A sports car as iconic as the F80 M3 deserves a proper send off, and BMW certainly delivers a fitting finale with the 2018 BMW M3 CS. Limited to 1200 units worldwide (and with only 52 examples finding their way to Canada), this final variant takes everything great we love about about this generation M3 and dials it up to 11, making it sharper, quicker, and more enjoyable to drive than ever.
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Driving Impressions: Gains Beyond Numbers
Specs don't lie, but they can mislead... A quick glance at the raw performance figures doesn't tell the full story here, because the improvements are a lot more apparent behind the wheel than its seemingly modest specs increase might suggest. Although power is up a mere 9 horses versus the M3 Competition, torque is up by a healthy 40 lb-ft, giving the CS more immediate punch and allowing for a sub-4 second 0-100km/h time. Combined with the lighting-quick DCT, weight savings, and extremely sensitive tuning, the car feels raring to go at all times, responding to light inputs with enthusiasm and precision.
Adding to the experience is the reworked stainless-steel exhaust (in combination with less sound-deadening material). The exhaust note is one area we’ve never been a huge fan of in the regular M3 compared to rivals, but the CS finally allows that screaming inline-6 to sing to its full potential, delivering a fuller and much more satisfying sound all the way up to its 7500 rpm. Every upshift is accompanied by a snarl, and letting off the gas pedal treats you to a handful of intoxicating burbles and pops. It's closer to the Quadrifoglio's boisterous melody than the AMG's growling V8, which we can definitely appreciate.
But most importantly, virtually everything has been retuned to be feel more aggressive and precise. From the improved traction control system and rear diff, to the stiffer adaptive dampers, to even the steering response and feel, everything has been dialled up to 11 to deliver a sharper and rawer experience. BMW has even gone as far as removing a bunch of unneeded amenities and replacing the hood and roof with carbon for the sake of incremental weight savings. Although we were limited to the legal confines of public roads during our drive with the M3 CS, the cumulative efforts are quite noticeable even on a highway ramp, making this genuinely one of the best handling and most well-balanced 4-door sedans out there, and proving the folks from the M division still have a few tricks up their sleeves.
Before we get into the interior, it's also worth mentioning that despite its track-worthy credentials, M3 CS feels surprisingly at home in a daily driver role. It might not have all the luxuries or amenities of a decked out 3-Series, nor be as comfortable as tamer performance sports sedans, but the highly configurable drive settings can be toned down to be quite manageable, with relatively smooth low-speed maneuverability and a tolerable suspension for those pothole-ridden city roads. And of course it still has a body of a 3-Series after all, giving it usable rear seats and a 15.7 cubic feet trunk.
Interior: Bespoke, Stripped Out, and Functional
If you're an Alcantara lover, you're in for a treat. BMW has spared no expense in using the material, replacing much of the leather/carbon trim on the dash and centre console with Alcantara inserts. This also includes the thicker steering wheel, which feels a lot more grippier and chunky than the leather version found in the standard (almost to the point of being too chunky for my taste). Also note the red starter button, M-coloured stripes on the seat and seat belts, as well as the two-tone light grey + black leather combination; all unique visual elements exclusive to the CS variants. All these changes come together to make for a cabin that feels just a tad more special than the standard M3.
True to their focus on performance, BMW has removed quite a few amenities in the name of weight savings, including Comfort Access (better known as keyless entry), heated steering wheel, sunroof, 360 camera (though how that saves weight is a head scratcher), and more. You’ll also notice a few items have been deleted altogether; namely the dual zone climate control and the centre console storage bin + armrest.
On the other hand, certain upgrades that don't weigh down the car come standard, such as the lightweight M seats. Don't mistaken the sparse interior for 'cheap' however. The cabin still feels appropriately premium and high quality; it just simply takes the sport-aspects more seriously, though not quite as far as the M4 CS which adopts even more extreme weight saving measures such as having bare-bones ultra-lightweight door panels. We still get the full leather-cladded door panel in the M3 CS.
Although it shares the same general design as the M3 Competition, there's no doubt the CS looks substantially sharper thanks to a few alterations. Onlookers are treated to a large aggressive hood scoop, as well as darkened taillights. Exclusive dark grey wheels fill the flared fender arches, complimented by more blacked-out and carbon trim pieces all around.
It's not all just aesthetics either. The weight-saving obsession continues to the exterior, where a fixed carbon-reinforced roof and hood (although the latter unfortunately isn't exposed carbon) help to lower the car’s centre of gravity and save a tiny bit of weight, while the shiny stainless-steel exhaust system gives the CS its unique exhaust note. The front splitter and diffuser have also been replaced with lighter carbon pieces, with a matching lip spoiler finishing off the look in the rear. Overall it retains much of the same exterior presence of the M3 Competition, but looks extra snazzy with all the exclusive trim.
As with any limited-production car, exclusivity does come at a price premium, but the M3 CS doesn't just simply slap on a fancy badge and a few add-ons. It earns its price tag not simply through rarity, but by topping the already fantastic M3 Competition in power, handling, style, and curb appeal. This is a serious effort from BMW to create the best handling and most well-balanced performance sedan they can, and a fitting way to end the chapter for this generation of M3.
Vehicle: 2018 BMW M3 CS
Listed Price: $94,888 CAD
Engine: 3.0L twin-turbo inline-6
Power Figures: 453 hp @ 6,250 rpm + 443 pound-feet @ 4,000 rpm
Transmission: 7-Speed DCT
0-100km/h: in 3.9 s
Top Speed: 280km/h
Tires as-tested: Pilot Super Sports (Pilot Sport Cup 2 optional)