Whether BMW got the M4 right first time around is matter for some debate. In developing the first-ever M car to wear this particular badge, a result of model restructuring that saw the 3 Series Coupé become the 4 Series, stricter global emissions regulations meant the fast BMW had to move from normal aspiration to forced induction. Not only that, but BMW decided to bolt the M4’s rear sub-frame directly to the chassis of the car, which is a serious piece of engineering that reeks of the M4’s intention to provide maximum driving thrills both on and off the track.
However, the resulting machine felt unresolved. Considerably more torque than had ever been possessed by previous M3s flowed through the rear axle and made the M4 a wild ride, especially in low-grip conditions. Fun, in the right place with loads of run-off, but not dynamically cohesive in a way all of its M3 predecessors had been.
Since then, while never publicly admitting it, BMW has clearly had a go at rectifying things. The first attempt was the Competition Package, which upped the power from 425- to 444bhp, while simultaneously altering the suspension, differential and steering settings to make the car a sharper drive. It worked brilliantly, so much so that it’s clear to see it as the car the standard M4 always should have been.
Then, in 2016, we got our traditional M halo product, called the M4 GTS. Limited to 700 units and priced at roughly double what the basic M4 Coupe costs, this had power hiked to 493bhp, while torque swelled 50Nm to a nice, round 600Nm. Obvious exterior aero, characterised by a huge front splitter and an even bigger T-bar rear spoiler, a stripped-out, two-seat interior and sticky Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres gave it serious handling prowess and the GTS also featured water injection technology for its six-cylinder motor. Utterly fantastic, it’s a guaranteed future collectible.
Clearly, then, with the GTS out of production and fast appreciating in price, BMW must have realised it had plenty of customers who wanted a limited-edition, hardcore M4 and who were annoyed they didn’t have the 493bhp motor. What to do? Making more GTS models was out of the question, as was developing something even more powerful, as it risked putting buyers of the original 700 cars in a bad mood.
So instead, BMW has filled a micro-niche of performance between the M4 Competition Package car and the GTS, by borrowing from each and coming up with a mid-point it is calling the M4 CS. And let’s just clear up those two letters: they do not mean Club Sport. The E46 M3 CSL of 2003 is the clue here, as its three initials stood for ‘Coupe Sport Leichtbau’, or Coupe Sport Lightweight. Well, the M4 CS is the first two of these, but it’s not particularly lightweight. BMW says it is 35 kilos trimmer than a regular M4, but trying to compare weights is a fluid business as regulations are always changing and new equipment becomes standard fit to meet safety laws, so the CS’s 1,580kg kerb figure doesn’t look particularly impressive or slim line.
So instead, BMW has filled a micro-niche of performance between the M4 Competition Package car and the GTS, by borrowing from each...
Anyway, the genesis of this machine is startlingly simple: take the M4 Competition Package’s chassis set-up and fit the M Dual-Clutch Transmission (M DCT), then cherry-pick a few of the key bits of the GTS to make the car special. The CS features its own design of front splitter and rear ‘Gurney flap’ spoiler in carbon fibre-reinforced plastic (CFRP), the former inspired by the GTS’s. The bonnet is also made of CFRP and features a front vent, which again is directly from the GTS, while the 19in front, 20in rear (which aid turn-in and driven-axle traction, respectively) Cup 2 tyres are wrapped around lightweight Orbit Grey alloys. At the back are the Organic Light Emitting Diode (OLED) lamp clusters of the GTS and two new colours, San Marino Blue and the CS-exclusive Lime Rock Grey, are offered.
Inside, it features the same minimalistic door cards as the GTS — which have M tricolour-striped fabric loop door pulls on them — and lots of Alcantara, which has a ‘CS’ logo stitched into the passenger side that’s yet another nod to the GTS, as that car has its name emblazoned on the console in the same way. An optional Alcantara steering wheel with a 12 o’clock marker further adds to the cabin ambience.
But, aside from these additions, the basic hardware is essentially the same as an M4 Competition Package. The only mechanical changes are those wheels and a revision to the exhaust system; the suspension architecture, steering and drivetrain mechanicals are all exactly the same. Instead, all of the CS’s ‘upgrades’ come courtesy of clever software trickery. The 3.0-litre straight-six biturbo engine is remapped to develop more torque lower down and across a wider range, which results in the motor’s peak figure climbing to 600Nm to match the GTS. But power is only up 10bhp, the CS producing 454bhp at the same 6,250rpm as a Competition Package car would kick out 444bhp. Elsewhere, BMW alters the setting of the Adaptive M Suspension variable dampers to account for the additional grip offered by the CS’s track-day rubber and lighter wheels.
So the CS is very specifically engineered to fit into that gap in the M4 family. The M4 Competition Package M DCT does 0-100kph in 4.0 seconds, the GTS in 3.8 — want to guess how quickly the CS does it? Yes, that’s right, 3.9 seconds. Also, when a Competition Package is limited to 250kph and the GTS 305kph, the 280kph limiter of the CS is another area where it slots in neatly.
Elsewhere, BMW alters the setting of the Adaptive M Suspension variable dampers to account for the additional grip offered by the CS’s track-day rubber and lighter wheels.
And that brings us to price. The problem we have with the CS is that, as already outlined, mechanically it is practically identical to the M4 Competition Package. And yet, in most global markets where the CS is on sale, BMW is asking about 40 per cent extra on top of a Competition Package’s price for the CS. That means here in our region of the world, we expect the BMW to be approaching the Dh500,000 mark, which is a phenomenal amount for a car that’s not that limited in production. BMW is not capping the numbers of CS M4s to be built, instead saying it will take as many orders as it can between now and 2019. Obviously, production capacity at its factories does restrict the CS population ultimately, but unlike the Dh600,000 GTS — where collectors knew a maximum of 700 would be built — there’s no telling how many M4 CS vehicles will hit the world’s roads.
If all this sounds like we have a downer on the M4 CS, you couldn’t be more wrong. It’s an exceptional performance coupe. Like the Competition Package and the GTS, it feels beautifully sorted and balanced where a regular M4 feels spiky and ill-judged, the fixed rear sub-frame of the CS never affecting driver confidence — even when the tyres are fully loaded up in fast cornering. The steering is wonderful and so is the keenness of the front end to bite into an apex; this is a car that has a stellar leading axle and masses of mechanical grip.
No doubting the punch of the CS, either, as it will haul alarmingly quickly towards 250kph in a manner that does feel more rabid than the Competition Package… but only just. The CS certainly doesn’t have the race car-like fury of acceleration and noise of the GTS; although we will say the M4 CS has a magnificent soundtrack. There’s a real gravelly, deep rumble to it through the lower revs and it sounds much less forced and synthesised than the standard cars.
Perhaps the biggest surprise is that this relatively expensive CS doesn’t have carbon ceramic brakes as standard, as they’re still an option. Our test car was fitted with them and we’d say most owners are going to want them for occasional track use. If they had been original equipment on the CS, that might have better justified the expense of the car.
The thing is, people who want a special BMW will have no compunction paying over the odds for a limited model like this. And there’s simply no doubting the general excellence and rewarding nature of the M4 CS’s chassis set-up. In isolation, it’s a stunning fast road car. In context, it doesn’t feel markedly more able than an M4 Competition Package and it’s not as awe-inspiring as the GTS; its saving grace in this latter respect being that it is at least considerably easier to get hold of.
Strange, then, that here we are giving our verdict on a near-top marks car, and yet wondering if BMW has somehow missed a trick with yet another M4. Nevertheless, it’s clear that the CS is another sparkling handler that once again shows up the inadequacies of the regular M4, and how BMW is constantly working to try and improve its totemic performance model.