Car reviews - BMW - 3 Series - M3 CS
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Exclusivity, pumped-up looks, brutal acceleration, neck-snapping transmission, perfect steering in Sport, razor-sharp handling, tremendous grip, incredible carbon-ceramic brakes
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Firm ride on public roads in all modes, limited on-centre steering feel in Comfort, unruly steering weight in Sport Plus, twitchy throttle, dual-clutch quirks, questionable premium
BMW farewells controversial F80 M3 with uncivilised but rewarding CS swansong
15 Feb 2019
FEW cars actually get a swansong, but BMW’s M3 isn’t like many others. With a rich history of being the pinnacle of what it means to be ‘the ultimate driving machine’, its place among sportscar royalty is assured.
However, the F80 M3 has been controversial on many levels. Significantly, it marked the end of two- and four-door body styles using the same nameplate, with the former now comfortably established as the M4.
The F80 also quickly brought to an end its E90 predecessor’s glorious 4.0-litre naturally aspirated V8 in favour of a returning 3.0-litre inline six-cylinder engine, albeit with a pair of turbochargers for the first time.
But with the G20 3 Series entering showrooms in April, the F80’s time in the sun is quickly coming to an end, with the next iteration of the M3 likely to be seen at the Frankfurt motor show in September this year.
What better way to farewell the F80 M3 then to turn the wick right up with the lighter, faster CS? With global production limited to 1200 units, it’s shaping up to be a collector’s item. We’ve put the CS through its paces to find out if it’s the best F80 M3 of all.
Price and equipment
Priced from $179,529 plus on-road costs, the M3 CS commands a fairly hefty – and almost inconceivable – $33,000 premium over its M3 Competition sibling that it is based upon. For the extra spend, buyers shockingly get … less. Well, kind of.
Lightweight carbon-fibre has been used for the CS’ driveshaft bonnet, front splitter, roof, lip spoiler and rear diffuser, with the former weighing 25 per cent less than the aluminium panel used by the Competition.
The end result is a thick and fine exterior that remarkably looks tougher than it already did. Make no mistake, this a four-door sedan with serious presence.
Other standard equipment includes a mixed set of Orbit Grey 10-spoke alloy wheels wrapped in Michelin Sport Cup 2 tyres (front: 265/35 R19 front, rear: 285/30 R20), dusk-sensing adaptive LED headlights, LED foglights and tail-lights, power-folding side mirrors, rain-sensing windshield wipers and high-gloss black trim.
Inside, an 8.8-inch touchscreen iDrive6 infotainment system, satellite navigation with live traffic, Bluetooth connectivity, DAB+ digital radio, a 12-speaker Harman/Kardon sound system, a windshield-projected head-up display, a multi-function display, single-zone climate control, power-adjustable front seats with memory functionality and heating, keyless start, auto-dimming rearview and side mirrors, full Silverstone/black Merino leather upholstery with grey stitching, Alcantara trim, high-gloss black finishers and ambient lighting feature.
Our test car is finished in awesome-looking Lime Rock Grey paintwork from BMW’s Individual colour palette, which is a $4400 option.
It is also fitted with a $15,000 set of carbon-ceramic brake discs with Matte Gold six-piston front and four-pot rear callipers. As such, the price as tested is $198,929.
From the moment you slip inside the CS, it’s apparent that it is no run-of-the-mill M3 … if there is such a thing.
CS-specific Alcantara trims the chunky steering wheel, handbrake and redesigned centre console that reduces its weight by 30 per cent by removing the central storage bin and rear air vents.
These concessions, alongside the relocation of the USB port to behind the handbrake and the lowering of the centre armrest, negatively impact practicality and comfort but go some way in demonstrating the unwavering focus that the CS has.
If it’s not obvious enough yet what M3 you’re driving, then BMW has kindly added an Alcantara insert with etched CS branding to the dashboard to, quite literally, spell it out for you.
Nonetheless, the connection with the Competition is evident, with nice touches like the seatbelts’ M tri-colour stripes and the Anthracite roofliner carrying over.
The M Sport front seats with backrest cut-outs also feature again but aren’t met the same fanfare when in use.
While their heavy bolstering provides fantastic support during spirited driving, they prove to be very uncomfortable on longer drives due to their narrow base design.
Nonetheless, the CS is still very luxurious, with supple Merino leather upholstery covering most of its interior surfaces, while soft-touch materials are liberally applied to other areas, including the often-neglected lower door cards.
While it is of a high quality, an uncharacteristic slab of hard plastic dominates the centre stack, particularly with the CS’s single-zone climate controls that are a downgrade over the Competition’s dual-zone unit.
As with the Competition, legroom is generous behind our 184cm driving position and three adults can be accommodated on shorter journeys, although only a couple of centimetres is on offer and toe-room is limited.
Measuring in at 4671mm long, 1877mm wide and 1424mm tall with a 2812mm wheelbase, the CS provides a serviceable 445L of cargo capacity, but this can increase when the split-fold reach bench is stowed.
Engine and transmission
The CS takes the Competition’s 3.0-litre twin-turbocharged inline six-cylinder petrol engine and turns the wick up by 8kW and 50Nm, to 339kW at 6250rpm and 600Nm from 4000 to 5380rpm, thanks to an ECU retune.
Given how muscular this unit already is in the Competition, its straight-line performance in the CS is absolutely ridiculous.
BMW deceptively claims the 1585kg C3 can sprint from standstill to 100km/h in a scant 3.9 seconds with launch control engaged, while its electronically limited top speed is 280km/h – 30km/h faster than the Competition can manage.
Why are these claims deceptive? Well, the rev-happy CS feels much, much quicker than what BMW says, with its mountain of maximum torque in the mid-range quickly leading to an intoxicating rush of peak power at the top end.
The throttle mapping can be controlled via three familiar modes – Comfort, Sport and Sport Plus – ensuring the CS can be anything from a (relatively) docile daily and an uncivilised monster.
This uncivility is due to the twitchy nature of Sport Plus, which will intermittently jerk occupants around if the slightest bit of hesitation is detected during half-hearted throttle inputs.
While the CS’ double-flow M Sport exhaust system with quad 80mm stainless-steel tailpipes could also be considered uncivilised, it doesn’t go far enough in our books.
Obnoxious crackles and pops are consistent on downshifts and the overrun, making for some serious laughs, but the overall engine note could be much louder and more characterful … just like its V8 predecessor was.
A seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission is responsible for swapping gears in the CS, and what a job it does.
Again, three levels control its calibration, with a certain smoothness provided by the softest setting, while the harshest works at a truly neck-snapping pace.
These lightning-fast gear changes are addictive but (here’s that word again) uncivilised, with stereotypical dual-clutch jerkiness experienced when automatically downshifting to second and coasting.
Either way, it pays to pull one of the paddle-shifters to engage the CS’ manual mode, which is almost certainly the best and most rewarding way to drive it.
Claimed fuel consumption and carbon dioxide emissions on the combined cycle test for the CS are 8.5 litres per 100 kilometres and 198 grams per kilometre respectively.
During our week with it, we averaged 13.2L/100km over 465km of mixed driving that included plenty of spirited stretches. If you’re concerned about economy in a performance car like this, you’ve missed the point entirely.
Ride and handling
The CS’s suspension set-up consists of MacPherson-strut front and multi-link rear axles with adaptive dampers. Thanks to its specific M tune, it rides 10mm lower than regular 3 Series variants.
Make no mistake, the CS is intended to be a track weapon, and its intent is no clearer than when it comes to ride comfort, or the lack thereof.
While the suspension’s damping can be controlled by the three aforementioned modes – Comfort, Sport and Sport Plus – their names are deceptive, as they should instead be called stiff, stiffer and stiffest.
Granted Comfort is not totally unforgiving, but the lumps and bumps of uneven roads are noticeably felt throughout the cabin, with occupants thrown around. Even so, Sport Plus isn’t bone-crunching, but it comes close.
As a result, the chassis is highly communicative, with the connection between the driver and the road tighter than ever as every wheel movement is felt.
Like the Competition, the CS’ power steering is electrically assisted and speed-sensitive, with its weight adjustable by – you guessed it – those three modes again.
While on-centre feel is lacking in Comfort, it is great in Sport and Sport Plus, but the latter is far too heavy, even for a racetrack, with significant required to steer. As such, the former is undoubtedly the best option.
In any mode, the steering is direct and quick, while oversteer is limited when pushed hard due to the standard fitment of a mixed set of semi-slick Michelin Sport Cup 2 tyres.
When warm, this rubber has incredible bite alongside the CS’ optional carbon-ceramic brake discs with six-piston front and four-pot rear callipers. In fact, the grip and stopping power provided is simply unreal.
The confidence provided by this set-up eliminates the rear-wheel-drive jitters that often compromise spirited driving, although drivers will always be limited by themselves, as the CS is capable of much more than most can handle.
For those that push that little bit harder, the CS’ handling is so razor-sharp that it feels much smaller than it is, with exceptional body control exercised.
Punching it out of a corner is also met with next-to-no trepidation thanks to the CS’ active M differential, although mid-corner bumps can sometimes unsettle matters.
There is no denying that the CS is an absolute point-and-shoot weapon, egging the driver on to push harder and harder. As always, this type of vehicle is the most rewarding.
Safety and servicing
The Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) has not assessed the M3 CS, but the mechanically related 320d sedan was awarded a five-star safety rating in June 2012.
Advanced driver-assist systems in the CS extend to cruise control, a manual speed limiter, a reversing camera, front and rear parking sensors, high-beam assist and traffic sign recognition.
Lane departure warning and blind-spot monitoring are not fitted, despite being available with regular 3 Series variants.
Other safety equipment in the CS includes six airbags (dual front, side and curtain), anti-skid brakes (ABS), brake assist, and electronic stability and traction control.
As with all BMW models, the CS comes with a three-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty with three years of roadside assistance.
Service intervals are every 12 months or 15,000km, whichever comes first. Capped-price servicing is not available for the CS.
The M3 CS is one of those rare sports sedans that’s better suited to the track than the road. In fact, we suspect that it’d be damn near perfect on most circuits.
As a daily driver on public roads? Well, the CS is likely a little too uncivilised for most drivers, with its firm ride and uncomfortable seats guaranteed to bother.
However, in those moments when a nice stretch of road presents itself, full-attack mode can be activated and the CS very quickly prove to be a very rewarding drive.
The thinking man would say the CS’s $33,000 premium over the more forgiving Competition is wildly unjustified unless you seriously intend on taking it to track days.
On the other hand, the heart very clearly says it wants to drive the very best M3 available, and there is no doubt that the CS is exactly that.
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