The automotive headlines these days reads mostly like this, “Certain country decides to ban internal combustion engine by 2035”, or “Certain automaker announced plans to go full electric by 2030”, or “Behold our new 1,000-horsepower electric-powered truck that drives itself”. Well here’s a different one for you today, “The 2023 BMW M4 CSL takes 50 years of performance pedigree and combines it into the most evolved form of a track monster”, and we have BMW to thank for this special antidote.
Limited to one thousand units worldwide, the 2023 BMW M4 CSL is created to commemorate the 50th anniversary of BMW’s performance division; BMW M GmbH. We received the unique opportunity to put the M4 CSL through its paces at the historic Canadian Tire Motorsport Park Grand Prix Circuit. On paper, this is a match made in heaven – a high-speed race track that was once host to a Formula One race and BMW’s sportiest coupe turned up to eleven. We cautiously set out to prove this theory with the help of BMW’s race-bred driving instructors.
On the surface, the M4 CSL may look like a standard M4 Competition fitted with yellow daytime running lights and a fancy aero kit, but that cannot be farther from the truth. M engineers dug deep into their bag of tricks in pursuit of maximum performance – the roof panel, hood, side mirror caps, and trunk lid are made of carbon-fibre, the signature kidney front grilles have fewer slats and wider spaces between to save ounces and enhance airflow, the carbon-fibre front splitter and integrated rear ducktail spoiler are functional in generating additional downforce, and the forged M light-alloy wheels are exclusively made for the M4 CSL again with weight saving in mind. Additionally, BMW M had fitted a dedicated set of M Carbon ceramic brakes that save 31.5 pounds from the standard brakes.
Moving on inside where we observed the extreme diet in full force; first thing you notice as soon as you open the doors is a pair of track-ready M Carbon full bucket seats that shave 53 pounds from the standard set, plus the deletion of the rear seats and seat belts that removed another 46 pounds. The use of ultra-lightweight sound insulation (read: nearly nonexistent sound deadening), thinner floor mats, and modified automatic climate control helped shed another 40 pounds or so, bringing the total curb weight to 3,640 pounds –a total of 240 pounds over a standard M4.
To set a proper baseline for this track test, BMW had us warming up in the standard 2023 M4 Competition xDrive. It gave us a good idea of what to expect with its quick reflexes and lightning fast engine response, and we can confirm this technologies helped us navigate the difficult race course far better than our skills would normally have. Noteworthy is that the M4 Competition xDrive’s standard seats, while comfortable during street driving, showed their limits when the G-forces went high and we would strongly suggest the optional M Carbon buckets if track use is a priority.
Feeling mentally ready, we wedged ourselves into the M4 CSL’s full bucket seats and grappled onto the unique M Alcantara steering wheel. First thing we noticed is just how loud this is – it is not typical BMW M-car loud, but actual race-car loud especially once it gets going. Horsepower from the modified B58 six-cylinder engine is increased to 543 – 40 more than the M4 Competition – and torque is rated at 479 lb-ft. All of that was heard and felt as soon as you lay into the gas pedal. Power delivery is instantaneous and the eight-speed M Steptronic transmission is lightning quick.
As we enter into the first high-speed blind corner, we tapped onto the brakes to adjust our speed which was made easy by the precise and firm brake feel, and the M4 CSL responded right away. The weight loss is clearly felt as the M4 CSL is that much more responsive throughout corner entry and exit. Steering weight is on point, the turn-in response is quick, and the CSL felt just a little bit sharper everywhere than the standard M4 – with that little bit extra being a real tangible difference maker on track.
The M4 CSL is not without its flaws even on a racetrack setting – the full bucket carbon can feel snug if you are a size large and above, the standard Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 R tires can wear quickly and are expensive to replace, and wheeling a $166,500 BMW can feel quite a bit more intimidating than a $87,700 M4 coupe. Biggest one of all, is that the M4 CSL is more geared towards skilled drivers as the nannies allow a longer leash before intervening, while the M4 Competition xDrive is more suitable companion for novices due in large part to the two additional drive wheels in the front.
For 50 years, the BMW M GmbH has served a crucial role in empowering car enthusiasts with various performance models that simply excites. The 2023 BMW M4 CSL is the embodiment of this commitment and reassures us that despite the noise and challenges coming from all sides of the industry, the good folks in Bavaria have not forgotten what made them great at the first place.
*Photography by BMW Canada / Lucas Scarfone*