing is elitist, it’s no surprise that all units found buyers; this is after all one of the most impressive sports cars the sports division has ever concocted. The M4 CSL fits into the same niche as all those versions specifically designed by manufacturers to attract true fans of a particular brand. Especially those who plan to go to the track to test drive their new car.
As a birthday present by and for M and its fans, the M4 CSL is a good start, but hear this: the manufacturer is planning something else. We can feel it!
The uniqueness of the model
Reduced soundproofing = a more convincing sound
The potential of a street-legal race car
We like less
Not the most comfortable ride on the road
The asking price (!)
A very niche car
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