Photo: BMW

The BMW E46 design is widely considered one of the company’s best. Maybe I only think that because it was “the new M3” when my friends and I got driver’s licenses, but I know I’m not the only one who imagined the Euro-spec E46 M3 CSL was the ultimate street-legal M3 of our time. After hearing about what it’s actually like to drive, I’m not so sure though.

Carfection is doing a sweet video series on M3s called “M3 Masterpieces” which, straight from the title, you can tell is going to be about excellent M3s.

Most would easily put the CSL into that category–with its beautifully sculpted subtle ducktail spoiler, 19-inch BBS wheels, asymmetrical glory hole intake and limited production run–it’s regularly referenced as One Of The Good Ones. Video host and test driver Henry Catchpole says only 1,383 were made in 2003, and none were shipped to North America.

Catchpole frames the CSL as worship-worthy, saying something something balanced chassis, which I think all British car journalists are required to utter at least once per video, and citing the engine’s exhaust note as the best “this side of the McLaren F1.” The latter being particularly high praise, indeed.

The CSL apparently got a modest bump to 355 horsepower and 273 lb-ft of torque, while shaving about 240 pounds off a standard M3 with a lot of carbon parts, including the lightweight roof.

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But to me, his tone sounds more of someone a little disappointed by the car but too polite to avoid offend its owner to be candid.

“Time has definitely been kind to this car,” Catchpole says, while talking about how special it feels to drive.

Anything with as much historic significance as a small-batch BMW is going to be fun and interesting for the novelty alone, though. And in this video, Catchpole also tells us that the brakes were too weak for hard driving, the only transmission option was a mediocre paddle-shifted semi-automatic, and even spends 20 seconds talking about how the steering wheel’s wrapping material isn’t viable.

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The car looks amazing from any angle, but a great engine plus brilliant chassis minus bad brakes and a lame transmission leaves you with the difference of a pretty just-OK performance car, I think.

Not that it really matters, since few Americans will ever get the chance to drive one of these anyway. Maybe the positive takeaway is the fact that we didn’t really miss out with the U.S.-spec E46 M3, and the deep aftermarket that’s thrived to make the three-pedal manual version even better.

I still wouldn’t mind having a CSL in my garage, of course. If only to look at it and listen to it.