Dirk Hacker has bought one of these cars with his own hard-earned. That's interesting because, as well remunerated as M Division's development chief must surely is, he can't afford to buy 'em all. As far as putting your money when your engineering expertise is, then, it's some endorsement.
The car he's bought is called the M3 CS and it's the last of the F80 generation. Because BMW's hot junior saloon doesn't get a 'GTS' trackday special like the M4 does, it's also the lightest, the most powerful and by far the most expensive variant yet. It'll be rare, too, with no more than 1200 planned. That's largely down to new WLTP emissions standards which would require the M3 to be rehomologated with a new particulate filter. Given it's end-of-production date is already close at hand, BMW has decided to halt proceedings a touch earlier than expected. The last F80 M3 of any description will therefore roll off the line in June, though you'll still be able to buy and M4 for some time to come.
What, then, separates the Club Sport from the already spectacularly quick and competent Competition Pack? As per the M4 CS we drove last year, the upgrade package consists largely of some carbonfibre body parts, lightweight forged alloy wheels (slightly smaller at the front, at 19in instead of 20) shod in Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 rubber, and a stability control recalibrated to work not only with the increased grip levels but also to operate a little more freely. Competition Pack cars, you might remember, were frequently criticised for putting the chassis in something of a straight-jacket beyond the limit of grip - even in M Dynamic Mode, which had until then had so famously laid-back it bordered on negligence.
Inside it's pared-back but not particularly compromising. You sink low into sinuous two-tone seats complete (or rather, incomplete) with cut-outs. Where the new M5 places its occupants a fraction too high, the driving position here remains an utter peach. There's Alcantara on the centre-console and dashboard, which is economical with switchgear but exhibits no meaningful lack of functionality. You could live with this, happily. There's climate control and BMW's iDrive-operated Professional infotainment system, and a Harman Kardon sound system is fitted as standard.
The carbon bits are fairly extensive, as you might well hope for a 3-Series that costs almost 911 GTS money once you've optioned the carbon-ceramic brakes fitted to our test car. The rakish, vented bonnet and roof are made of the stuff (CFRP, technically), as is the rear diffuser, jutting front splitting and matching Gurney flap, which has a lowered centre-section. It all amounts to a grand saving of... ten kilos. Hardly show-stopping, but the car's centre of gravity is said to usefully lowered, and in the metal the thing looks sensationally purposeful.
But back to the chassis. The geometry and hardware of the suspension remain unchanged, and while the adaptive dampers are tweaked a smidgeon, they're still switchable through three modes (as is the engine and the steering, which has, in fact, been altered slightly though not by way of its gearing). It means there's still roughly 0.5deg greater negative camber than you'll find on a standard M3. Being a saloon, this is also a stiffer car than the M4 CS, which theoretically allows the suspension to operate more effectively.
Meanwhile, the 3.0-litre S55 twin-turbo straight-six gets another 10bhp courtesy of a new map, taking the grand total to 460hp, and hits a touch harder through the mid-range. A 0-62mph time of 3.9sec points to a blisteringly quick car, and top speed is also now limited to 173mph. The exhaust note emanating from the stainless steel tips is a tiny bit rawer, too, which is no bad thing. It barks, and is more recognisably 'M' than before.
The changes aren't wholesale, then, so it's no surprise than this car feels much like its less esteemed range-mates only with a bit 'extra'. This is still a car with a calculating character. The Competition Pack car is not as effusive as an Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio, that's for sure, and the addition of trackday-tyres for the Club Sport only reaffirms that. The satisfaction of driving an M3 CS is largely derived from placing it perfectly on corner entry so that you can better enjoy its sensational rear-led balance and waste not a single pound-foot of torque in getting maximum drive on the way out. That this is car is more pliant that you might expect helps in this regard, and there's a palpable sense of the Active M Differential in the rear axle - also tweaked to better cope with the increased grip of this car - helping angle the nose into third gears sweepers in particular. That won't be for everyone, but it's a reminder that the charms of the M3 CS aren't especially obvious, and take time to grow on you.
Straightaway it feels prodigious in its point-to-point pace, though, with wonderfully close body control and a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox that mostly snicks home shifts with murderous precision, even if red-line cog-swapping can flummox it on occasion. The carbon-ceramic stoppers are also indulgently firm and progressive, which goes some way to making up for the absence of any true steering feel. Still the M3 lacks that crisp response just off-centre, which is all the more frustrating in the CS because the front axle is unendingly faithful.
At least it is in the dry. As you can see from the photos, we drove this car on sun-warmed roads - the fabulous ribbons of tarmac surrounding the Nürburgring, in fact. It means we're very much in the territory of 'Yeah, but can it do it on a cold winter's night on the B-whatever?'. So long as you could work some temperature in the tyres, I dare say the M3 CS could 'do it' admirably well in such a scenario. In fact a damp road might usefully lower its limits to the extent where the chassis could be allowed to express itself a little more, thus addressing the only big question mark hanging over the car.
So, the best from-new M-car money can currently buy? Arguably, yes. The upcoming M2 Competition might change that, but it's unlikely to match the Club Sport's intensity and wonderful sense of accuracy. Neither will it match it big brother's price tag, mind. Whatever way you spin it, a shade more than £86,000 for an F80-generation BMW M3 before options is objectively speaking an obscene amount to pay, even for Herr Hacker. If, however, the M3 were to go hybrid or perhaps even four-wheel-drive in the near future, this most capable, convincing M3 of the current generation might just prove to be a canny buy.
SPECIFICATION - BMW M3 CS
Engine: 6 cyls in line, 2979cc, twin-turbocharged petrol
Transmission: 7-spd twin-clutch automatic, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 460@6,250rpm
Torque (lb ft): firstname.lastname@example.org
Top speed: 173mph (limited)
CO2: 240g/km (coupe)