Even on a miserably dank day, these cars look fabulous sitting side by side, 15 years but only 15bhp per tonne between them. The M2 Competition is all brawn, with a rear track 76mm wider than that of the dainty CSL. Fix it dead-on from behind and the wheel arches fan out in a manner that reminds me of Piri Weepu leading the haka. With black accents and sharp creases everywhere you care to look, this example wears its Sunset Orange hue better than I’d expected, and the colossal wheel-and-tyre package never gets any less cartoonish. It could only be the youthful reprobate of the M-division household.
The CSL is nobler. It hails from a time before the kidney grille was bent on world domination. Lower but marginally longer than the M2 Comp, its dimensions exemplify the golden ratio for performance coupé design. Less clutter allows you to appreciate the unmistakable Coupé Sport Licht details. The ducktail is artful, the asymmetric air intake intriguing and the 19in wheels just perfect. This Silver Grey example, one of only 422 built in right-hand drive, is almost painfully good-looking.
I’ve driven this very M3 CSL before, briefly, and admit to not particularly gelling with it. The glassfibre bucket seats – trimmed in a hardy suede substitute called Amaretta – comfortably cup your trunk at the base of the ribcage and hem your thighs in almost as cosily. Problem is there’s not enough adjustability in the column to disguise the fact they are simply set too high. We’ll come onto the M2 in a moment, but one area in which it straight away outscores the CSL is the driving position. M division’s current flag-bearer feels supercar-low by comparison and, with the ability to bring the wheel right out towards your chest, more mature.
The thing about a poor driving position is that, unless it is terminally awful, very quickly you forget and forgive. This is no chore when the engine is from your dreams. It starts off placid enough. At 2500rpm, only the surgically precise pick-up – courtesy of natural aspiration and six individual throttle butterflies – gives a flavour of what is to come. By 3000rpm, when the twin-turbo M2 is surfing along on 405lb ft of torque, there’s still laughably little in the way of propulsion but a hacksaw-boom commences. The blend of gnashing valvegear – held open for longer to capitalise on the increased mass of air sucked loudly into the CSL’s carbonfibre airbox – and exhaust bellow is, if you’ll excuse the cliché, straight from the pit lane. At 4500rpm, the bass drops out, the torque kicks in and the noise begins to convalesce, simultaneously hardening, smoothing and rising in pitch. Imagine feeding marble through a wood-chipper. From 6500rpm, the crankshaft really begins to accelerate, cutting loose as the now-screaming, reprofiled double-Vanos cams get to work. Everything intensifies for a moment, and then you reach it: 7900rpm. It is spectacular.