The E46 M3 is one of our favourite cars. The combination of storming 339bhp straight six, RWD and legendary build quality make it a no brainer for anyone with an ounce of super unleaded running through their veins. But it was the BMW M3 CSL version, launched in 2003, which really blew everyone away.
On the face of it, the changes seemed cosmetic, but look closer and there’s a lot more to the CSL. For starters M-Division set about saving a significant amount of weight. Carbon fibre was used for the front bumper and roof, with a thinner glass rear screen. The boot floor was stripped back and replaced with a honeycomb cardboard material and the boot lid is a composite material.
The wheels are made of super light magnesium and inside the heavy electric seats were replaced with lighter buckets, together with a superb suede-clad steering wheel. The sound deadening has also been removed, together with side airbags, which contributes to the awesome noise these things make. The CSL saves around 180kg over the stock M3 – a huge amount.
There’s also plenty of carbon detailing from the door cards to the centre console. Engine wise, the CSL got around 355bhp, courtesy of a revised induction kit, hotter cams, a free flowing exhaust and ECU map. The ultimate M3 came only with the SMG gearbox with lightening fast paddle shift. Tuning wise it’s pretty much ready to rock – if you have the cash! Very exclusive and very cool; we love the CSL.
BMW M3 CSL stats (2003)
Engine: 3.2ltr straight six
Top speed: 155mph
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Make sure it’s a genuine CSL. A lot of people added parts to regular M3s to get the CSL look. Check that it has all the bits and that is was made between June and December 2003. BMW Also added a lot of CSL parts to the CS model including steering wheel, carbon goodies and wheels. They’re still great cars, but don’t have the big weight savings of the CSL.
TUNING A CSL
To be honest, the CSL is pretty much there dynamically. If you do a lot of driving you may want to swap the fullon track tyres for regular performance rubber. You’ll lose that massive grip in the dry, but you’ll be glad of them in the wet! Like all E46 M3s the brakes are a weak point, so if you’re going to use it hard, upgrade to some decent stoppers from the likes of AP Racing or Tarox.
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