Like a swotty schoolkid playing up for the teacher’s approval, BMW has studiously addressed almost every dynamic criticism that has been widely levelled at the F80 M3 with this car. It should therefore be harder to conclude that it isn’t an outstanding, class-leading sports saloon in this, its ultimate iteration.
And yet I’m going to. Because, despite the improvements the CS demonstrates in terms of tactile feedback, outright grip, mid-range thrust and all-round driver engagement, I still don’t think we’ll look back at this as the greatest version of a car that represents the M3 at its dominant best. It’s certainly better, mind you, than the M3 was when it first appeared in 2014 – by quite a distance – and the Competition Pack revision that came along two years later.
Our main complaint about the standard F80 was that it just wasn’t that effusive: not engaging enough to drive at everyday speeds, not immersive enough through its controls, not quite progressive enough on the limit, and certainly not in possession of the sort of engine that takes your imagination hostage quite like the Ferrari-derived V6 of the Alfa Giulia Quadrifoglio or turbocharged V8 in the Mercedes-AMG C63.
The CS’s rolling chassis, however, makes a big difference to points one and two. The car has received fairly minor spring and damper alterations and software recalibrations for its power steering and e-diff, but I’d say at least half of the extra contact patch feel and loading variation you can detect through the steering wheel is down to those forged rims and Michelin PS Cup 2 tyres. There’s plenty of both now, although the tactility of the steering ebbs and flows with a strange inconsistency, even when you stick to one driving mode.
BMW claims the adoption of a slightly smaller front wheel than the M3 Competition Pack is to the improvement of steering and handling response. And while I agree to a certain extent, I still wouldn’t say the car is quite at the races in terms of the eagerness with which it changes direction.
There’s just a hint of laziness about its initial steering response and a need to get a fair amount of steering angle dialled into the rack before the front axle will really bite around corners, junctions and roundabouts. A few years ago, before the arrival of the rapier-steering Giulia, I might not have noticed it; and with high-speed autobahn stability in mind, I can easily understand why it’s present. But it certainly takes the edge off your perception of the outright agility of the car.
It’s also the introductory trait of an overarching dynamic character with which I find it a touch harder to gel than that of its rivals. It’s not at all hard to sum up how the Giulia feels at its best (scalpel-blade sharp), likewise the C63 S (hot-rod drift machine). But the CS doesn’t define itself in such clear terms. Particularly in this latest form, it’s every bit as taut in its body control and as adhesive as the Giulia, and even more precise and secure in some ways. And yet you can’t drive it quite as instinctively as the Giulia, or with the abandon of the Mercedes.
The CS asks you to invest more deeply but fails to reward you as vividly. It’s more serious and businesslike than the Giulia about the catering for the necessities of going fast, but it's less poised and playful.
BMW’s turbocharged straight-six, meanwhile, sounds better in the CS than it has in any F80 M3 so far, with more real engine noise eddying its way out from underneath that CFRP bonnet than in other versions and a bit less annoying digital synthesis of the same in evidence. But you still have to roll the window down to hear much in the way of genuine induction noise.