Everything you wanted to know about the CSL (but were afraid to ask)

This is in relation to "that" review by a certain Jeremy Clarkson (which to be fair is probably responsible for many a person lusting after this car).

Although I appreciate that he says a lot of things for artistic licence and to garner attention, let’s start by debunking the plethora of myths perpetuated by Jezza in that legendary Top Gear video:

  • “You don’t get electric seats, you don’t get air conditioning, you don’t even get a radio.”

Despite the former being true, you actually had to specify the car with no AC and no radio (and even the car that Jezzer was driving had BOTH options as you can clearly see from the interior shots as the business CD player and HVAC panel are plain to see). By all accounts there are only 7 cars of the 422 that came to the UK that are specified like that and most (including Jezza’s test car) have both or at least the AC. In fact Jeremy’s test car was only missing the Xenon light option (identified by the lack of headlight washer jets) and even had the rear PDC option.

  • “The floor of the boot is made of cardboard….”

The cardboard floor referred to, is just a lightweight cover (something that many cars of the era featured) to hide the compressor and jack located under this within the actual metal boot floor. However, I could be cruel and confirm that the boot floor may as well have been made from cardboard given how poorly it was designed from the factory.

I’m sure if you are reading this, then you will be familiar with the issue of the subframe mounting points being so thin that the yawing effect of the subframe bolts in acceleration and deceleration causes the floor to crack around these and can (if untreated) actually lead to the floor pan almost completely detaching itself….

  • “You had to sign a disclaimer to confirm that you understand that the tyres don’t work in the rain or if it’s a bit chilly.”

This is actually true. The original full-fat Cups even came with a window sticker reminding you that there was: Increased risk of aquaplaning in very wet conditions. Reduced levels of grip when ambient temp drops below 7°c. Increased rate of tyre wear.

  • “ You can’t put heavy shopping in the boot in case it falls through the cardboard floor.”

See above, you can actually put a full set of wheels inside the boot without any issue with the "cardboard" floor cover.

  • Although not mentioned in the Top Gear video, you will often see YouTubers (too lazy to do their research ;)) refer to the seats as being based on Recaro Pole Positions, where they were in fact based on the Recaro SPG, but with lowered side bolsters and a (stupid) lack of harness holes.
  • Now comes the part that really grinds my gears (no pun intended ;)) and that is the slating the CSL gets for it’s SMG gearbox. Every YouTuber under the sun, gets in the car and states how slow the shift speed is compared to modern DCTs. These people are retards and should not be listened to ;). Firstly, when you watch the videos, you will notice that there is invariably no yellow light illuminated on the centre of the dash, which signifies that the traction control is switched off (although I do appreciate that this may be for insurance reasons).

This means that in every video where this is the case, the maximum shift speed that can be selected is S5. You only get to access the hidden menu for S6 by turning the traction control off. When you do, only then can you get to the 80ms shift speed that the SMGII system can achieve. In the lower gears, it is brutal and you actually fear for the life of both the diff and the aforementioned rear subframe mounting points.

I think also because people have become so used to the later far more advance transmissions, even the ferocity of the shift in S5 can frighten people, so they then start lifting between the gear-shifts to "protect" the drivetrain and make the gearchange "smoother". Unfortunately due to the (limited) self-learning capability of the SMG DME, it adapts to this kind of driving, which will lead to clutch slur, which further dampens the experience of the transmission. The best thing to do when you want to be kinder to the drive-train is just to select a slower shift speed and never (ever) lift.

The CSL's SMGII in S6 is actually as fast or faster than the quoted shift speeds for many current DCT transmissions (but only if it is in tip-top condition and not self adapted to some muppet lifting between shifts all the time...).

The E92's DCT is actually quoted at the same 80ms shift speed as the SMGII, where these cars are all slower:

  • Bugatti Veyron (DSG): 100 ms
  • Ferrari FXX: 100 ms
  • Maserati GranTurismo S Cambiocorsa: 100 ms
  • Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG: 100 ms
  • Fastest Automatic transmission: 100 ms
  • Lexus LC500: 120ms
  • Chevrolet Camaro ZL1: 150 ms
  • Clio RS EDC 200: 150 ms (race mode)
  • Enzo Ferrari: 150 ms
  • Nissan GT-R: 150 ms (R Mode)
  • FXX Evoluzione: 160 ms
  • Dodge Challenger/ Charger: 160 ms (Track Mode)
  • Lexus LFA: 200 ms
  • Ferrari 360 Challenge Stradale & Ferrari F430: 250 ms
  • BMW M3 E36 with SMG I: 250 ms
  • Aston Martin Vanquish: 250 ms
  • Ferrari 575M: 280 ms
  • Lamborghini Performante DCT LDF: 290 ms

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying the SMGII is flawless – in auto mode it is a very shonky thing indeed that doesn’t know whether it is coming or going. What I don’t understand is the level of criticism that is aimed at this system compared to it’s superiority over other manufacturer’s similar single clutch automated manual transmissions (that don’t seem to receive the same kind of flack).

I can only presume that this is down to the fact that most people’s experience of the SMG is in the frankly wanky standard set-up of the normal M3 tarnishing the CSL’s (due to superior software in the transmission DME). I do fully appreciate that at less than 7/10ths the CSL’s SMG system is never going to be as involving as a manual transmission, but the Getrag 420G that the E46 M3 uses is not exactly known for being one of the best manuals in the first place. Where the CSL’s SMG system does come into it’s own is on track – the original design remit for the car. You have to remember that the CSL was originally built with only one goal, and that was to go under 8 mins for a full lap of the Nordschleife (whilst show-casing BMW's motorsport prowess and their (at the time) new carbon technology by building such a car). This time may seem pretty slow by modern standards, but what that doesn’t show is the speed of the ‘ring has increased in its current format. Back in 2003, a 7.50 for a full lap was something else (faster than the original 996 GT3, Ferarri 360 Challenge Stradale and only a couple of seconds adrift of a 997 GT3 RS – all with the same driver at the wheel). Sadly, you can’t compare the times achieved now to then, as the track is currently widely acknowledged as being 5-7s faster due to the many surface improvements over the last 17 years, so any suggestion of much later lap times being better, needs to take this into account.