2023 BMW M4 CSL Review: Crazy good and long gone

Sam Cobb

After a mere thirty minutes of traffic and twenty minutes of California mountain pass playtime with the new, 2024 BMW M4 CSL, I can say with confidence that it’s the most engaging, feelsome, capable, and extraordinary M product since the halcyon days of the V-8-powered E90-generation M3. It’s positively volcanic, possessing more character and personality than anything else wearing the M badge today.

Sam Cobb

There’s something both reassuring and frustrating about the CSL. On the one hand, it confirms what BMW die-hards have long-suspected—that Munich can still build a performance car with driver experience at its center. On the other, the company is not making that characteristic a priority in an M lineup brimmed with technically excellent but mostly isolating speed machines.

Sam Cobb

At its best, the M3/M4 experience over the last three-and-a-half decades has been poised and engaging, so as to emphasize what the driver can do for the car, not the other way around. In the E36-generation model (1992–99) and subsequent E46 M3 (2000–06), a sense of linearity permeates controls and inputs, with keywords like “control” and “reflex” peppering contemporary reviews.

The current G80-generation M3 sedan and M4 coupe takes somewhat of a different tack. Continuing the theme of the outgoing F80/2-generation (2014–19) BMW decided the solution for too much power was more power—I’m here for it, honestly—but the 2022 M4 Competition’s 503 hp and 479 lb-ft is delivered with brutal confidence rather than the 444-hp F80’s excited skitter. It’s also more digital-feeling and disconnected than ever, with a stupefying level of adaptive and configurable drive modes, Lincoln-light electric steering, and binary digi-brakes.

Sam Cobb

Boy, is the M4 fast, though. The limited-run CSL version sheds weight, dials in the chassis, and adds power for an eye-watering $140,000 sticker price. The result is one of the more thrilling and memorable cars I’ve driven in the last several years.

The CSL formula is simple enough if you’re even tangentially aware of the ethos of this much-respected variant. L stands for leicht—German for “light,” as in weight—and for this run BMW skimmed 240 pounds from the regular M4. Ninety-nine of that comes courtesy of the CSL’s wicked cool (and wicked uncomfortable) fixed carbon-fiber seats. Skinnier springs, struts, wheels, and carbon-ceramic brakes cut another 46 pounds, and 33 pounds fewer from scrapped sound deadening material means you’ll hear pebbles ping off all this skin and bones. A modified front kidney grille, missing floormats, titanium exhaust, and revised taillights chopped an extra 17 pounds, bringing the total to 3640 pounds. Not exactly a featherweight in the traditional sense, of course.

Much of that skin is now carbon-fiber—including the hood, trunk, and roof—with additional carbon fixtures and trim adorning the cockpit. Aside from one front passenger, no kiddos can tag along. In place of the rear seat is a bare carpeted space with netting for helmets and other smallish track-day detritus.

Sam Cobb

Adaptive CSL-specific dampers, anti-roll bars, and steering hardware hides under the carbon shell, announcing their presence via rigid, bushing-free connecting points that lance every road crack and errant lane divider up your limbs and spine. Even compared to the highly capable M4 Competition, the chassis feels wrapped taut in a bale of braided titanium cable.

There’s more power, too, because of course there is. Recalibrated engine software and extra boost juices an extra 40 warhorses from the S58-code 3.0-liter twin-turbo inline-six to a total of 543 hp. The rocket response of this throttle makes it feel like even more, and independent dyno testing has indicated right around 600 hp at the crank. It wouldn’t be the first time BMW undersold its engine output.

Still, these changes produce less muscle car than GT2 RS-style, raw athleticism. The sensations one gets from the steering, brakes, and throttle are perhaps not quite as tactile as even the bygone M2 CS, but the M4 CSL’s bespoke hardware and tuning go a long way in making this BMW feel special.

Sam Cobb

Highway 74 outside of Palm Springs is no place for the CSL. At least, not in the late afternoon when congested by a slurry of ponderous, meandering traffic, only briefly relieved by a short passing lane a quarter of the way up from the base. In the fleeting moments of clear sailing, the CSL is a ballistic expression of the modern sports car; there is nothing elegant about the hack-‘n-slash path it cuts through the mountains.

Power from that pissed-off ripsaw-six up front is tremendous, but you quickly learn to trust the gluey Michelin Cup 2 R tires and moon-sized carbon-ceramic brakes for anger management. The steering remains the weakest point of this M4—numb at low speeds and unnervingly quick as the speedo climbs.

I wish I had more time to study the minutiae of the CSL’s unique chassis weaponry, but what short playtime I had was enough to notice an exceptional rigidity and poise beyond what the M4 Competition offers. As this was a two-lane mountain pass with a thick line of downhill passersby, most of my strafing runs through tighter corners were fast in and intermediate out, returning no understeer and only a wisp rear-end step-out that was measured, controlled, and sternly observed by the electronic stability control.

Sam Cobb

Exceptional canyon composure should be a given in a $140,000, limited-edition circuit-savant. For context, that price is about $60,000 more than a Camaro ZL1 1LE, $40,000 more than a 718 GT4 or a properly-equipped GT500, $34,000 extra over a new C8 Z06, and $9000 short of the GT4 RS. Performance is never in short supply at this price point, so it’s personality that often seals the deal.

Good news for the M4 CSL, then. Hard charging in this car a sensory delight. The engine’s nitro-chainsaw snarl claws through the cabin and bounces around, filling the ears. You smash the squealing brakes, shifting position slightly in the bucket thrones, clicking down through the carbon-fiber shift paddles with the exhaust overrun crackling. Now breathe on the snappy throttle. The turbos spins to life, and there’s some rear-end judder as trees elongate on the periphery of your the forward warp. Next corner.

It is intoxicating. And in a world in which the rich BMW obsessive might buy a minty E92-gen M3 Lime Rock Edition for $263,000, 140 stacks might feel like a bargain. Alas, it doesn’t matter; each and every CSL is already spoken for, with only 300 out of the 1000 planned units slated for the U.S. market.

Sam Cobb

That’s quite frustrating. BMW’s current crop of M cars are impressive, but short of the rarified CS variants such as the M4 CSL, the M5 CS, and (we hope) the upcoming second-gen M2, there’s no drive evocative of what made BMW M synonymous with  balanced, engaging performance in the 1990s and 2000s. A very original take, I know, but it’s a refrain that bears repeating.

Is there hope yet? At the time of this writing, the new 3.0 CSL just dropped cover, appearing very much like a retro-tastic, driver-focused throwback that’s essentially a manual-transmission alter-ego of the M4 CSL. Changing tides?

Fifty-unit run, for a rumored $780,000 price tag. And sold out.

Guess not.

2023 BMW M4 CSL

Price: $140,895/$145,395 (base/as-tested)

Highs: Explosive engine, ruthless power and rigidity. Feels genuinely special.

Lows: Price, price, price, price, availability.

Takeaway: Modest changes and upgrades amount to one of the best driving modern BMW M cars built in the last decade. And you can’t have it.

Click below for more about
Read next Up next: Your handy 1949–79 Volkswagen Beetle buyer’s guide


    Wow, 3640 pounds. Amazing how porky todays cars are. That aside, if they’d only do something about that butt ugly grill.

    As a former M3 owner, curious if all the warning lights still go off for 10 minutes after the launch control procedure is used. Do BMW still have Launch Control? Man, I was barely smart enough to use it, and I’m still not entirely sure if I did use it or just took off normal ha ha

    Who’s buying these new Bmw’s? As incredible as the performance is they are becoming hideous. The new 2 series is a terrible new design (the las model was the only Bmw I would consider actually buying, but not now). And this abomination…just wow. The nose had been horrible enough but now, in profile, it’s looking more and more like the Mustang. Just about as close as the 8 series was.
    The last pretty Bimmer was the E92.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *