And so you climb aboard and sink low into sinuous two-tone seats complete (or rather, incomplete) with cut-outs. Where the new M5 places its occupants a fraction too high, the driving position here remains an utter peach, your eye-line grazing a Alcantara-clad three-spoke steering wheel that true to BMW form is still a strangely generous in girth.
There’s also Alcantara on the centre-console and dashboard, which is pared-back in terms of switchgear but with no apparent lack of functionality. You could live with this, happily. There’s climate control and BMW’s iDrive-operated Professional infotainment system, and a Harman Kardon sound system is fitted as standard.
The persona is satisfactorily hardcore, even if you don’t get the lightweight door-cards from this car’s M4 sibling (a bonus, perhaps, as those slim-line pieces don’t offer any storage – there’s still no central armrest, mind).
Despite the wincing asking price, BMW’s S55 3.0-litre twin-turbocharged straight-six doesn’t benefit from the water-injection system of the M4 GTS. It doesn’t need that technology, developing only 10bhp more than the 444bhp you’ll find in a M3 Competition Pack.
And honestly, does a saloon capable of dispatching 62mph in just 3.9sec and running on to a limited 173mph need to be any quicker? It does not, but it can always be lighter. Strangely, this car’s substantial use of CFRP results in a saving of only 10kg over the Competition Pack, but the centre of gravity is said to be usefully closer to the road.
Today those roads are in the shadow of the Nürburgring. They’re almost as challenging as the Nordschleife itself, only with more of the mottled surface that’s limited to the jowl-tugging corner known as Karrussel. Given the tyres in question, warm weather plays heavily into this car’s hands, and straightaway the precision with which an M3 CS turns into corners is startling, even if you’re familiar with the Competition Pack on which it is so heavily based.
Indeed, it’s only the trio of steering modes, those lightweight wheels and sticky tyres, and the calibration of the electronic stability control and the active M differential in the rear axle that separates Club Sport from Competition. The rack and its gearing remains unchanged, as do the spring rates and suspension geometry, so there remains roughly 0.5deg more negative camber than on the standard M4.
The collective effect of these minor alterations is considerable, however. This is now a chassis of extraordinary composure, resulting from deeper reserves of tightly controlled pliancy than you might imagine. With less unsprung mass there’s a predatory manner to direction changes, and a palpable feeling that the chassis sets itself a touch earlier during the entry phase than a Competition Pack does.
Though it was hardly required, it feels as though a veneer of inertia has been peeled from the car. Owing to its B-pillars, the M3 CS is also fractionally stiffer than the M4 CS and that’s not hard to detect if you drive the two in succession.
Anybody who has driven a McLaren will recognise the pedal-feel of the brakes, too. On our test car they use BMW’s optional carbon-ceramic discs (denoted by gold calipers) and feel pleasingly light on assistance, biting firmly and progressively and permitting you to lean increasingly hard on a front axle that only wilts into understeer only once during an entire afternoon’s committed driving.
Such are the adhesive properties of the tyres, in fact, that third-gear sweepers can rapidly boil down to mind over matter, and you get the gratification of feeling that differential, recalibrated for vast grip, subtly nudging the nose inwards under power. The M3 CS then explodes out of corners with just a hint of squat and almost mid-engined poise.
Aside from a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission that seems reluctant to downshift early, therefore limiting the opportunity for engine braking, our only objective complaint is that while the sensory relay from contact patch to steering rim is improved, it’s still a marginal affair. A clearer line of communication runs to the backs of your thighs, however.
But what of this engine? It’s never been the most affable device, though in this application it barks viciously through a sports exhaust rounded off by a quartet of stainless steel tips. It also seems to punch harder through the mid-range than ever before, which is the result of an improved map rather than any hardware changes. Just like the M4, in the face of more powerful rivals the M3 has long wanted for greater in-gear shove at moderate crank speeds, and now it has it.
With all that balance and grip, this car’s limits are stratospherically high – too high, perhaps. Mind you, were a useful degree of temperature to be worked into the tyres on, say, a damp day back in Blightly, it would likely satisfy its driver in a way few others can, not least because M has slackened off the stability-control parameters both in normal driving and when you select M Dynamic Mode.
This F80 M3, which began life with a capricious dynamic character, has become deeply intuitive and is no small way likeable.