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  • TheMotorist Team

Thrash It, Otherwise It Will Kill You – BMW M3 E46 CSL

BMW M3 E46 CSL Driven

Exactly two generations ago in 2001, BMW’s department of performance and lunacy took to the lovely chassis that was the E46 3 Series. This action created what in BMW circles was, and to many still is, pretty much the quintessential M car and the ultimate M3. The broth was highly reminiscent of the recipe used to create the Power Puff girls, as the Professors of power slides and handling dynamics took the 2-door body shell exclusively and added the proverbial sugar, spice and everything nice, but as their “chemical X”, they used one of the best engines BMW has ever produced – the 3.2 litre S54, a powerful atmospheric straight-six that had a charismatically raspy engine note that crescendoed all the way to the 8000 rpm redline. The combination brought about a lightweight lavation, which sought after not only the souls of the competition, but to the corners into which it was propelled. It was the ultimate, and new the yardstick in performance motoring. This was the car that you compared other cars to. It was raw, analogue and undistilled – this was THE M-car; quick, sharp and incredibly adept at making you feel really fantastic, after showing far more expensive cars the LED taillights though a mountain pass. The feeling one gets from piloting an E46 M3 is hard to describe, it’s an incredible thing.  


Although, this proved not enough to cater to the fetish that is the M Division’s pursuit in the creation of the perfect M car. And after what can only be imagined as a heavy night of beer and bratwurst, in 2004 a harder, grippier version was spawned. This was the M3 CSL, a car that I have lusted over for exactly 13 years and wanted to drive since its conception, and finally, a gracious owner has allowed for this to happen.

Understanding that this is the ultimate M3 of the era and a total of only 65 were brought to South Africa, the CSL is still worth a fully loaded armoured security van and it’s not an easy task to get the keys to one of these now collectors pieces, and after 13 years, I would never pass up the opportunity. The exchange of my left kidney made it all possible but before the handing me the keys, the owner exclaimed ‘this car needs to be thrashed, otherwise it will kill you’, this brought a dark cloud on the experience and a sense of nervousness dawned the air.


Driving away and in pursuit of suitable driving roads, led to the almost immediate conclusion that the SMG automated manual was not great, and miles behind a modern box. The car tends to roll about on take-off like a learner driver that can’t balance the clutch and shifts are lurchy with the selection of gears resulting in a strange nodding action. The brake pedal in normal driving, again, was also a bit sloppy, with one really needing to stand on the peddle to get anything to happen, this I suspect was mainly due to the Hawk Track brake pads fitted to the car but they properly sucked at stopping the car in town. This culmination dropped confidence levels in the car a great deal and I was left with a rather gloomy outlook – could BMW possibly have ruined the E46 M3? Having broken away from the eternity that was stop/start traffic and taxis, an answer would soon be found. Looking at the delicious piece of tarmac ahead I turned the transmission all the way up, stabbed at the Traction Control button and set away like a mad man, determined and on a mission. The first corner approached incredibly quickly, the steering precision was translated instantly as I pitched the nose towards the apex of a corner. The rear snapped violently and sent me into a huge serpentine like tank slapper, the rear slithering about while fighting for traction. Confidence dropped to an all time low. I wanted nothing more to do with the CSL and was ready to retreat to my eco-box, where at least I was safe, I was actually scared of this thing.  Remembering the words of my now sensay, I recalled that this was no eco-box, this was no poncey parade at a fast car but rather true weapon. Confidence returned as I pushed faster, and harder the super sticky TOYO RA888R semi-slicks got hotter and with that grippier. The breaks sharper and more alert. The engine, furiously raging away, the transmission smoother and me braver. The drive became a cataclysm of point and shoot accuracy, the car hurling you into corners much faster than you would ever think possible, appearing to bend the laws of physics and pulling you out the other side after a battle with the grip and the 265 kW and 370 N m violently stabbing away at the rear tyres, it was all incredibly hard and part of the 110 kilo M-diet had included the aircon. I was drenched in sweat and almost paper white once the red mist had dispersed from my now numb body. All that I could think of was that I needed a cigarette, as one does after that much physical activity


The M3 CSL is not an easy car to drive, and even harder to drive fast. The car needs to have a lot of heat in the tyres and in the breaks for peak performance to beckon, but once you’ve braved the rough waters, you’re transported into this trance that is far beyond what I have ever experienced behind the wheel of a car. It feels like a racecar, and the bare exposed carbon fibre that is plastered everywhere does a good job of reminding you that this is no daily driver. The hardcore cut throat nature of the CSL makes it hard to rival, the sensations are insane, the noise in the cabin is cathartic and jumping out of this car every day after making it to your destination as quickly as you have made it a contender for the M-car of the century. Indeed a big claim but it’s far better to the outright purist than the standard car. Analog, light and always ready to give you a bloody nose it’s one of the best M-cars ever.


BMW M3 E46 CSL Pricing In South Africa

A lot! Enough to get you a demo model M4. These days higher mileage CSL’s are still fetching around R800k, and that climbs all the way up to R1.2milion for lower mileage models.

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