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BMW M3 CSL E46: Just looking

The best BMW M3 ever? Matthew Hayward reckons the E46 CSL is up there with the best of them

When browsing through the classifieds, it’s hard not to be drawn towards the numerous BMW M3s for sale. In general terms, the E46-generation M3 is actually quite a common car. It was extremely successful for BMW, especially in the UK, and provides anyone looking for a used M3 great choice.

This isn’t just any E46 BMW M3 though. The CSL was built to satisfy those who wanted more. An M3 that focused on delivering the most intense driving experience. 

Shedding 110kg worth of weight, the CSL features a stripped out carbon fibre-clad interior, not much sound insulation and a fantastic Alcantara steering wheel. Larger 19-inch BBS alloys were shod with Michelin Pilot Sport Cup tyres, and more weight is dropped thanks to the carbon-fibre roof and aluminium doors. Even the rear windscreen is a special item made from thinner glass.

The engine in any E46 M3 is a work of art, but the slightly tweaked unit in the CSL really does sing. Fitted with a re-designed carbon airbox, high-lift cams, slightly modified exhaust manifold and exhaust valves, output is boosted by 17bhp. It might not sound like a huge leap, but the throttle response, induction noise and extra top-end bite combined with the weight loss does move the car up a notch.

Although there are numerous arguments as to which BMW M3 is ‘the best’, the E46 M3 CSL has to be right up there with the the E30 Evolution as well as the more recent V8 GTS. The only thing that often divides opinion is the semi-automatic transmission, which was the only option from the factory. BMW’s six-speed SMG II gearbox is actually a single-clutch robotized manual, with steering-wheel paddles – giving fast and fairly brutal shifts. With the rapid evolution of dual-clutch transmissions though, it does feel a bit old-hat now. Some people love it, and others hate it, but the rest of the package is so exceptional, it’s worth the effort.

Hexagon Moderns is one of a few dealers who specialise in finding the absolute finest examples, and this CSL looks to have been beautifully cared for. With just 422 right-hand drive CSLs sold in the UK, this is one of the rarer black examples, and is up for sale at £45,995.

With 29,800 fully-BMW serviced miles on the clock, and three previous owners on the log-book, this particular CSL is still in the prime of its life. Form an orderly queue…

See the original BMW M3 CSL ad listing here, from Hexagon Moderns

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