When many people look back at the origins of the BMW M4 GTS, the brand’s latest hardcore track car, they often look to the E46 M3 CSL. However, the real origin of this type of BMW actually goes back much further, to the beginning of the famed M Division. The BMW 3.0 CSL is, in reality, the first hardcore track-oriented car to be sold by BMW’s M Division. It was originally designed to go racing but homologated for the road and even came with illegal aerodynamics in the trunk to be put on by the buyers of the car. Cool stuff. So how does the brand-new, incredibly hardcore M4 GTS stack up against its O.G. predecessor?
Top Gear recently drove both cars back-to-back, a rare treat that any car enthusiast, never mind BMW enthusiast, would jump at the chance of.
The original BMW 3.0 CSL is most iconic for its wild looks, from its massive front splitter to the giant rear wing to the little whiskers on the sides of the hood. It looks like nothing else. But the new BMW M4 GTS actually has a similar design philosophy, with its own extreme wing, front splitter and mad looks. However, whereas the 3.0 CSL was extreme for its day, the M4 GTS is far beyond. The former had some lightweight body panels, perspex for windows and no soundproofing, but it still had a complete interior that even still sported wood trim. The latter car takes lightweight to another level, ditching almost the entire interior, adding a rollcage to the back, using carbon fiber body panels, lightweight sport buckets, carbon fiber door panels and even little fabric straps for door handles. It cranks lightweigh tech to eleven.
That philosophy is apparently echoed in the way both cars drive. While the 3.0 CSL was a hoot in its day, it actually seems quite vague now. Its steering is much slower, its body movements are much more relaxed and it isn’t intimidating to drive. In fact, Top Gear claims it’s actually nicer to just putter around in, rather than hoon. Though, its brilliant 3.0 liter I6 engine is a delight to rev out and listen to.
On the other hand, the BMW M4 GTS is a monster. Its 3.0 liter twin-turbo I6 engine was breathed on by BMW to make 493 hp, thanks mostly to its water-injection. So rather than being lovely to rev, it just shoves brutal amounts of torque into your face until you tap out. And rather than a lovely manual gearbox, it uses a snappy dual-clutch unit with rapid-fire paddle shifters. So while the 3.0 CSL is enjoyable to putter around, the M4 GTS isn’t happy unless it’s going 10/10ths. While the M4 GTS is a sharp and impressive thing, TG can’t help but think BMW went a bit too hardcore on it.
It’s interesting to see how BMW’s M Division has progressed since the ’70s. Looking at the first and the last hardcore track-oriented road cars is a very intriguing thing. Driving them must have been even more so. The jealousy levels are high, right now.