Is This BMW A Prototype Of The M4 CSL?

Did you know that you can still purchase a new M4 GTS? As I write this, there are at least eight examples described as new currently for sale at a handful of BMW Centers across the country—a couple are even offered at prices lower than the original MSRP of $134,200. When you consider the exclusivity of the model and stack its Nürburgring time up against other competitors’, the caged, winged, and water-injected thoroughbred starts to sound like a bargain. If history gives us any clue about how these special editions might fare down the road, one might feel even more encouraged to go GTS-shopping.

However, the M4 GTS was made only for the 2016 model year, and a recent patent filing by BMW seems to indicate that the exalted CSL badge would be returning to performance-model offerings. More recently, it was announced that the F80 M3 would see its production run come to an end later this year, while the F82 M4 platform will continue for approximately two additional model years—leaving room for something above the CS and newer than the GTS.

So, then, what could this specimen be?

At first glance, given the trunk badge, OLED taillights, and pre-LCI headlights, speculation would err on the side of caution and write off this European-spec M4 GTS as some enthusiast’s one-off creation, or perhaps a test bed for some kind of aftermarket parts offering. Nothing can be confirmed at this point, but paying special attention to the added aero pieces and the modifications made to the front fenders, more than a few different automotive media outlets have become convinced that this car could be a rather unsubtle preview of what’s to come from BMW.

It seems that the array of aero pieces fixed to the nether regions of the body and the front fenders are fueling most of the rumors. The diffusor, front canards, and side sills all appear rather haphazard and slapped on, but as a whole, they seem to follow what might be expected for a CSL model. Some sources are also citing lower ride height, but the factory-available coil-over suspension on the GTS is adjustable, and it’s always difficult to glean any useful dimensional information from eyeballing a photo.

There’s also a larger fixed wing mounted on the trunk lid, complemented by what looks like a longer front splitter—but beyond all of those smaller changes are the front fenders. Observant readers will notice that the belt line, which is most pronounced on the doors, continues forward on the fenders via a distinct panel seam. The GTS used a gill in this area, which appears identical to that of the M4 and M4 CS. This new slice seems to allow for a much larger air passage, which is likely to work in conjunction with the louvers placed directly atop the apex of the wheel arch. (If the setup seems at all 991-generation GT3 RS inspired, you wouldn’t be far off, as that range-topping, track-bred model is easily distinguishable from lesser 911 variants via its own uniquely louvered fenders.)

What’s being referred to as a camouflage-less test mule is most likely a GTS wearing some different parts, especially when compared with the official press photo from 2016 below. Still, with everything that’s been going on as BMW shakes up their various performance tiers, we can’t the rule out the CSL speculation, especially with fender sheet metal that looks factory-crafted.

For those in need of a refresher, BMW recently patented the CSL model designation. If everything falls in line as is expected, the CSL badge will completely replace GTS in the lineup as the absolutely most hardcore road-legal variant of M car available. Below these winged and caged models are the CS, or Competition Sport variants, which are marketed just above Competition Package-equipped versions of the garden-variety M3 and M4. Rounding things out are the regular M cars, like the M3 or M5, along with M Performance models, such as the M240i or M550i, which seem to represent entry-level M-badged offerings above M Sport Line-trimmed standard models. It’s a lot to digest with a few sentences, but each tier is delineated by clear boundaries that easily distinguish it for a specifically targeted market segment.

Only time will reveal if what’s speculated to be a prototype or test mule actually turns out to be a forebear of things to come, but we can’t help but feel excited for what BMW might have in store. Criticisms that the brand has gone soft over recent generations seem increasingly tempered as of late, thanks to an unrelenting release schedule of new performance models and tiers that look to embody the best of the breed. Rumored CSL models should be the latest in a strong offensive against other competitors launching their own forays into similar territory, and we look forward to diving into the details and picking apart the intricacies of whatever might be on the horizon—not to mention driving it.—Alex Tock

[Photos courtesy of BMW AG, Dr. Ing. h.c. F. Porsche AG.]

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