When the current V8-engined M3 was launched in 2007 at Ascari Race Resort the general consensus was that a little of the old car's personality was lost in the pursuit of technological dominance. Although performance was dramatically increased, we all lamented the weight gain that accompanied it and confidently predicted that it was only a matter of time before BMW released a CSL version. Sorry if I'm bursting anyone's bubble by saying that it doesn't look likely now. Instead, you'll have to make do with the M3 GTS.
We're back at the purpose built race track in southern Spain and a glance at the GTS is all it takes to know that owners won't be 'making do'. Searing orange paintwork ensures it stands out, but it's the bits in matt black that are of real interest. The huge rear wing and new front apron are both adjustable, while the kidney grille and 19-inch wheels are painted black for added menace. There's also a distinct lack of daylight between the tyres and the wheelarches.
What you won't notice (unless you lean up against them and they wobble) is that the side rear and back windows are now made of polycarbonate. Peer through them and you'll not miss the orange-painted roll bar and fire extinguisher, taking up the space usually occupied by a couple of leather chairs for rear passengers.
The electrically adjustable and heated front seats from the standard M3 have been binned too, in favour of a set of deep racing buckets with a six-point harness included. The regular seat belt is retained for when you want to pop to Sainsbury's after a hard day at the track.
More weight-saving measures are apparent inside, including plenty of carbon and a distinctly bare centre console. There's no iDrive, satnav or stereo. Hell, there isn't even air conditioning as standard. Otherwise it's pretty regular M3 stuff, with a dash of Alcantara here and there.
There are a lot less buttons to play with in the GTS too. As in the regular car you can choose from two different throttle maps via the Power button. However, there's no electronically controlled damping or multi-stage traction and stability control. DSC is either on or off and there's no messing about with holding buttons down for 10 seconds or anything. Press it once and you're on your own.
The only gearbox option is the seven-speed, dual-clutch M DCT. As ever you can choose varying levels of shift speed and ferociousness. BMW has altered its characteristics to suit the new engine.
Ah yes, the engine. Is there anyone out there that thought, "You know what? That M3 V8 is a bit weak. It could do with a tad more power"? Debate about character aside (in comparison to its beloved straight-six predecessor), 420hp took the M3's performance to a whole new level. Now, so as to make it difficult to copy the GTS with aftermarket parts, BMW decided that its flagship model needed a significant power boost.
A target of 450hp was set and the M Division engineers were tasked with working out the best way to get it. The solution was to increase the stroke, raising engine capacity from 3,999- to 4,361cc. Those 450 horses are let loose at the same adrenaline-inducing 8,300rpm as before. Torque is up too, from 295- to 325lb ft, and it's available lower down the rev range at 3,750rpm.
It doesn't take long to appreciate the changes. Thumb the starter button and the V8 growls into wakefulness, full of intent. No doubt the specially constructed thin-wall exhaust helps with that. It's optimised for low weight and features titanium rear silencers, which thankfully don't do their job very well. The standard M3 is oh so polite in comparison.
So, DSC off, Power button on, fastest gearbox setting selected, pull back on the right paddle to put it into first, wait for suave-looking pit lane exit dude to wave the green flag and oh dear, we seem to have painted a couple of black lines onto Ascari's tarmac...
There's a grin painted across my chops too as we hit the first braking zone and turn in. BMW says that the 'unloaded weight' of the M3 GTS is 70kg less than the standard car at 1,530kg. That, in conjunction with the beefier engine, brings the 0-62mph time down to 4.4 seconds, while someone forgot to plug in the electronic speed limiter, so it'll do 190mph flat-out.
Someone also forgot to mention that the rear tyres were a little hot by the time I jumped in the car, which partly explains the less-than-subtle getaway and why I spent most of the next few laps doing my best to keep the rear end from overtaking the front.
Given the aero package - and suspension that includes adjustable ride height, damping and camber - I had half expected a car that clung on racecar-like and endowed its driver with serious fast lapping ability. It does that, but the engine's mid-range feels significantly stronger than before, so the limit of the tyres' grip is easily overcome. The result is even more throttle adjustability and engagement than the standard car, while travelling at a significantly higher speed. The brakes are bigger than before to put up with such abuse and they're easy to modulate.
Cooling down in the pits afterwards it's obvious that the GTS raises as many questions as it answers. The most pertinent is, why not call it CSL? This is a very different beast, that's why. It is a track car first and foremost; it just so happens to be road legal. An insider at BMW assured us that it will not be comfortable on our typically lumpen B-roads.
Despite that, 10 right-hand drive examples of the 150-unit production run are bound for our shores early in 2011. I'm sure their owners will make do.
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