We’re going to get some flack for this. But to understand the new M4 CSL you to understand the previous two CSLs. Germans like patterns and this new M4 CSL follows the patterns developed in the 1971 3.0 CSL as much as the 2004 BMW M3 CSL. The goal is to create an extremely capable road car with fettling done to the engine, suspension topped off by a strict diet. This new BMW M4 CSL follows that same recipe but in a very 2023 sort of way. Does it have the same magic as both of BMW’s previous CSLs? Let’s find out.
Casting aside biases that many of us have and looking critically at the new 2023 BMW M4 CSL its hard to not fall in love. Yes it’s heavy at 3,640 lbs and yes it sort of looks like a Mustang (all 4 Series coupes do unfortunately). But BMW succeeded in building a car that feels quick, comfortable and exceedingly special. There is an engagement and capability that is clearly a step on from the standard M4 or M4 competition.
Downsides? Beyond the overall shape there are a few. Let’s start with that 8 speed automatic. It’s simply the wrong transmission for this car. Reduce the torque and give it a manual or invest in a dual clutch alternative. Surely BMW has plenty of data and Powerpoints that can explain why they did neither but the result is a transmission that never blends seamlessly into the experience. Whether it’s a hair late on shifts or not as responsive to inputs as you’d expect, it simply can’t deliver the pure experience the rest of the car does.
While we only drove the M4 CSL on smooth California roads we can imagine that its suspension tuning would leave a lot to be desired on the pot-marked roads of UK or the midwest US. Finally this is a big car and thus its natural habitat aren’t the tight canyon roads that a last generation M2 CS would eat alive. Instead this is a car that feels at home on a fast flowing track like the BMW Performance Center in Thermal California or the sweeping mountain roads nearby.
For $139,900 you get a lot of M4 plus the scarcity of a model that BMW has only produced three of in 50 years. And it’s a model that feels like there’s very little competition from Europe. The closet car Porsche makes to this price-point is the GT4 which a scalpel compared to the CSL’s blunt approach.
Where does that leave there M4 CSL? In short the CSL is a car that fulfills the brief and delivers incredible performance in a unique package. It’s not perfect and (like the E46 M43 CSL) is held back by its transmission. But taken on the whole it’s an outstanding M car that years down the road will likely be considered one of the high-points of the pre-hybrid era.