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The BMW 3.0 CSL shows the limits of current BMW design

My X3 broke last week. It’s fine, really. A simple matter of updating the four-wheel drive’s software. But an unscheduled trip to the dealer means the joy of getting a loaner car, in my case a 228i Gran Coupe (review coming). I didn’t realize the LCI in that car gave its interior a rework to match BMW’s other, higher-end offerings. In fact, all BMWs look nearly identical on the inside. Including their latest model – the BMW 3.0 CSL.

That’s a problem.

A history of special

If I say “BMW” and “Batmobile” in the same sentence, you probably know I’m referring to the BMW 3.0 CSL. The original. Coupe Sport Lightweight.

And it was. Built as a lightweight homologation special to make the car eligible for the European Touring Car Championship, the original CSL had a mix of aluminum body panels, lightened steel, and removed luxury features to shave nearly 450 pounds off of the standard CS. The result became a legend of the 1970s. Who doesn’t love a good sequel?

Or is it retro? BMW’s last truly special car, the Z8, could be considered as such. The Z8 had bespoke styling, especially on the inside. It shared the E39 M5’s motor, one of the greatest BMW has ever made (and making it the only non-M car to have an M motor to date).

It was also their most expensive cars to date. But now, there’s something new.

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A 560-hp engine ensures the 3.0 CSL will be fast. But not as fast as an M4. Photo: BMW

What is the BMW 3.0 CSL?

2022 makes 50 years of BMW M. No doubt you’ve seen the retro badges on M cars by now. As the year comes to a close, BMW decided to release something big to mark the occasion.

It’s exclusive. Just 50 will be made.

It’s beautiful to behold, with each example taking three months to produce. That’s factory time too, not “in transit” like all those peasant BMWs.

And it’s expensive. How expensive? 750,000 Euros. In ‘Murica money, that’s $779,000. Only sold in Europe too – not available here. You know, M’s biggest market.

So it’s gotta be super special. You’re not just paying for the rarity. Are you?

The 3.0 CSL is a fancy M4

Well, not exactly. You do get lots of special things. The entire body is made from carbon fiber, with a fiberglass rear wing. There’s an eight-step paint process (by hand) that’s carried out in a special area built just for the CSL’s construction. You can have any color you like, as long as you like Alpine White. That 228i loaner was the same color. You do get neat M stripes though. Are those hand-painted too?

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The body is made of carbon fiber, with a fiber glass rear wing. Photo: BMW.

“Oh cool Mike, it’s gotta be lighter than a regular M4?” 3,580 lbs. A difference of oh say, 300 lbs from an M4 with a manual.

Speaking of, the CSL comes only with a manual transmission that’s mated to BMW’s most powerful inline-six ever made, an S58 tuned up to 560 horsepower. Still less than an M5, and not much up on the M4 CSL. How fast the 3.0 CSL is will likely be held back by that transmission choice. Nothing wrong with it, but there’s no way the car can be quicker than an M4 with all-wheel drive and an automatic.

If they really wanted to make a WOW statement, this should have had a naturally aspirated engine, even if it made less power. Because if this car is all about character, then how can they look at you with a straight face and say “this is a special turbo motor”?

Remember the Lexus LF-A? It’s a few years old now, but that car had a unique chassis and very special engine, and that cost $350,000. If Lexus can do it, why can’t BMW?

Style points

It has enough retro cues to honor that original CSL. A revised front end with a smaller grille gives the G platform the nose everyone seemed to want from the beginning. Check out the yellow DRLs too. Gold wheels are here as well.

Feels like someone went nuts at the M Performance Parts store. And all the cool kit, those yellow lights, more power, M Stripes – you can just add those to your regular M car. Not the same, I know, but the price savings is eye-watering.

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The materials are sure to be high quality, but it looks just like any other BMW that doesn’t cost as much as a nice house. Photo: BMW

Inside job

Remember that 228i loaner I mentioned, and how the interior was simply a scalded-down version of what’s in say, my M3?

The BMW 3.0 CSL has the same issue.

Sure, there are nice bits. The shifter has a white knob on top that notes the production number. It gets the same racing bucket seats that are available on the M4 CSL, along with carbon fiber door panels, carbon fiber trim, and deletion of most of the sound deadening material. The back seats are replaced with a spot to store helmets, just like the M4 CSL.

But if I blindfolded you until you sat inside the car and then took it off, you’d think you were in…an M4 CSL. Or even a regular M4. These press photos even show the older iDrive 7, not the single screen 8 that’s in an M2.

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The CSL is manual-only. Photo: BMW.

The BMW 3.0 CSL may not be special enough

This isn’t about outright speed. You don’t need to go fast to enjoy a car. And kudos to BMW for putting in a manual transmission here as the only option.

But the BMW 3.0 CSL suffers from the same problem the rest of BMW’s lineup does. Namely, the cars are uniform inside. Ergonomically, it works great. I can hop in between my M3 and X3 without much issue. But the issue becomes apparent on special cars. When you make a special version of a cheap car, how special can it be?

An M4 CSL is really nice, but it still shares an awful lot with that $40,000 430i parked next to it on the lot.

The 3.0 CSL reeks of someone who arrives at the car show decked out in M gear and starts quoting the brochure specs to you.

And while exotic cars with exotic prices still make no sense, at least a McLaren Elva isn’t held back by being based off a lower model.

A the end of the day, this is a publication about how you feel when driving a car. Does it gets your fizzy bits going? I’ve no doubt the 3.0 CSL will make you smile from behind the wheel, but will it be a grin or an hysterical laugh?

If I was able to steal just one car from Germany that’s not available here, it wouldn’t be a CSL. Instead, look for a “3” on the trunk, and a long roof silhouette. Rhymes with “tag on”.

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Just 50 will be made, and it’s only available in Europe. Photo: BMW.

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Email me at mike@machineswithsouls.com with any questions. Follow along on Instagram @machineswithsouls

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