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BMW M4 CSL 2023

Brutally Good

Story by Steven Ewing  Yesterday 10:30 AM2023 BMW M4 CSL
2023 BMW M4 CSL© Tyler Clemmensen

The BMW M4 CSL is like a double dog dare. It's an instigator. A bully. It demands to be driven hard and will punish you for attempting docility. That loud, jerky thunk from first gear to second in the grocery store parking lot? That's just the CSL complaining. Errands? Pfft. That's not this M4's jam.

On the other hand, head out to a winding road on a warm day and the CSL becomes a true confidant. It's perfectly poised and super sharp, but not so buttoned up that it doesn't feel alive and tactile in your hands.

The headline figure about the M4 CSL is its weight -- or rather, how much it's lost. At 3,640 pounds, the CSL is 240 pounds lighter than an M4 Competition Coupe. Removing the rear seats and installing a solid partition between the cabin and trunk saves 46 pounds, the carbon fiber buckets up front reduce weight by 53 pounds, and ditching some sound insulation sheds another 33 pounds. Beyond that, the M4 CSL uses carbon fiber on its roof, hood and trunk lid, for an additional 24-pound reduction, and a number of chassis and exhaust components are made from lightweight materials, too.

Less Weight, More Power2023 BMW M4 CSL

2023 BMW M4 CSL© Tyler Clemmensen

You can genuinely feel the benefits of this diet, especially over the rear axle. The CSL feels a lot more playful than the base M4 Competition, with tail-happy antics that are easy to control through throttle and steering inputs, as well as five levels of traction control intervention, depending on how brave you are. Like the Competition, the M4 CSL uses rear-wheel drive and only comes with an eight-speed automatic transmission, though the latter has revised programming for quicker shifts, which you'll really notice if you use the steering wheel-mounted carbon fiber shift paddles.

The M4 Competition's twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-6 engine receives a small bump in power for CSL duty, though its torque output carries over unchanged. The CSL delivers 543 horsepower at 6,250 rpm -- a 40-hp increase -- complemented by 479 pound-feet of torque that comes on strong at just 2,750 rpm.

You won't really notice that 40-hp difference in day-to-day driving, but good gosh golly will you hear the M4's reworked exhaust. The CSL has a more resonant titanium rear silencer which really changes the exhaust's aural properties, and the lack of sound insulation inside the cabin brings that noise right to your ears. The stock M4 doesn't sound all that great, if I'm honest, but the CSL's tweaks make a huge difference. It's a wild and somewhat uncouth soundtrack but one that totally befits an aggressive sports coupe.

Track Ambitions2023 BMW M4 CSL

2023 BMW M4 CSL© Tyler Clemmensen

An M4 Competition is comfortable enough to nicely toe the line between everyday runabout and hella fun canyon carver, but the CSL makes no such concessions. This thing is always on full attack, even with its adjustable powertrain, suspension, steering and braking parameters set to Comfort mode. The CSL rides 0.3 inches lower than a standard M4 Competition, and its chassis gets a wealth of stronger, lighter hardware. The M4's staggered 19-inch front and 20-inch rear wheels remain, but for the CSL, they're wrapped in extremely sticky Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2R tires -- rubbers that don't really play well in cold, damp weather, but provide an absolute wealth of grip in the right conditions.

Six-piston calipers clamp down on 15.7-inch carbon-ceramic front brakes, while a smaller set of 15-inch carbon-ceramic stoppers provide assurance at the rear axle. Because the M4 uses an electronic brake-by-wire setup, you can adjust the pedal feel between Comfort and Sport settings, which I suppose should just be renamed Grabby and Grabbier since, even with a light touch of your right foot, stopping force is immediate. That's excellent for high-speed cornering, where you can hit the brakes later before entering a turn. Just don't expect smooth stopping while driving through your neighborhood.

Stiff All The Time2023 BMW M4 CSL

2023 BMW M4 CSL© Tyler Clemmensen

The CSL's ride quality is stiff all the time, which it should be, given this car's objective. The electronically adjustable dampers can swap between Comfort, Sport and Sport Plus settings, though I tend to skip the middle one, since there's really only a discernible difference at the far ends of the spectrum. Comfort mode isn't so brutal that it'll chatter your teeth out of your skull should you hit some rough pavement on a freeway, but Sport Plus is definitely a setup best reserved for smooth roads or finely manicured race tracks.

All told, point the M4's mean mug down a mountain road and it'll never cease to impress. The steering is perfectly weighted with quick turn-in and plenty of feedback. This is one of the most beautifully handling cars BMW has ever built, with a newfound sense of lightness and agility you won't find in the standard M4. Plus, those one-piece carbon bucket seats keep you firmly upright and secure. No, they aren't comfortable over the long haul, but wowie wow wow are they awesome for fast drives on good roads.

Function Dictates Form2023 BMW M4 CSL

2023 BMW M4 CSL© Tyler Clemmensen

Since you aren't -- or shouldn't be -- using the M4 CSL for daily-driving duties, BMW cut a bit of interior practicality for the sake of saving weight. The new, carbon fiber center console has a few open storage spaces, but none of them really work as a cup holder. There's still a wireless charging pad ahead of the shifter, but it's no longer tucked behind a cover, and your phone will slide around like crazy when you're driving the CSL as intended.

The M4's digital gauge cluster and iDrive 7 central infotainment touchscreen carry over unchanged, and BMW made sure to pay attention to detail, displaying a CSL whenever the car is pictured on screen. If you're looking for creature comforts, however, most of 'em have been scrapped all in favor of reducing weight. The seats and steering wheel aren't heated and driver-assistance systems are limited to things like regular ol' cruise control and a federally mandated backup camera. Hell, BMW even took out the stereo's rear speakers.

Cool Looks Are Functional, Too2023 BMW M4 CSL

2023 BMW M4 CSL© Tyler Clemmensen

You have to admit, though, with those racy seats and carbon-fiber console, the M4 CSL sure looks like a legitimate race car. Ditto the exterior design, where body tweaks not only make the coupe look cooler, they're functional, as well. The lower front splitter helps with downforce, as does the redesigned decklid with its larger integrated ducktail spoiler. Say what you will about the M4's grille, but I think it looks great in CSL guise, wide open to allow as much air as possible into the engine.

Also, the CSL-specific lighting elements are so good they deserve their own paragraph. The yellow daytime running lights are extremely hot, and the new taillight treatment is a curvaceous delight. From the front or sides, these lights are worth a closer look.

As Rare As It Is Expensive2023 BMW M4 CSL

2023 BMW M4 CSL© Tyler Clemmensen

The M4 CSL delivers a level of unhinged raucousness you won't find in any other new BMW. But considering its price tag, it damn well should. At $140,895 including $995 for destination, the CSL is $61,300 more expensive than a standard rear-wheel-drive M4 Competition Coupe. Then again, only 1,000 CSLs will be sold around the world, and that kind of exclusivity always comes at a cost -- however wild.

Whether or not the CSL is "worth it" doesn't really matter, given its limited-run status. More importantly, it's a showcase of how BMW's engineers can really get the most out of the M4's solid bones. Here's hoping the slightly friendlier M3 CS is imbued with some of this raw edge.

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