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There’s a feeling, isn’t there? The reaction to an intangible ‘something’ that sets every follicle on your head all of a quiver when, for example, you hear someone playing an instrument or acting in a film, and what you’re absorbing transcends simple technical perfection; you’re connected, wholeheartedly, to a stirring, magical performance.
Arguably, the latest-generation M3 has never done that. No one with an intellect would imply it wasn’t bonkers-fast in a straight line, or stonkingly rapid around a track, but a fair few have suggested it lacks theatre – the X-factor, that ‘something’ required to move you from respecting it to loving it indiscriminately. The way you might feel about, let’s say, an Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio.
Yet this M3 is different. It’s the M3 CS, or Club Sport version, and the last hurrah before the curtain descends finally on the current M3 – something that is happening prematurely, because BMW has decided not to re-engineer it to meet new, tougher WLTP emissions rules.
So, what’s different? Well, we’ve already had the M3 Competition Pack, which has 444bhp, compared with the standard M3’s 425bhp, along with lightweight components and rejigged suspension. The CS takes that formula and milks it to the max, with a power hike to 454bhp (and a little more torque to boot), plus more weight saving, courtesy of carbonfibre-reinforced plastic panels replacing the standard steel bonnet and roof.
You also get lightweight, forged alloy wheels – 19in at the front and 20in at the rear – shod with sticky Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres that should grip like billy-oh in the dry. Alternatively, you can swap these for Pilot Super Sports, which offer better wet-weather grip for anyone intent on using their shiny new CS all year round.
2018 BMW M3 CS on the road
Without wishing to spoil the suspense, the M3 CS has that ‘something’ element licked. Finally, the current-generation M3 has found the sweet spot that lifts it from technically great to “Oh my God, I want one”.
It’s not that the engine upgrades make it feel a heck of a lot quicker than the other versions, although it is rapid; 0-62mph in a claimed but believable 3.9sec and a climactic 174mph would seem to vouch for that. And it revs zealously for a turbocharged motor; the surge starts from 2000rpm, but as the rev counter’s needle strikes 3000rpm it’s really into its stride, and there’s no let-up until it bangs enthusiastically into its 7600rpm limiter.
But more significant than all of that is how the CS sounds. Sure, it’s no thundering Mercedes-AMG C 63 S, but at last there’s a current M3 that sounds good. You see, when this M3 was launched, BMW was worried that, being turbocharged, it would sound like a muted trumpet and elected to enhance the engine’s note with a contrived straight six jingle, played in via the stereo speakers.
But that’s like turning up to the Albert Hall expecting to the hear the London Symphony Orchestra rendering sweetly some Gershwin, only to find the band has been replaced by some fella with an amplified Casio synth. It’s hardly what you dreamed of when paying good money for a proper performance car that’s meant to come with a tuneful, petrol-powered wind instrument of its own.
Now, the CS’s sound is still boosted by faux tones rumbling through its sound system, but now it’s harder to tell how much of the overall ensemble is made up by that, or its new sports exhaust. But who cares, because the result is a discernible straight six yowl that at least sounds authentic enough to raise a smile and a tingling follicle or three.
Then there’s the way the CS steers. The ludicrous girth of its M Sport steering wheel rim aside, the Alcantara encircling the wheel feels delightful to paw and the gubbins to which it’s bolted have been honed to feel wonderfully natural through corners. It’s not as quick off-centre as the Giulia's steering and still doesn’t tinkle little messages through the rim like other focused machines do – the Porsche 911 GT3 being the most obvious example – but now there’s a progressiveness to its weighting and an eagerness on turn in that’s absent from lesser M3s. It means you trust it more, so you swoop-swoop the CS left and right with the dexterity of a downhill skier.
In the balmy heat of summer, the CS's sticky tyres grip like a frightened toddler, too, which results in you carrying serious speed. And on the way out of bends, the rears cope with an awful lot of the engine’s muscular potential before they let go and start to slide. That’s assuming you’ve switched the stability control into either M Dynamic Mode, which allows a little slide before nannying, or turned it off completely.
In the edgier standard M3, at the start of any slide with all its systems turned off, you’d have tensed up immediately, wondering which portion of the nearest hedge you were about to enter through, probably backwards. But in the CS, the slides happen at a beautifully controllable rate, so if you’re looking for a playful yet easy-to-master track car, this is it.
Remember back at the start, when we mentioned all those lightweight carbonfibre-reinforced plastic panels? According to the information supplied to us by BMW, the CS actually weighs more than the standard M3, but we’re told that’s because of the extra kit it comes with as standard. Hmm, a lightweight special that weighs more than the regular car… make of that what you will.
What we do know is that the optional (lighter and more heat-resistant) carbon-ceramic brakes bite assuredly and, if you put the tweaked adaptive dampers into Sport mode, they take out the excess body movements over dips and crests that you get in Comfort. That provides you with a car that breathes with the surface to keep the rear tyres in better contact with the road, and it will dispatch challenging back roads without breaking a sweat.
It's relatively comfortable, too – firm, yes, but better than you might expect for such a focused machine. Even wind and road noise – despite the huge tyres – are perfectly acceptable on motorways.
2018 BMW M3 CS interior
There’s little to report beyond the standard car, which you can read all about by clicking here. That said, the electrically operated bucket seats that come with the CS can be made to fit you like a glove, in part thanks to their adjustable side bolsters.
The decision to remove the standard centre console, complete with its useful cubbies and comfortable armrest, is an odd one, though. Instead of getting rid of it entirely, which might have saved some weight, it’s been replace by an Alcantara-trimmed moulding that surely can’t have any tangible benefit but means you don’t have anywhere to rest your arm comfortably on a long trip.
To match its exulted position, the CS looks even shoutier, with an aerodynamic snout in its bonnet and a carbonfibre front splitter, boot spoiler and rear diffuser, to go with the standard car’s flared wheel arches. And the upgraded equipment means this is certainly no stripped-back track day special; adaptive LED headlights, climate control, a Harman Kardon stereo and BMW’s top-spec Professional navigation system are all included.