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New BMW M3 CS 2023 review

The CS treatment squeezes even more performance out of the mighty BMW M3, but its six-figure price is a bit difficult to stomach

Overall Auto Express Rating

4.5 out of 5

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Verdict

BMW has every right to compare the new M3 CS with the incredible M5 CS, one of the best M cars of the modern generation. The engineering behind it is almost as impressive as the pace you can travel at, but in comfort, too. Only the price means it drops half a star; £115,900 is a lot to spend on a 3 Series, even one this good.

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As sure as night follows day, when a new BMW M car is launched a CS isn’t far behind. The new M3 is the latest M car to get the CS treatment with an increase in power of 39bhp over the M3 Competition, numerous chassis tweaks, a stringent weight-saving programme and four-wheel drive all designed to make it more focused.

Clearly with an eye on the brilliantly received M5 CS rather than the M4 CSL with its marginally-less enthusiastic reception, BMW M’s head of development Dirk Häckertold us, “I think the M3 CS is the little brother of the M5 CS. We wanted a car that offered something more sporting and with more performance than the [M3] Competition.”

Sporting means different things to different people, so what’s Häcker’s definition of sporting? “A little more direct in the reaction,” he said. “The CS also comes with a different tyre, a stiffer chassis setup, also with the response of the engine, with drivability of the engine power, with higher performance in lateral acceleration, lap time and so on. So that is the whole package, but also drivable on normal public roads – it's still a street legal car.”

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And that is the most impressive thing about the M3 CS following our first stint in the car – it’s much more usable than expected. This is a more ‘focused’ car – don’t call it hardcore – but it’s still a 3 Series with a proper rear bench for three and a decent-sized boot. 

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Most surprising, perhaps, is that it’s more comfortable than many other mega saloons that have gone before and are still available today. Amongst some of the seemingly hundreds of settings you can choose from, opting for Road mode rather than Sport or Track and ensuring every other setting is to comfort, the M3 CS didn’t toss us around in the M Carbon bucket seats.

What struck us most over an undulating stretch of road was not only the sheer pace when you put your foot down – yes, even with everything set to Comfort – but the body control that keeps the car planted and stable over the bumps and more so through the corners. This is a seriously quick car, but without major comfort compromises.

Every single dynamic element of the car has been honed with lightweight materials shaving 20kg from the weight of the M3 Competition. That includes a carbon fibre roof and bonnet, the latter with the M logo neatly stamped into its underside, while the use of titanium in the exhaust saves four kilos.

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We loved the sound of the exhaust, too – enhanced as you head through the more extreme settings – being entertaining when you want it to be and more relaxed when you don’t.

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Pin the accelerator down to get quickly up to 60mph on a country road, clicking through the gears using the paddles behind the steering wheel, and there’s a rawness to the experience that you don’t get in the M3 Competition. The revised turbos attached to the 3.0-litre straight-six engine knock half a second off the 0-62mph time (down to 3.4 seconds), while the M Alcantara steering wheel provides Porsche-like responses – sharp and super-quick to react, but not nervously so – and has M ‘fast buttons’ to quickly activate your own bespoke settings.

You can leave the eight-speed auto box to its own devices, but taking more control is what this car is all about. Again, various settings speed up the changes, while the combination of M xDrive, Active M Differential and sticky Pirelli P-Zero rubber gave us massive confidence through corners.

We didn’t get to try the M3 CS on the track (but boy, would we like to) where you can again delve into the menus to adjust the levels of traction control and power sent to the rear wheels. In the right hands in the right place, it feels like this car will set super-quick track times or be temptingly playful with a back end that will drift at will in the right settings.

Yet it’s also a car with the latest BMW infotainment system featuring a curved display housing a 12.3-inch information and 14.9-inch control screens, a crisp head-up display and even electric seat adjustment.

As you might expect, this all comes at a price – £115,900 to be precise. Our car’s bright signal green paintwork – punctuated by exposed carbon – is included in the price, but the optional (and awesome) M Carbon ceramic brakes add another £7,295. 

Compared to the £140,000 M5 CS and the less good M4 CSL at just under £129,000 it looks like good value. That’s if you can get one – the UK’s going to get less than 100. Or, you could have a still pretty darn good M3 Competition (£84,070) and a side order of 1 Series for the same cash. Decisions, decisions.

Model:BMW M3 CS
Price:£115,900
Engine:4.0-litre twin-turbo six-cylinder petrol
Power/torque:542bhp/650Nm
TransmissionEight-speed automatic, four-wheel drive
0-62mph:3.4 seconds
Top speed:188mph
MPG:27.2mpg
CO2:234g/km
On sale:Now
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Editor-in-chief

Steve Fowler has been editor-in-chief of Auto Express since 2011 and is responsible for all editorial content across the website and magazine. He has previously edited What Car?, Autocar and What Hi-Fi? and has been writing about cars for the best part of 30 years. 

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