I drove the new BMW M3 CSL around the Goodwood circuit in Sussex - about the only place it would be entirely sane and safe to do so. When Jim Clark won the 1965 German Grand Prix in his beautiful, nimble Lotus 33 he set a fastest lap of 8 minutes 24.1 seconds. This BMW can do the infamous Nurburgring in under eight minutes. The disagreeable thought comes to mind that in this car Darren of Camberley could have been Formula One World Champion.
The 'L' stands for lightweight, but all things are relative. At 1,385 kilos, the fastest BMW, not including the Formula One cars, is scarcely anorexic, and each kilogram has a quarter of a horsepower to propel it.
While normally I believe that poetic opinion reaches a higher level of truth than scientific fact, this car demands treatment in technicalities, so bear with me, as they say in call centres.
BMW has stripped 110 kilos off the standard M3 by a radical reappraisal of what needs to be in steel and what can be made from more expensive aluminium or glass-reinforced or carbon-reinforced plastics. Less intellectually demanding in terms of weight reduction was the decision to supply the CSL without air-conditioning or stereo (they can be specified as no-cost options). The CSL retains four seats, although I would not want to occupy those in the back if the car were moving. The ones in the front are amazingly supportive glass-reinforced plastic buckets with trim like Kate Moss has fat.
At 360hp, the CSL is only slightly more powerful than the standard car, but the mechanical modifications enhance the edgy athleticism of one of the very best engines on the market. These include refinements of other-worldly sophistication such as thinner exhaust walls and a carbon air collector. Intake volumes have been calculated using principles developed in Formula One, and the gearbox has the same genealogy. Its racecar software swaps cogs faster than Darren can think. Using paddles on the steering wheel or a stick where the gearlever ought to be, changes take 0.08 seconds.
Electronics allow a choice of sequential (demanding but fast) or automatic (lazy and slower).
Similar voodoo has been practised on the suspension. There is more direct steering, wider track, better brakes. You can stop from 60 in a mere 30 metres, although this may burst essential capillaries, so you have been warned.
The result of all this santeria and candomble is a car that offers authentic racecar feel. You can order a CSL with Michelin Sport Cup tyres suitable for track use, but they need to be warmed up before they work. BMW says with nice understatement: 'Dealers will explain the need for caution. Buyers will also be required to confirm that they are aware of and understand the unique performance characteristics.'
If you have a racing licence, BMW technicians will remove the device that limits the car to 155mph (although I gather there are people in South London who know how to do it too).
Now we are over the product liability stuff, let's get to the essence: the BMW M3 CSL is just about the hardest, loudest, most raucous, sharpest ride you can get. And I mean anywhere. It has the same connection with the quotidian chore of driving as Gordon Ramsay does with school dinners.
Never mind the extraordinary stability systems, it is so shockingly fast and nervously responsive that to use even a ghost of its full potential in a public space would be sociopathic where it was not actually impossible.
I would not want to own such a restrictive car. For me it would be like entering Mahomet's heaven and finding, as promised, 72 lissom and willing virgins only to be annoyingly reminded about a pledge of celibacy. Still, it is an attractive car to look at. The generic 3 series body, now nearing the end of its life cycle, has been very durable aesthetically, and the CSL shows it at its most interestingly extreme: there are wheel-arch flares of Abba bravura, while fog lights have been removed from the front apron and an additional asymmetric air vent added to provide a muted shriek of functional menace.
It comes in any colour as long as it is black or silver. Interior includes anthracite headlining, so no probs if you spill your fajitas under hard acceleration. For pounds 58,455, BMW includes a high-speed driving course.