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BMW M3 GTS, CSL, Sport Evo – which is the greatest M3?

By Ben Barry

CAR Features

18 August 2010 15:15

The BMW M3 GTS is a car of superlatives. It is the fastest, most powerful, most track-focussed, most expensive M3 ever, a two-fingered salute to the critics who said the M Division had lost its way after SUV-gate.

So what makes the new BMW M3 GTS so good?

The spec tells you it’s a serious car: the 3999cc V8 grows to 4361cc thanks to a longer stroke; the seven-speed dual clutcher is now standard and is re-mapped to suit the revised powertrain; the interior is stripped; the rear suspension subframe solidly mounted to the body; the single-piston brakes replaced by six-pot front and four-pot rears. See those wheel studs? A stock M3 doesn’t have studs, it has bolts. Studs make it easier to whip wheels on and off, when, say, you’re smoking a couple of sets of rears per day at the track. It’s a little touch, but, just like an MPV’s proliferation of cubby holes, one that speaks volumes about its intended use: this is a serious car for serious drivers.

Okay, but how does it compare with previous über-M3s, and how does it move the game on versus the most focussed new M3 that doesn’t wear the GTS badge – the Competition Pack?

Now, I’m sure there’ll be plenty of arguments about this, but for me the GTS’s key in-house benchmarks from previous generations are the E30 Sport Evo and the E46 M3 CSL. No E36s? No. We could have included the E36 M3 Lightweight, but that was North American-only, and therefore featured the lower-power US engine – we’d sooner have a Euro engine. We could have dropped in the E36 M3 R, but these were Aussie-only and essentially built for a race series. Dismissed. Perhaps we could have chosen the left-hand drive E36 M3 GT. Mmm, not quite hardcore enough in this company, but a great car nonetheless. Ah, the perils of an M3 greatest hits – feel free to grumble in the comments section below!

BMW M3 Sport Evo (E30)

The E30 feels positively pedestrian compared with the new M3, but its responses still sparkle with clarity when you drive it hard on track. It steers beautifully, and you have to be either highly clumsy or wilfully wayward to make the old timer under- or oversteer. Great visibility, comfortable Recaros, lovely car. That dog-leg gearbox takes some getting used to, though, the steering ratio could be quicker, and the engine is horribly coarse compared with the stuff we’re used to these days. The step from regular E30 to Sport Evo doesn’t transform the M3 experience in the same way that the step up to CSL or GTS does – it’s really much the same, apart from the engine – but the Sport Evo definitely deserves its best-E30-ever tag, and the changes were genuinely needed – unlike anything else we’re dealing with here – to keep the M3 at the cutting edge of motorsport, hence the wilder adjustable wings and wider front arches.

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