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Family road trip – in a BMW M3 CSL
I used to think just two ingredients made the perfect road trip car - power and precision.
So machines like the Porsche 911, Lotus Elise and Ferrari F430 jostled for the top slot whenever I dreamed of munching miles across countries. All you need, I reckon, is a car with the accuracy to turn into a bend at speed and the grunt to exit it - with tail sliding abilities for greedy pleasure.
I've never considered comfort or space to be important, let alone essential, and once even replaced a suitcase with a wine case on the return leg from Le Mans. A passenger is a luxury too - as long as there's enough room for me and a credit card, that's just fine. Until now.
A third element has entered the fray since I became a mum earlier this year and it's perhaps the least sexy term in the motoring dictionary - practicality. But, as I'm learning, even the most hardened petrolhead needs this eventually: I've had plenty of in-depth chats with Jason Plato about the usefulness of ISOFIX baby seats, and window blinds with cat whiskers on them. And he's a double British Touring Car Champion.
So, determined not to retire my 'speedy' gene on our first ever family road trip, I had to pick my wheels very, very carefully.
The 911 was the first contender because it will fit a baby seat in the back - hurrah - and that's a rare feature in a high-performance car. And think of the fun I'd have behind the wheel! But it won't fit a buggy, a travel cot, baby food, drinking bottles, sterilising equipment, nappies, clothes and toys. Plus a long-weekend's worth of adult gear.
So, dropping down a level on the badge scale, I pondered BMW's £53,000 M3 with its 4.0-litre V8 and 420bhp. A great choice. But not quite great enough, because once I'd started thinking of the perfect road trip car, I knew it had to be special. Super special.
Earlier this year I spanked a £120,000 M3 GTS round a racing circuit for Fifth Gear and its appetite for speed and its desire to swing its arse have etched themselves into my soul. But not one of the 150 owners would be foolish enough to drop the keys into my grasping, clasping claws.
However, the GTS did bring me close to the car I eventually picked as my perfect partner - the M3 CSL. The Coupé Sport Leichtbau - a lightweight version of a M3 with 360bhp and more carbonfibre than a Formula One factory.
A few years ago I spent the day at Silverstone racing circuit in one, sliding my way round the track giving passenger rides - total joy. So, with 260bhp per tonne, one of the best handling chassis I've ever played with, rear seats and a decent boot, the M3 CSL was the perfect fit for our trip.
Our destination was Deauville on the west coast of France, some 300 miles from home, and the deceptively large boot swallowed all but one bag which we carried in the cabin. Things were looking good.
But then I slipped behind the wheel and immediately regretted my decision to overlook the normal M3. The seat! Rigid and bucket-type, it fixed my back into such an unnatural position I was reaching for the osteopath's number.
Thankfully it didn't last long as a couple of miles on, my spine sort of melted into it and I only remembered how convex it had been once I extricated myself at the other end.
That aside, the CSL was an utter joy from start to finish. The unique sound from the 3.2-litre six-cylinder had us opening the windows through tunnels, and giving a few extra indulgent revs at both ends of the Eurotunnel.
Rare and valuable
Fewer than 450 were made in right-hand drive eight years ago, with a £58,455 price tag each, and the secondhand motor I borrowed still commanded strong money at £30,000. We received a few knowing nods from fellow travellers as they caught sight of the CSL's tell-tale integrated rear spoiler, just subtle enough to attract the right sort of attention.
As the miles sped by, I couldn't wish for a better-shaped steering wheel and it has just the right amount of squidgy-ness, too. It gives you the confidence to place the front tyres with mathematical precision at any speed, too.
The rear-drive chassis is perhaps my favourite part because it's ever-ready to please. It will change direction as quickly as a flock of starlings and it rewards a keen peddler by keeping them on their toes as the limit of grip rushes up. Too much right foot out of a corner will force the boot to start overtaking the bonnet, but if you know what you're doing it's really good fun, sliding progressively rather than snapping sideways. The throttle response is commendably instant too.
After what felt like a mere hour or two, we arrived at our resting place, the Normandy Barrière Hotel, feeling as fresh as when we'd left home. The hotel's porter did a double take when he opened the boot, and shuffled off to get a big trolley.
It was a brilliant car to pick - quick, agile and practically perfect in every way. Even Mary Poppins would approve.
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The comments on here are comical. Do you lot ever wonder what life would be like if you had enough oxygen at birth?
Fact 1. There is no build number on the plaque only that 422 RHD were built.
Fact 2. It's an M Track Mode button not an M Sport button. M Track is a mode of DSC. When M track mode is selected the DSC doesn't cut in until much later.
Epic fail there Dave.
If you need further proof, just ask.
What number does your plaque number say then poppet? Then I will tell you something about them.
It's easy enough to put your name at the end of your post. MSN can't stop you doing that.
@ Peter Hayward
I think Lesa probably restricts driving her CSL with its extreme cornering forces to Track days or whenever she may be in said CSL "sans kids", I cant image her drifting it into the local Tesco's, pulling a couple of doughnuts( no offence to either of you ) and then locking all 4 up as she brakes from 130 to zero into the mum and toddlers parking place !
The kids probably get subjected to more "forces" on a fairground ride !
Im from a time when we kids were thrown in the back of a car with no child seats, no seat belts, a game of Ludo, proper lead pencils, and both parents smoking Embassy No. 6 for the entire journey ! ... we were lucky !
Well done to VBH for her choice of vehicles, she obviously researched well, and chose well.
You two probably drive around with those daft "Child on board" stickers, the only use of which I can establish is to inform the general public of your amazing ability to procreate !
With regard to the numbering on the plaque, if someone bought their car directly from the Factory near Munich, they were more than likely purchasing the de-restricted version which is why they may have a different plaque than the UK registered road cars. People were also given various additional documentation than received with UK registered vehicles. The lady and her brother below could have possibly brought one of these versions as they went to Germany so just because you dont have knowledge of something, doesn't make it BS sweetie. ( CSLGirl's comment on Csl register ) .
With regard to the M sport button, you are correct, it is officially known as the M track switch and does indeed switch on the stability control system. I would have been impressed by your answer had I not seen you posting on the CSL Register site, however, you still haven't answered the question as to what happens when you press it.
I think you are assuming too much. I don't speed on the road. Hence my clean driving licence for 21 years.
For your info, bucket seats do not support your neck, they merely hold your shoulders in place so you are sitting snugly. No seats support your neck. That is why racers wear a neck support.
Regarding the sports exhaust. The reason I have it, is because I like the noise at lower revs.
I cannot be bothered to argue with you. To be honest, I think you are both rather naive and even more so if you have actually owned a CSL (have you really?)
" So, determined not to retire my 'speedy' gene on our first ever family road trip, I had to pick my wheels very, very carefully. "......... "As the miles sped by, I couldn't wish for a better-shaped steering wheel and it has just the right amount of squidgy-ness, too. It gives you the confidence to place the front tyres with mathematical precision at any speed, too. "......." The rear-drive chassis is perhaps my favourite part because it's ever-ready to please. It will change direction as quickly as a flock of starlings and it rewards a keen peddler by keeping them on their toes as the limit of grip rushes up. Too much right foot out of a corner will force the boot to start overtaking the bonnet, but if you know what you're doing it's really good fun, sliding progressively rather than snapping sideways. The throttle response is commendably instant too. "
Why would she write that in the section of the journey if she hadn't actually driven like that?......As to your loud exhaust system, have you ever asked your kids if its too loud?...no i guess not....and finally, very young children do get sick in cars but I guess you have never noticed that as it is very clear that you think only of yourself.
Kirsty, they only made genuine CSL's in silver or black and they never fitted heated seats at the factory so are you sure you are not talking about a regular M3?. They were plastic bucket seats in the CSL. Mind you someone may have had then fitted afterwards because the seats were not very comfortable on your back. Mine use to ache badly after a couple of hours behind the wheel and without air conditioning, the seats are very sweaty when its hot.
I have to say that I wouldn't consider one of these as an ideal car to drive kiddies around in. The acceleration is very severe and usually when you dont want it to be and the cornering is very tight so I can see why people are saying about cornering forces. I found it was a stunning car to drive but on mine, a black one, the paint flaked off the front spoiler a few times and it had to have the brakes replaced and work done on the engine under warranty.
The factory tyres were also deadly in the wet and they even made you sign a document to say you wouldn't sue them if you crashed in the wet due to the tyres. I changed them though after a year because the rears were worn out by 7000 miles and the fronts were not much better. It was much better in the wet with normal tyres on it which incidently were about a 1/3 of the cost of the standard factory tyres and it cornered just as wildly in the dry as before. In the end though, it was a bit too harsh to drive everyday and after a while the paddle gearbox gets boring so you leave it in the auto setting in the end so i sold it on.
The thing about this article though is that she only borrowed it, she hasn't bought one and she can easily afford the £30k needed to buy one so I think that says it all really. I know I would never use one of these to drive my kiddies around in as an every day car. Quite apart from the fact that they would be sick within a few miles, it would scare them to death and I think we all know Vicki would have been driving it fast.
From "someone" who hasn't even got their real name up on their profile..... do you think anything you say will be taken seriously? I have nothing to hide.
It is track biased and comparatively harsh and short of equipment for long trips.
The contemporary M3 is a better bet if you are not driving to show off. Smoking the rear tyres is for journos who don't pay the tyre bill, not real people who have normal salaries and own their cars.
Hammering a car round corners with a baby on board is seriously risking the child's neck injury too.
Sensible folk will prefer an M5 of course.
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