BMW M4 CSL 2022 review

BMW M has dusted down the CSL badge once more and applied its lightweight philosophy to the M4. Jethro Bovingdon drives it

Evo rating
from £128,820
  • Ballistic pace, beautiful cornering balance 
  • Whole package doesn’t quite gel

​​​​​​This is one of the M Division’s 50th birthday presents to itself and to 1000 of its best customers. It’s called the M4 CSL and just 100 right hand drive examples will come to the UK priced at £128,820. That’s nearly £50,000 more than a standard M4 Competition. Quite the premium for a 39bhp boost to 542bhp at 6250rpm and 479lb ft from 2750-5950rpm. However, the L is for ‘Leichtbau’ or Lightweight, so BMW has worked extensively to cut mass. The result is a kerbweight of 1625kg. Not exactly an Ariel Atom then, but a 100kg saving over the rear-drive M4 Comp is significant.

As well as losing weight wherever possible – and they really have worked hard in this area – the CSL has bespoke springs and electronically adjustable dampers, rides 8mm lower and rose-joints replace much of the rubber in the rear axle. Plus, there’s a new and extensive cast aluminium brace criss-crossing the 3-litre twin-turbocharged straight-six in the engine bay.

> BMW M5 CS 2022 review – our 2021 evo car of the year

So, it’s an M4 with just two seats, carbon-ceramic brakes, a carbonfibre reinforced plastic bonnet and bootlid with an integrated rear spoiler E46 CSL-style, less sound insulation, a titanium exhaust silencer, lighter kidney grille (it’s still giant, but it is lighter), greater rigidity and precision and a host of other changes. Even the chassis electronics have been adjusted. For example, the brilliant M Traction system has unique programming for settings 6-10, and the automatic gearbox is solidly mounted and even more aggressive in terms of shift speed.

As standard, the CSL comes with Michelin Pilot Cup 2R tyres but for our cold, most drizzly time with BMW’s new hardcore coupé it was wearing the more versatile Pilot Sport 4S. Probably a wise decision but it was a shame not to experience it in optimum configuration. However, the point of the CSL is that it’s meant to be enjoyable in a wider set of circumstances than the super-aggressive previous generation M4 GTS, which featured manually adjustable suspension, a roll cage as standard and was very much a track day and occasional road kind of car. The fact you can switch between Comfort, Sport and Sport Plus suspension modes on the fly says much about the CSL’s slightly more rounded approach. Having said that, the CSL is seriously fast on track, posting a 7.15.677 lap time at the ‘Ring.

It’s seriously fast on the road, too. BMW claims a top speed of 190mph, 0-62mph in 3.7-seconds and 0-124mph in 10.6-seconds but even those numbers don’t quite prepare you for the way the 3-litre twin-turbocharged engine hits. There’s a momentary pause at low revs whilst it takes breath, but once the turbos are in the CSL is shockingly potent and absolutely relentless. The eight-speed ‘box is supremely quick to the point of harshness and the whole car is shot-through with precision. The CSL feels different to an M4 Comp, that’s for sure, even if the old GTS was clearly an altogether more focussed product.

Of course, the danger with deliberately steering away from going fully hardcore is that you might end up with a car that’s neither useable and accessible nor ultra-aggressive and exciting. The CSL certainly makes a good initial impression, though. As well as the abundant power there’s a real sense of quality and control to the ride. It’s firm and you can tell the car is rose-jointed but the payback is steering that seems more alive with feel and a greater sense of connection with the surface. However, there’s no escaping this is a pretty big machine and somehow when you apply ‘CSL’ to a new M4 its scale and some inherent issues, like the fitment of an automatic gearbox, seem strangely at odds with the brief.

You can feel its weight in the softer suspension modes, too. It’s surprising to say this having experienced the simply incredible poise and control of the M5 CS, but the CSL feels a bit too soft at times. The body just breaks free from the control of the suspension. Dial it up to Sport or even Sport Plus and things greatly improve but whilst smooth surfaces suit the CSL nicely, when the road gets bumpy the relatively supple feel evaporates and the car suddenly feels harsh and slightly unsettled.

There are some stand-out qualities. The ceramic brakes are superb but even better is the car’s stability under braking. It’s fantastically reassuring – so flat and impervious to the surface (strange, considering how it can feel under power). The balance is pretty lovely, too. The texture to the steering can ebb away as you reach the limit of the front tyre’s grip, but such is the naturally benign neutral-to-oversteer balance that it barely matters. Perhaps on Cup 2Rs there would be more edginess but on the PS4s it’s a drifter’s dream. Or, for more usual road driving, it’s a car that allows you to impose yourself on the way it gets through a corner. It’s adjustable and agile. Traction is remarkably good in dry conditions, too. 

There are plenty of moments of excitement. Some intended (like exiting a corner and feeling that rear diff lock-up and firing you along the next straight), some less so (the way it can spin-up the wheels over a crest in damp conditions can be heart-stopping). However, we do have some reservations. One big thing is that it needs an angrier, more memorable aural identity. The E46 CSL’s induction roar was a huge part of its appeal on every drive but the new CSL is barely more aggressive than the standard car. The titanium exhaust delivers the odd thud on the overrun but the car would feel so much more special with some turbo shriek, for example. The auto ‘box feels like it’s been forced down a route it’s not quite designed to navigate, too. A dual-clutch would be much preferable.

Carrying that iconic, deeply evocative name can’t help but raise expectations. In combination with the recent form of the M Division – the M2 CS and M5 CS are truly fantastic cars – I was extremely excited about the M4 CSL. In the end, it impresses at times but doesn’t seem to possess the pure magic of recent CS models. The crazy intensity of the M4 GTS is missing, too. Maybe a summer’s day and some sticky Cup 2Rs would help but for now the CSL doesn’t seem enough to celebrate the enormity of 50 years of M. Can we have an M2 CSL, please? Or another M4 GTS?

Enjoy our big read of BMW’s new M4 CSL and much more in the new issue of evo. Order your copy at the evo shop now.