There was a time when the BMW M3 was the world’s go-to junior sports sedan. No other car maker consistently made fast, small-to-middling sedans in the M3’s early generations and nobody ever did it as well.

Then the V8 came and the M3 was never the same again, losing its delicious poise in favour of muscle and manufacturing convenience. It returned to its sixiness in the current generation, but never quite regained the delicacy. Instead, it became a junior grand tourer.

M knew all of this. It countered by making the M3 faster with the Performance Package, then faster again with the Competition Package and now with the CS it’s as fast as the road versions are ever going to get.

Only 1,200 will be built (20 are coming to SA from July), and they’ll be a hoot, albeit a hoot at R1,773,500, which is nearly a hundred grand less than the M4 CS.

By far the biggest gain in straight-up lap and cornering performance comes from the standard Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 rubber. They are wilfully, gloriously sticky things and they’re even reasonable in the rain. But bolting on rubber and calling the resulting car a new model would be a bit cheeky. So there’s more.

The 3.0l, twin-turbocharged straight-six engine has been massaged again, now pumping out 7kW and 50Nm more than the Competition Package, so it’s probably just as well they’ve stopped building that laggard of a standard version. The Competition Package itself brought the power up by 14kW, but now the CS pumps that out to 338kW of power at 6,250 (though it revs out to 7,600r/min in all but first gear). It adds 50Nm to the Competition’s 550Nm of torque, too, with 600Nm on tap from 4,000 to an oddly specific 5,380r/min.

Other additions

Then there are other important additions, like the 280km/h top speed that comes with the M Driver’s Package, the wider performance range of the adaptive M suspension, the active M differential and a carbon fibre reinforced plastic bonnet to go with the exposed carbon fibre of the roof.

M has ditched the centre console and armrest inside and fitted lighter, heavily contoured front seats. It’s all enough to haul the CS to 100km/h in 3.9 seconds, only a 10th quicker than the Competition, but the real strength of the upgraded engine lies in the way it helps through and out of corners.

It’s deeper and rumblier than you’d assume, too. There’s a sharp crack on start-up, then it settles into an idle that sounds lumpy while not feeling it. It always starts in its Efficient mode (probably how they get away with a claimed consumption figure of 8.5l/100km), yet the engine note still has enough menace to be a front-and-centre highlight at kick off. In Sport or Sport+, it’s a whole other world, dripping aggression, crackling at every blip of the throttle.

It runs the Sports exhaust system as standard equipment, with the engine’s spent efforts emerging out of four exhaust tips beneath a boot lid-mounted, carbon fibre spoiler that looks like it has been swiped off an Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio.

The interior is naturally focused on driving rather than gadgets but it is still a surprisingly good urban drive. Picture: BMW
The interior is naturally focused on driving rather than gadgets but it is still a surprisingly good urban drive. Picture: BMW

For all that, though, the CS isn’t all about its engine, even if its on-paper specifications suggest it should be. It’s all magnesium sump this, variable-geometry-turbocharger that, forged crankshaft here, closed-deck crankcase there, but all you really need to know is that it works enthusiastically.

It has a performance band so wide that it’s almost always better to short-shift it into a taller gear if you’re approaching a tricky bend or one with bumps in it or lumps across it.

It has three modes to its powertrain’s operating tune, and another three for the steering and the suspension, though they forego the Efficient tag in favour of Comfort.

As usual, Sport+ should be used for tracks only, or super-smooth roads. It’s only ever going to give its best on a closed circuit. Even then, the car will be faster and handle better with the dampers in Sport mode and most of the time it’s being driven on public roads it will be more stable and give its best with the dampers in Comfort mode.

It feels a bit floatier and slower to respond to the helm, but it will carry more mid-corner speed, more assuredly. Only on the autobahn, well beyond 250km/h, did it feel more secure in Sport mode. We did some track time in the car at an airfield near Munich and even there it was clearly a better car in Sport rather than Sport+.

The twin-turbo straight-six has been upgraded to deliver 338kW and 600Nm. Picture: BMW
The twin-turbo straight-six has been upgraded to deliver 338kW and 600Nm. Picture: BMW

The main reason is that it’s just too hard, giving the Cup tyres less opportunity to bite the road in the way they love and giving the distinct feeling that it’s skipping over bumps that both Sport rides over and Comfort oozes across.

Perhaps the biggest upgrade to help drivers feel secure and confident has been the huge step forward in rear-end stability at high speed, whether over bumps or direction changes.

M’s suspenioneering folk say there haven’t been any changes in the spring, damper or bush rates and none of the geometry from the forged alloy links have changed, either. They insist it’s all been done with fine-tuning of the skid-control software.

It’s now happy with you if you want to cruise, drive briskly or hammer on a track and its core handling character doesn’t change as you switch between them.

It’s when the roads bend that the M3 CS comes into its own and now, happily, it adds fast-bend security to its resume. And it’s a burgeoning resume.

It whips into bends with brilliantly strong (optional) carbon-ceramic front brakes and a firm, high pedal, then through them thanks to the tyres, largely, and out of them again with kudos to the differential and the DSC.

It all feels balanced in a way that it wasn’t before, and agile in a way that belies the 1,585kg dry weight. The beauty of the chassis setup on these tyres is that it’s avoided the trap of delivering stratospheric mid-corner grip levels but forgetting to add manners when all of that runs out.

But is it really worth all that money compared with a standard M3 Pure? When you’re pushing through quick bends and revelling in the stability, you almost have to think that, yes, it just might be.