Spotted: BMW M3 CS


When BMW launched the E46 M3 CSL, one question was repeated by the world's motoring press and enthusiasts; can this car really be worth £18,000 more than a regular M3? Today, approaching a decade after the CSL's launch, it remains a valid query.

Smoked headlights aren't original, but are easily replaced
Smoked headlights aren't original, but are easily replaced
The very best CSLs are still commanding over £35,000, but our featured M3 is available for £14,000, its additional miles accounting for the even greater price difference. Moreover, it isn't a regular E46 M3; it's a CS. With a manual gearbox, an interface between man and machine so cruelly denied to CSL owners.

The CS was the E46 M3's swansong, a run-out special that appears largely neglected now in the face of spiralling CSL values. Whilst power remained identical to standard at 343hp, the CS received the brakes, steering wheel and steering rack from the CSL. BMW also fitted the M-Track mode to the traction and stability controls, loosening their respective intervention thresholds. The CS package was completed by some CSL-esque Y-spoke alloy wheels.

It wasn't, despite the nomenclature, a cut-down CSL. Consider the CS instead as an M3 Plus and you'll be closer to the truth. So although there's no carbon airbox or weight loss, an M3 CS does offer small but tangible improvements over the regular car. The revised steering gives even better response over the standard M3 and revised springs aid its B-road composure. For £14,000, a manual CS appears stunning value.

Manual 'box is a luxury denied to CSL owners
Manual 'box is a luxury denied to CSL owners
Of course, it is possible to bag an E46 M3 for significantly less. Indeed, if you're brave enough to take on a car with nearly 150,000 miles and a new engine, this early M3 can be had for under £6,500. However, when just a couple of thousand pounds more buys this just-serviced 2002 M3, it seems wise to spend a little bit more to secure a lower-mileage car.

Spending more than four figures means some of the best E46 M3s are within grasp such as this Phoenix Yellow manual version. Some of the very last special-edition M3s are being sold in the teens but, against the aforementioned CS, the premium appears unnecessary.

Finally, whilst it isn't as dynamically capable as the coupe, an M3 Convertible is more than a match for its open-topped Mercedes and Audi rivals. Just under £7,000 buys a manual convertible with a full BMW service history.

Think of the CS as an 'M3 Plus'
Think of the CS as an 'M3 Plus'
With so much choice, choosing the right M3 isn't an easy task. Messrs. Harris and Trent are advocates of the basics-is-best philosophy; a manual car with the 18-inch wheels. Personally, the lure of that CS would probably prove too strong, especially given its rarity as a three-pedal car.

There are a few key points to be wary of with any E46 M3; for a comprehensive list, see the PH M3 buying guide. It is vital to ensure the first running-in service was completed at 1,200 miles, and check any SMG-equipped cars for undue clutch judder. But the wealth of E46s for sale attests to their inherent dependability, only boosting its credentials as a used purchase.


BMW M3 (E46) CS

Engine: 3246cc straight six
Transmission: Six-speed manual, RWD
Power (hp): 343@7,900rpm
Torque (lb ft): 269@5,000rpm
CO2: 323g/km
MPG: 21.1
Recorded mileage: 64,000
First registered: 2006
Price new: £43,555
Yours for: £13,990


See the original M3 CS advert here

P.H. O'meter

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Comments (233) Join the discussion on the forum

  • Atomfire 12 Sep 2014

    bigweb said:
    Gutted my For sale ad wasn't listed in this piece its even better value than the 2002!

    I would love a CS 98% of the CSL for 60% of the price and a newer car aswell.
    No offense but that is utter utter rubbish

  • 161BMW 08 May 2013

    Some shameless snaps from the BMW Car Club trip to Wales over the weekend just gone













  • 161BMW 27 Mar 2013

    u009909 said:
    Just for the record guys I bought this car.
    It’s fine, got a full history, its been on the ramps the rear floor has not a single crack!
    The Hamann s/wheel centre was just a sticker the BMW now shows, the Hamann wide footrest is gone, the lovely red leather has fresh treatment and the interior is now excellent certainly for 65k.
    Drives really well, everything works, its lowered but not too much and ride is fine.
    The eyelids are gone and I expect the flashers and No plate surrounds will follow.
    I like the colour combo and there are less than 100 manual non sun roof cars in the country, so you cant be too fussy if that’s what you want.

    For £13k it takes some beating, especially if you can only have one car….
    Congratulations mate enjoy :-)

  • u009909 10 Mar 2013

    Just for the record guys I bought this car.
    It’s fine, got a full history, its been on the ramps the rear floor has not a single crack!
    The Hamann s/wheel centre was just a sticker the BMW now shows, the Hamann wide footrest is gone, the lovely red leather has fresh treatment and the interior is now excellent certainly for 65k.
    Drives really well, everything works, its lowered but not too much and ride is fine.
    The eyelids are gone and I expect the flashers and No plate surrounds will follow.
    I like the colour combo and there are less than 100 manual non sun roof cars in the country, so you cant be too fussy if that’s what you want.

    For £13k it takes some beating, especially if you can only have one car….

  • 161BMW 16 Dec 2012

    Big E 118 said:
    anniesdad said:
    thumbup V8's do have a certain allure, don't they?! I was looking at some a short while back as an option, may still do something in the new year.

    What's your opinion now that you've lived with the E92 for a while? Would you say that you made the right choice, moving from the CS to the E92? Sacrificing a little of the fun factor for performance and arguably better day to day abilities?

    edited: I can see through your posting history that you've put some initial impressions up comparing the two. thumbup

    Edited by anniesdad on Wednesday 5th December 13:03
    The E92 is a stonking car. I have spent the last few days driving an X5 and can say the E92 M3 is just as comfortable to cruise around in but with the press of the M button can turn into a hard/fast (and quite scary in the wet) sports car.

    The only downside is the steering, the CS has very sharp and direct steering which IMO really transformed the car over the standard E46 M3 where as the E92 steering is too assisted and you get a touch too much under steer. That is being particularly critical though.

    The E92 is certainly a great car but just doesn't pull the heart strings like the CS did.
    Is quite interesting you prefer a M3 CS :-)

    My friend who is a BMW Dealer Technician says he prefers a E92 M3 Competition Package DCT over a E46 M3. Though i am not sure if he has driven the CS. He just does not like SMGII. He has a E46 M3 Coupe with a BMW Manual Gearbox which he bought a month or so ago now.

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