The 2023 BMW M4 CSL Is So Good It Almost Made Me Throw Up
Delightfully obedient yet furiously unforgiving, the BMW M4 CSL is the sort of car that wakes up every single day and, without fail, chooses violence.
“I wonder how mad they’d be if I let it out and completely ruined this Alcantara,” I thought to myself. Behind the wheel of the 2023 BMW M4 CSL, I had just done a wickedly fast run of Palm Springs’ Pines to Palms Scenic Byway and was starting to feel short of breath and slightly nauseous. It wasn’t the motion that was making me sick but rather pure adrenaline.
I’m sure you’re familiar with the term “happy tears.” Well, this would’ve been a “happy vomit.” At the risk of branding myself as a bit of a masochist, though, the M4 CSL is exactly the sort of car I live for.
2023 BMW M4 CSL Review Specs
- Base price (as tested): $140,895 ($145,395)
- Powertrain: 3.0-liter twin-turbo straight-six | 8-speed automatic | rear-wheel drive
- Horsepower: 543 @ 6,250 rpm
- Torque: 479 lb-ft @ 2,750 to 5,950 rpm
- Curb weight: 3,640 pounds
- Seating capacity: 2
- 0-60 mph: 3.6 seconds
- Top speed: 191 mph
- Cargo volume: 12 cubic feet
- EPA fuel economy: 16 mpg city | 23 highway | 18 combined
- Quick take: Nauseatingly good.
- Score: 9.5/10
Carbon-Clad, Stiffened, Lightened
Even in its relatively basic Competition form, the BMW M4’s design is made for aggression, to a controversial degree. In CSL form, though, aggro doesn’t even begin to cover it. I still wouldn’t call myself a fan of the 4 Series bucktooth grille but it’s on the CSL that it probably looks the least out of place. Ultra-purposeful and angry, the M4 CSL’s exterior exists to offend and challenge, and in that context, the wacky grille actually becomes an asset, not a liability.
It’s got carbon splitters, a carbon hood, a carbon trunk lid with a duckbill spoiler, a ride that’s been dropped 0.3 inches from the Comp, and new, forged lightweight wheels wearing Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 R tires. The matte fighter jet gray paint really sets it off as a Serious Performance Car for Serious Performance Drivers.
In case this car’s exterior design did not already tip you off, its race-ready premise becomes even more clear climbing inside. Absurdly bolstered carbon-structured seats cut a combined total of 53 pounds, were developed just for this car, and are near-impossible to get in and out of gracefully. What’s more, these seats can only be manually adjusted forward and back. You can adjust the height and tilt, but you’d need a star wrench for that and while a trip to the dealership isn’t necessarily required, per BMW, it’s “probably advisable.” Meanwhile, the rear seats have been removed entirely, and the center console is all carbon while the steering wheel is Alcantara.
All in all, the CSL weighs 240 pounds less than the M4 Competition on which it’s based.
Setting off in the new M4 CSL, you immediately get the sense that this ain’t no regular M4, and a lot of that has to do with the sound. BMW has fitted it with ultra-lightweight sound deadening to allegedly shave 33 pounds, which not only means the car has 33 fewer pounds to toss around, but you’ll hear it working that much more.
Making most of that noise and sitting on new engine mounts is a 3.0-liter twin-turbo straight-six making 543 horsepower—40 more than the Comp—and 479 lb-ft of torque. Zero to 60 mph officially happens in 3.6 seconds, but the most enticing powertrain CSL enhancement here is arguably how it all sounds. A bespoke titanium exhaust silencer aurally turns the normally-sorta-staid S58 six into something that reminds me of the best kind of V8. Loudness was always a given, but it’s also properly sonorous and delicate in quality at the top end, reminiscent of the Lexus LC 500 and its own Lime Rock Edition E92 M3 grandfather—two of the best-sounding (and outright best) cars I’ve ever had the pleasure of driving.
Compliantly Savage Locomotion
The rest of the CSL is similarly amazing. Hustling it hard up and down a blessedly empty Pines to Palms was, no exaggeration, one of the greatest drives of my life. Immediate, alert, hard, and raucously capable, the CSL’s dynamics make it worthy of its legendary name and probably my favorite BMW I’ve driven so far, new or old.
The steering is pin-sharp, precise, and perfectly weighted—not overly heavy or light, just right. Lesser performance cars like to subscribe to the idea that the heavier the steering, the sportier the steering, but CSL knows better.
Adaptive M suspension with electronically controlled damping is also sensibly serious. The ride is definitely on the communicative side because of course it is, but it’s actually far from brutal and not nearly as rough as it probably could’ve been considering this car’s abilities. You don’t get the sense that BMW has programmed in much harshness for harshness' sake here. The brakes—standard carbon ceramics with six-piston front calipers—are good, too, although the pedal could stand to be a tad shorter and more special-feeling.
Track-spec Cup 2 R tires which take a while to heat up (even coming with an ominous verbal warning from its BMW PR handler reminding me as much) deliver a prodigious amount of grip. Driven in anger, nearly everything the M4 CSL does on the street might make you feel like you’re on the edge of death, but its tires make sure that, in reality, you’re not even close. The transmission, too, is a triumph. It’s the same ZF eight-speed auto used in the M4 Comp but manual shifts feel noticeably more brisk, with mid-corner downshifts smoothed out so as not to disrupt balance—video game-level response right here. Speaking of, there’s no perceptible delay in throttle application and its mightily glorious acceleration. Extremely adjustable, the pedal is well-tuned, too, making it feel like your foot is directly welded to the throttle body.
It all adds up to a car that is mesmerizingly capable of racing down a twisty road. Wholly engaging and dynamically top-shelf, the CSL somehow feels delightfully obedient and furiously unforgiving at the same time. Feeding it expertly into the corner, snapping off near-instant, perfectly timed downshifts, and hearing one of the most evocative six-cylinder noises on earth rev to its 7,200 rpm redline, the hardcore M4 flatters and frightens. It felt like putty in my hands but the sort of putty that, if not treated carefully, can turn fatally radioactive.
It’s a sublimely satisfying feeling, and exactly the sort of thing I got into this business to do. Loud, unapologetic, and entertainingly serious, it’s got sticky-ass tires that audibly kick gravel into the wheel wells for, like, way too long after you’ve ventured onto an unpaved shoulder. It also still uses BMW’s last-gen infotainment for some reason, but, frankly, who gives a shit?
Costly, Superlative, Limited
With an as-tested price of $145,395, though, it’s not cheap and only a couple myriad dollars less than the benchmark that is the Porsche 911 GT3. Whether or not you think the M4 CSL is a good value or not, cross-shopping dilly-dalliers likely won’t be able to get their hands on one anyway because, par for the CS BMW course, production is quite limited. Just like the M5 CS, BMW is making just 1,000 total and only about 200 are said to be reserved for U.S. customers. Canada, meanwhile, managed to get dibs on 42.
This is a bit of a shame because the 2023 BMW M4 CSL is an insanely good car and will undoubtedly go down as one of the best BMW has ever done. Nimbler than M5 CS, a handily better handler than even the E92 M3, and a magnitude sharper and rowdier than the Competition (hah), the M4 CSL wakes up every single day and, without fail, chooses violence.
Dynamically, it is one of the greatest machines I have ever had the pleasure of piloting, and, thankfully, the thrill-induced nausea eventually subsided. But instantaneously collecting a lower gear, foot to the floor, and listening to the titanium-exhaust straight-six reverberate against the yellow rock walls of CA-74 uninhibited by weather, police, or other motorists is an experience that has lived and, I suspect, will go on to live in my head rent-free for many months afterward.
Got a tip or question for the author about the M4 CSL? You can reach him here: firstname.lastname@example.org