It'll be ancient history by the time you read this but I've just sat through the US Grand Prix. Not a great advert for the 'pinnacle of motorsport' in a country that already struggles to get excited about F1. Ferrari's victory was an empty one, but watching the onboard footage of Schuey flat to the boards through Indianapolis' banking, sitting at over 200mph and 18,000rpm for a full 20 seconds and then wiping off 130mph in just a few yards and peeling into Turn One is gobsmackingly, jaw-droppingly impressive. What's that got to do with the new M3 CS? Well, just like the Ferraris at the Brickyard, the M3 has little meaningful competition; and like those screaming F1 missiles the BMW is no less impressive because of it. The CS is essentially an M3 that's borrowed a few tasty bits from its exotic, expensive and now out-of-production CSL sibling. Bigger brake discs, the quicker steering rack, revised springs and those gorgeous 19in forged alloys. Okay, they're not quite as light as the genuine CSL rims but they still look great, and if the newfound composure and ride quality are anything to go by they're definitely a whole heap lighter than the ubiquitous 19-inchers that regular M3s roll on. As well as the mechanical changes, the CS also gains the CSL's M-Track mode function, heightening the stability control's tolerance of slip angles and wheelspin to such an extent that even the very best drivers are equally quick around a track with the electronic safety net still in place. The price of these mechanical, cosmetic and electronic tweaks is just £2400 over the standard £41,115 M3. This package has been sold in the US and Europe for some time as the 'Competition Package', but BMW GB was concerned that the optional upgrade may upset CSL owners, who have already been hit in the wallet. Now that CSL residuals are firming up and with the launch of the E90 3-series, BMW GB decided its 911-chaser needed a shot in the arm. There's nothing to touch the CS at the money. The Monaro VXR is cheaper and more powerful, but it's a blunt instrument compared to the scalpel-sharp BMW. Audi's powerful new RS4 should be up to the fight, but prices start at £50K. So the CS's closet rival is, in fact, the standard M3. And the good news is that the CS has a sharpness and accuracy that the M3 never quite attains. You'll notice the new steering rack first, with its meatier weighting and more immediate response. Then you'll realise that the ride seems flatter, less disturbed by sharp lumps and bumps passing beneath the wheels. Up the pace and this firm but pliant set-up just gets better and the M3's trademark pogo-ing motion never materialises. What hasn't changed is that wonderful, free-revving 3.2-litre 338bhp straight-six; it may lack the CSL's snorting induction system but it's still a stunning accompaniment to the fluid, fleet-footed chassis. Wrung out past 8000rpm it has more than enough top-end fireworks to justify the street-racer stance.
The straight-six has too much power for the brakes to rein-in, despite bigger discs. They're overwhelmed by the engine's venom and quickly protest when used hard on the road, with expensive-sounding groans and a soft pedal. Even snicking down through the slightly long-winded manual 'box to help deceleration (SMG is an £2100 option) does little to halt the brakes' decline. Fortunately the CS is so entertaining through the turns that you're happy to drive around the weak brakes and instead revel in one of the most throttle-adjustable chassis in the world. I can't think of another 300bhp+ car that feels so benign when you tweak the tail wide and play out a slide than the M3 CS. There's a bit of understeer in steady-state cornering but the 255-section rear rubber is easily overwhelmed if you're of a mind, and from there it's simply a matter of balancing the opposite lock with power. Of course, you can do the same in a standard M3, but the CS has tangible gains in feel and agility and quickly gives you confidence to use all of its potential. The CSL was always a great car with a crazy price- tag. The CS is just a great car, and if you're buying an M3 you'd be crazy not to pay out £2400 for the added bite, polish and aesthetic attitude that it brings.
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|Engine||In-line 6-cyl, 3246cc, 24v|
|Max power||338bhp @ 7900rpm|
|Max torque||269lb ft @ 5000rpm|
|Top speed||155mph (limited)|