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The BMW M3 CS makes you realize what you lost

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Do you remember your first real relationship? You know, the one that lasts a few years. You’ve only ever known this one person, and you’re so naive as to what’s out there. Then one day, it’s over. Eventually, you venture out on new dates. Things are weird. You start to wonder if you’ve made a mistake. “Come back!” Alas, it’s too late. They’re gone. Well, you can have relationships with cars too, and the BMW M3 CS is making me reminisce about one of mine.

What makes a car special?

The Porsche 911 R in 2016 at the New York Auto Show.

Let’s talk about the Porsche 911 R. Built in 2016, it featured the naturally aspirated engine from a GT3, and something you could not get anywhere else in a 911: a manual transmission. Sold in very limited quantities (usually to buyers of a 918 Spyder), the 911 R disappeared almost immediately, and to this day commands upwards of half a million dollars.

Of course, Porsche noticed this. Suddenly, the mantra of “Nein more manuals!” became “Save the manuals, but for a big MSRP!” Today, you may purchase a 911 GT3 or a Touring with a stick. It’s the only 911 you can get with a row-your-own transmission, and guess what? 70% of buyers opt for it.

While the GT3 isn’t a special edition model, the wait list is long. As in over two years. Porsche literally cannot build this car fast enough.

The 911 R was special, and look what it made Porsche do.

Meet the BMW M3 CS

The BMW M3 CS features exterior parts from the M4 CSL. Photo: BMW.

BMW has its own special cars, but the ones allowed across our beaches have been limited. And they have all been the same. Turbocharged. DCT/automatic. A more powerful version of the standard M car. People buy them, but having been around a few, I wouldn’t call most special (aside from the M5 CS). Not like that 911 R.

So here comes the BMW M3 CS. It’s not a CSL, like the M4. That car lost over 200 pounds. The M3’s diet nets about 75.

Ah, but there’s more power too: 543, vs the 503 from a regular Competition. 40 horses sounds like a lot, but like all marketing, it depends on how you present it. That’s only an 8% increase over an M3 Competition. Base price raises by 33% from a regular Competition with xDrive, just sayin’.

There is some cool kit. A carbon fiber roof and center console. Unique wheels. Yellow DRLs. Most of these are things I see on any G80 on a Sunday morning. And those really cool scalloped back seats from an M5 CS are nowhere to be found here.

The CS might be faster, and rougher (it has stiffer engine mounts because race car), but I’m willing to bet it’s not the most engaging version of the M3.

Stick it to me

Inside, it’s more carbon and an automatic only transmission. Photo: BMW.

What might be is sitting in my garage right now – an M3 with a manual. Will you spare me a few pixels of fun to explain?

An M3 Competition with xDrive weighs 3,990 pounds. Subtract 75 for the CS, and you get 3,915. A manual crosses the scales at 3,840, ironically another 75 pounds lighter.

I’ve done a few mods – the exhaust from AWE is 20 pounds lighter than the stock unit. My M Performance suspension (review coming soon) cuts a few pounds from each corner. Let’s call it 25 pounds all in. Now, we’re down 100 from that CS. We sound better too, and we’re cheaper.

While the power increase more than negates that 100-pound loss on a track, isn’t the base M3 more in line with what made that 911 R special? Don’t think so? M does: see the 3.0 CSL.

I’ve mentioned the limitations of that car, but one thing it does have is a stick. Remember, it’s $750,000. How’s that for special?

Phoning it in

Hope you like Signal Green. Otherwise, it’s black, white, or grey.

Porsche didn’t really think much of the 911 R. In Europe, sticks are for the peasants – everyone can have one in a basic car. Automatics are more the luxury item there. Clearly, we Americans would want our sports cars to be as fast as possible. Further proof that the Germans don’t always understand us.

To be fair, the take rate on manual M cars has dwindled from the E9X days. BMW has tried to listen to the faint chorus in the past (see F10 M5 with manual), yet they never sold well.

Maybe that’s because they stopped trying. The manual transmission in a BMW M car has not changed in over 10 years. Sure, it gets updates to handle the additional power, but they still feel exactly the same as they did a decade ago. Hop in a Porsche with a manual and you’ll feel the difference right away.

It’s not just the transmission either. “Moar boost!” is how power is added now. The poor little S58 in the M3 CS has 30 psi breathing through it. But if this is a numbers game, hop into a BMW M5. It’s the same price, and faster anyway.

So what would make the BMW M3 CS special?

Special CS-only wheels are a nice touch.

No matter what, the M brand lives and dies with the M3. Just like the 911, it’s the car everyone associates with the brand. It’ll always be this way. But a special name doesn’t ensure a special car.

Maybe it’s time to call an old flame. Maybe BMW needs to bring back a naturally aspirated engine. Plop one in this car, add a manual transmission, and they could sell them for whatever the hell they wanted. Not easy in this current ecological climate, sure, but that’s not stopping Porsche from making the GT3.

Of course, they don’t need to do this. BMW will sell every CS is makes, and I’m sure it’ll be a hoot to drive. But selling every car doesn’t make it special either.

Hello from the other side

The E9X M3 is getting old. I was ready to end things with mine. The G80 is a better car, no regrets. But I still miss mine every time I hear one at a car show. I used to rev it for the hell of it. I don’t do that with the G80 nearly as much.

Perhaps we don’t know what we have till it’s gone.

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