The E46 M3 is a legend in automotive circles for far more than just being an excellent driver's car. It's also revered for restoring faith in the M3 moniker following the slightly paunchy E36, delivering the sort of pulse-raising performance we'd expect from a maker claiming to build The Ultimate Driving Machine. Also, it was the very competent base on which to build the E46 M3 CSL, which even today, remains one of the M division's finest models.
Arriving in 2003, the CSL was a culmination of research, engineering and, after 80,000 miles of Nurburgring running, testing. It was launched three years into the life of the E46 M3, so expectations were very high. Unlike the regular performance model, this special variant was not so concerned with comfort, refinement or practicality, and instead had a sharp focus on intimate driver engagement in a most sporting Bavarian package.
Every alteration and addition to the CSL was made to improve its performance. You need only to glimpse its carbon fibre roof and rear diffuser or fixed-back bucket seats to know this is no ordinary M3. Start one up, and the mechanical howl of the carbon airbox-fed 3.2-litre six-cylinder is a more conspicuous confirmation that something special is going on.
Beneath the bonnet of the CSL lived a reworked version of the E46's S54 six, producing 360hp to enable a 4.9 second 0-62mph time, which bettered the M3's stats by 17hp and three tenths respectively. Of course, much of the pace improvement came from the CSL's 110kg weight loss, provided in part by the fitment of those aforementioned carbon bits, aluminium doors and a plastic boot lid, as well as lightweight 19-inch wheels.
Michelin provided the boots, a set of Pilot Super Sport Cups, which worked with the M division's 'Ring-developed chassis setup, comprised of bespoke springs and dampers and thicker anti-roll bars, as well as a quicker steering rack, to turn the CSL into a completely different beast. Only the mandatory fitment of a robotised manual, BMW's single-clutch SMG II six-speed gearbox, provided this sweet recipe with a slightly bitter aftertaste.
Truth be told, for its day, the 'box was crisp and - when set to its fastest mode - a far cry from the frustrating hardware of the E60 M5. When you really worked it hard, the SMG II's shifts were actually quite savage, and some people thought this added to the whole experience. But many remained unconvinced and believe that BMW should have offered its top M3 with a manual, as it did with the subsequent, less-focused CS model.
Now, though, with the E46 M3 CSL is in its sixteenth year, we can appreciate it in a different light - one that recognises its place as an M division peak for naturally-aspirated six-cylinders of fairly (compared to today's cars, anyway) compact dimensions. The market knows this, of course, and prices have long reflected the CSL's position as the ultimate E46. Six years ago, you'd need £30k for one. Today, you can double that.
See the rather lovely 32,000-mile-old car here, which has had just one owner from new and is described as being in "exceptional condition". If a full service history that extends all the way back to when it was run in isn't enough, perhaps the lack of stone chips on the front bumper's carbon bits and kerb mark-free wheels will confirm this CSL has been well looked after. Perhaps the only question a prospective buyer might ponder is whether the car's asking price - which, let's not forget, makes it about twice the price of a similarly healthy CS on the classifieds - has reached the top of the bubble yet.
SPECIFICATION - BMW M3 CSL (E46)
Engine: 3,246cc 6-cyl
Transmission: 6-speed robotised manual
Power (hp): 360@7,900rpm
Torque (lb ft): 273@4,900rpm
Top speed: 155mph
Price new: £58,000
Yours for: £63,995
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