The Practical Side of the BMW M4

2015 BMW M4 19 photos
Photo: Gabriel Nica
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The story of each M3 generation revolved around its dual character. On the one hand, you had a car that could be taken to the track, driven like there’s no tomorrow and still survive the day while on the other, you could drive that car to your local grocery store and be comfortable with it. That’s the magic of any M car and that’s what we set out to find. We wanted to see if this car can truly be used comfortable as a daily driver.
Seeing as most people focus on the M4’s track performance, we went the other way around. Therefore, we concluded that we simply had to tone down a bit and cool off, in order to go searching for the human side of this car. The goal of our endeavor was to answer a couple of questions:

  • Could you live with the suspension on an everyday basis?
  • How efficient is it?
  • Can you fit human beings in the back?
  • How much luggage can you take with you on a longer trip?
  • Could this really be your only car?

As you can see, those are actual, normal questions every driver asks himself when he’s looking for a new car. Just because the M4 is a track beast does it mean that it shouldn’t be fit to do everything else? We don’t think so. Therefore, we set out to find out exactly how it was to live with it around town.

Taking delivery

We were fortunate enough to test the M4 before and it was an incredible experience in the Austrian mountains, on extremely wet roads where the rear axle really came alive. So when we asked BMW to loan us another one, we were met with a raised eyebrow. After we explained exactly what we were after, that raised eyebrow quickly turned into an all-out smile. Apparently, they knew something we didn’t.

A couple of days later we met with our test car. It was a beautiful Silverstone Mettallic that impressed right away. Then we rolled our eyes from the aggressive front end to the sides where huge 19” wheels met us and then to the rear where those sexy flared fenders made us gasp. Yes, we’ve seen it before but you get stunned every time.

We quickly jumped in and started our evaluation. What hits you immediately is how good the seats look and how comfortable they are. They will feel exactly right and that’s because you can adjust them in more than enough ways, allowing you to set up just how wide they should be. This way, you can make sure you’re well and snuggly even when pushing the throttle beyond your comfort zone.

As we reached for the seatbelt, we noticed just how much attention was put into saving weight. You see, on the 4 Series, you have a small ‘hand’ embedded in the back seat panel that hands you your seat belt, so that you don’t have to stretch too much. On the M4 it is missing and the only reason for that we could come up with was weight saving.

You see the attention to weight everywhere. The bonnet for example, doesn’t have any isolating material under it to keep the engine warm, the driveshaft is made of CFRP and the listing can go on.

After getting over the fact that we had to grab the seatbelt ourselves, we wanted to set off. Here’s something new though: if you’ve driven BMW’s before but not an M car, you’ll have to deal with the M gearshift knob.

For hardcore models, BMW used a different configuration. As standard, the car is in what you’d consider Sport mode on a ZF 8-speed gearbox. If on the 8-speed you’d have to tilt the gearshift lever left to enter sport mode, on the M4 it’s already in sport mode. To shift gears manually all you have to do is push it forward or backwards. When going into manual mode, the light on the knob changes, illuminating the small plus and minus signs on it.

To get it in neutral, you have to tilt it to the left, while going into reverse, you’d have to push it to the left and then upwards, kind of like on a manual gearbox. That’s really neat and that’s really the only similarity with a manual you’ll find.

Purists will always say that the manual is the one to get but for daily driving, the automatic is the way to go, by far. That’s because you get driving modes that help you out around town.

Don’t be fooled though, the 550 Nm (406 lb-ft) of twist will get you in trouble as soon as you hit 1,850 RPM and that comes up in no time. You don’t want to go through the trouble of having to keep all that in check all the time. Just get it in Comfort and you’ll be good. That’s the mode we kept it in for most of the time.

Cruising around town

So we left the BMW building after dealing with the DCT knob and set out to see how it would be like to do your daily chores with an M4. The first thing we noticed was that our car was equipped with the Lane Warning Assist system. What that does is light up a yellow triangle in your side mirror’s casing letting you know that there’s someone in your blind spot.

It might seem redundant, right? After all, everyone checks their mirrors before changing lanes but this goes even further. If you’re also signaling a lane change, the steering wheel will vibrate, to let you know that there’s a car right next to you. That could save a couple of accidents.

Driving around town is nerve wrecking at first. Until you get used to the throttle you’ll have to be extremely careful. Even in Comfort mode, where you feel plenty of turbo lag and everything is toned down the car feels like it wants to go hard all the time.

Leaving a parking lot or resuming your drive after stopping at a red light the car feels lively and wants to go as soon as you touch the acceleration pedal. The DCT gearbox is rather harsh and less comfortable compared to a ZF one but it does the trick when you want it to be fast.

We also tried to be as reserved as possible with the acceleration spurts but it’s really hard to enter a chilled mindset when everything around you has an M on it. Therefore, our fuel consumption after around 100 km (62 miles) showed 14 l/100 km (17 mpg) in heavy traffic. Not bad, especially considering that we didn’t drive like saints all the time.

As for the suspension, you shouldn’t expect it to be on the same level as a 5 Series for example. No, this is an M car and you will feel it but it’s neither as hard as we expected it to be. In Comfort mode, with the 19” wheels (which are the biggest size BMW offers) it feel ok, even over considerable pot holes. It’s somewhere around Cooper S harshness. Get it in Sport + mode and you’ll have some trouble keeping your teeth in check.

BMW says that if you don’t go for the adaptive dampers, the standard suspension will feel like somewhere between Sport and Sport+. If you’re going for the track, that’s perfectly fine but if you want to drive your car around town on a daily basis, you’d better get the adaptive setup.

Speaking of adapting things, we have to mention the M buttons on the steering wheel. Every M4 gets them (you don’t have to pay extra) and they are extremely useful.

What they actually do is allow you to set your car to two completely different modes. On one button, let’s say M1, you can choose to memorize the settings for cruising (Comfort mode for the suspension, throttle and gear shifts) while on the M2 you can go all out with Sport+ for everything. That will come in handy a lot, especially around town, when someone wants to see how fast your car is. We won’t say anything more.

The visibility and seating positions are some of the best in class. We can’t complain about anything here, even though the car is a coupe. You can see in the back perfectly well but you do have to be careful around narrow streets and the wide hips could get you in trouble.

Outside of town

So, you bought an M4 and want to go for a longer trip with your friends. Not a great choice, right? Wrong, actually. This might be a coupe and you could think that there’s simply no room for more than 2 people but you’d be wrong. Compared to a Porsche, for example, you can actually fit 2 adults in the back, comfortably, for longer trips. In order to emphasize that, we got two of our most dedicated female readers to join us and took some photos of how they fit in the back.

As you can see, they had plenty of headroom and legroom and they were simple, normal people as well, not under 5 foot or above 7 foot. To be more precise we’ll tell you that one was 5’3” (162 cm) and one 5’6” (170 cm) and they had no trouble fitting in. Even taller people can do it but not for stretches that are too long. Don't think about getting another person in the back, 2 is ok, 3 is impossible due to the seat configuration.

Since the girls had plenty of luggage with them, we wanted to see exactly how many suitcases would fit in the trunk. Just one right? Wrong again. We managed to get three pretty big ones back there and there was still room. Considering their size, we think you’d be safe with luggage for 4 adults, with no problems. Furthermore, if you want to carry longer, bigger stuff than just cases, you can recline the back seats.

On the open road, the M4 feels even more comfortable. It hugs the road so well that you can’t believe your back. The seats are comfortable, the gearshifts smooth and the music sounds brilliant thanks to Harman/Kardon. Once the night fell, we also got to see BMW’s Adaptive LEDs at work and we understood why people are willing to pay so much for them.

With this system, all you have to do is press a button and the car will make sure you get the best visibility at all times, without blinding the others. The LEDs create a cone of shadow around every car in front of you, so that you can actually see around them. It’s really something you have to see for yourself to understand exactly how it works. Bottom line, they will make your evening trips a lot more comfortable.

The one thing we didn’t expect was the noise. This is a coupe and the front doors are frameless and we only had that to blame but the wind noise around the A-Pillars was rather disturbing after 130 km/h (80 mph). But you don’t have to go that fast.

Actually, doing around 110 km/h (68 mpg) will get your car to return 24 mpg (10 l/100 km) while going just 10 km/h faster will get that down to 21 mph (11 l/100 km). It’s really not worth the trouble. Sure, most people who buy this car don’t worry about mpg but having to stop every once in a while to refuel isn’t all that fun.

One thing we also noticed was that the funky design of the mirrors could make your day crappy in a second. The thing is, if you’re unlucky enough and it starts raining, you’ll have a hard time checking out your mirrors because the gap they have next to the pillar will allow raindrops to accumulate on your window and block out exactly the portion that you need to see. It’s really baffling how BMW let that small detail slide.

The conclusion

It’s pretty hard to claim that one car in the world has everything you could ask for. Even the most expensive ones can’t tick all the boxes. That’s why when you set out to buy a car, you must first know exactly what you’re looking for.

The M4 is far from perfect for everyone. It’s a car that appeals to those that want to feel alive, that want to know what it’s like to lose traction even in fourth gear and feel their heart throbbing in their chest, filled with adrenaline.

At the same time, it has no problem raising to the expectations everyone had from it. This is one car that truly embodies the M spirit, with a bipolar character that will make sure you get everything you need in one package.

Need a car that will allow you to go grocery shopping and racing at the same time? This is it. Need one to also eat up as little fuel as possible doing it? This is it. Want to take your friends with you while doing it? You got it! Could this be an all-rounder? Absolutely!

What we found out was that you don’t necessarily have to adjust your expectations anymore. The M4 will provide you with everything you need both on and off the track and that’s the essence of an M car. We’re so glad that BMW hit this one out of the park. Let’s see if they can keep up the good work in the future as well. Until then, don’t be afraid to test an M4. You’ll definitely be surprised!
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