Born slippy 355bhp BMW M3 CSL vs. 507bhp Merc CLK Black. Rising 3 prices have put it on a collision path with the rarer. CLK63 AMG Black. Which one delivers the best thrills per £1? Words Nathan Chadwick. Photography Richard Pardon.
BMW M3 CSL E46 vs. Mercedes-Benz CLK63 AMG Black Series C209 / W209 Munich versus Stuttgart in a hardcore track battle.
Think useable trackday sportscar, think 911 GT3, right? Yes, it’s a great car, but hamstrung by an image problem. That huge fixed rear wing may be an altar of worship for enthusiasts, but it’s a homing beacon for inverted snobbery. BMW and Mercedes offered more subtle trackday machinery in the mid-2000s, cars that were rather more useable. Both offered spectacular pace and immersive handling, but with the space and refinement for everyday use. Both even have automatic gearboxes, for when you want to cruise home after a day pounding round Brands Hatch.
The BMW M3 CSL E46 came first in 2003, and to rapturous praise. It was about £20,000 more than the standard M3, but the extensive lightening, stiffening and honing was deemed to have made the £58,000 entry cost worthwhile.
All 422 cars sold out quickly, and rumours abound that BMW smuggled an extra 100 in from other territories to satisfy demand.
Though there was a spell of depreciation, that’s far behind the CSL now. You can still pick up an example with 60-70,000 miles on the clock for £50,000, but if you head below 50,000 miles you’re starting at around £70k. Really low-mileage cars are now nudging £95k. That brings it into direct competition with the Mercedes-Benz AMG CLK63 Black C209, a car with a set of performance figures as big as its name.
BMW M3 CSL E46 vs. Mercedes-Benz CLK63 AMG Black Series C209
It’s a rare car but one that helped to inspire a revamp of the AMG brand. It cost £100k and has hardly depreciated – we found a 70,000-mile car on sale for £70,000, though for a low-miler you’re looking at £95k. But can the AMG Black really do the business on track against one of the most beloved modern classic BMWs? And is the M3 CSL really worth all of the market hype?