Before we indulge ourselves in talking about the BMW M4, let's take a look around the BMW line-up. A hefty slice of it is built on the laurels of the M Division. Nowadays, everybody wants the three-colored badge, so the M Sport stuff is selling like hot cakes.
For the sake of ambitions, even the 2 Series Active Tourer, a people mover by all means, comes with an optional M Sport package! This puts even more pressure on the actual M models. Not only must a new M car please the enthusiasts, it has to shine so that its legacy is passed on to its civilian siblings.
Because of this, the context in which the new M3 and M4 arrive couldn't be more different than what happened when their ancestor, the E30 M3, was born. Back in the funky 80s, the Bavarians only built a limited number of M3s because they were forced to do so by racing homologation rules.
Now, five generations later, the M3 has become nothing less than a cult. And what do the newcomers do in order to deliver all that's expected of them? They turn to the past, obviously.
Yes, the 2015 M3 and M4 promise to bring back the good old authentic feel of the badge. They promise to recover all the stuff that got lost over the years, as the company's models migrated further and further towards luxury and comfort.
Only The Automotive God knows how eager I've been to hear such a statement, so I started the engine of the M4 tester with great expectations.
Which brings us to a very important chapter of our experience, namely the sound. Even since the first videos showed up on Youtube, many have complained about the lack of proper aural sensations offered by new three-liter twin-turbo inline six. Well, they're wrong.
The soundtrack that accompanied me throughout the drive was nice. Actually, for a turbocharged experience, it was sweet. Critics forget about the nature of the engine and compare it directly to the naturally-aspirated 4-liter V8 of the past generation. Sure, there's considerable distance between the level of aural excitement the two provide, but the comparo itself is rather silly.
As the 3-liter comes to life, it's not the kind of sound that makes your day. We have to remember the car defaults in the "Comfort" driving mode, where the exhaust valves aren't all that generous.
Step on the gas in any gear though (in "Sport”) and you'll be treated with enough decibels of aggression. The voice of the engine isn't memorable or something, but it's good enough.
What we don't like is the audio system augmenting the work of the exhaust, but, in the end, you don't feel like you're being cheated on - an issue we had with the M5/M6
. When it comes to the M3 and M4, the car sounds just as good from the outside, while the speaker-generated noise inside the vehicle feels more organic - mind you, this is the amplified sound of the engine, not a recording.
Having pleased my ears, I pulled over and started walking around the car, in order to serve my eyes this time. The same impression I had when seeing the M3/M4 on the Detroit floor where they debuted still stands. Both models have something that remind me of a well-executed running shoe.
From the bespoke front and rear fascias to the way in which the fenders are pumped-up, the M3/M4 look like they're always training for a sprint race. Choosing between the two is nearly impossible. Yes, the coupe profile of the M4 should give it the visual edge, but the M3 has a very strong charm of its own. There's a guilty pleasure we take in seeing a sedan with such bold rear fenders.
Don’t ever tell an M4 owner he or she drives a 4 Series. You’ll get an angry look and for good reason.
For one thing, each and every body panel on the car is different, with the doors being the only unchanged bits.
Inside, the difference to a standard 4 Series is smaller and yet there are enough M-specific elements to bring one into the right mood. The seats are perhaps the most striking elements. Their design once again reminds us of sporting gear. As for the illuminated emblems on the seat backs, we're not fans of the idea, but at least the lighting itself is discreet.
In terms of comfort, we'd give them a six and a half, in a world where the seats on the M6 get a nine.
The M division’s traditional red and yellow war paint for the speedometer and rev counter are obviously here - a nice touch you’ll appreciate. The cabin is the chapter where the M4 wins points for not being a purpose-built sportscar like the Porsche 911 or the Mercedes-AMG GT
. This means you can actually enter/exit the car without any effort whatsoever and that you have proper visibility all around.
The two seats behind you actually work, with the only problem being the same one shown by any 4 Series, namely the firm seat backs in the rear. Those looking for extra spice shouldn’t be worried, the aftermarket world is all too happy to provide you with a roll cage, if that’s what you want.
The same practicality-friendly conclusion stands when talking about city driving, but this is where a Porsche 911 would be just as good, despite its superior performance. M engineers wanted the car to feel like a sportscar, not a jacked-up 4 Series
. Thus, unlike normal BMWs where slipping into “Comfort” mode makes everything soft, the M4 never truly stays on a leash.
You feel the car stepping on the road with plenty of confidence. For example, the electric power steering doesn't become light until you get to the parking stuff. Keep both hands on the wheel or go home.
Then there’s the double-clutch gearbox. You feel the transmission was built to perform blistering shifts, not to deliver ZF 8HP-like 100 percent smoothness in stop and go traffic. As I set off from the traffic light, I can hear the M-DCT gearbox at work. This makes me feel sporty in a way that the funky-shaped door mirrors failed to. The mirrors are a forced element, whereas this feels truly organic.
As for the twin-turbocharged in-line six in front of me, the engine remains as usable as you’d expect. During the time spent inside the city, there wasn’t one situation that could upset the perfect balance of the powerplant.
Speaking of the S55 3-liter motor, this sees the M3 and M4 return to the E36 and E46 generations’ l6 configurations. Nevertheless, natural aspiration was dropped in favor of twin turbines. Delivering 425 hp (431 PS), the unit is only marginally more powerful than the rev-happy V8 of the E90, but the muscle arrives earlier and lasts longer. Peak power is here between 5,500 and 7,300 rpm - think of this as the old M3 on Viagra.
In the torque section? We have a revolution, as there's about 40 percent more twist than before. To be more precise, you get 406 lb-ft (550 Nm), offered between 1,850 and 5,500 rpm. The unit isn’t a dry sump one, but features a track-ready system that incorporates a lightweight magnesium oil sump.
By the way, multiple tuners around the world have dynoed the S55 engine, with the unit apparently delivering up to 470 horses at the crank. Just saying...
Out on the open road, the M4 settles in nicely, waiting for you to start dancing dirty. The thing rides in a pretty supple way, but you get a hint of its potential at all times. Out of all the M3s so far, this one seems the best balanced. While the heart of an E30 was its chassis and that of an E36 lied in its engine, the power and the handling are perfectly balanced here.
As expected, you can configure the steering, suspension, powertrain, as well as the gear shift intensity of the M-DCT
dual clutch automatic. I did what most people do, setting up one of the M buttons on the steering wheel for a civilian scheme. The other was left on maximum attack mode, albeit with the DSC
in the MDM half-off mode, not completely switched off.
To answer one important question, the turbo lag has been abolished.
Basically, this is the maximum you can achieve with the current exhaust gas-spun turbos and we’ll probably have to wait for electric chargers in order to do better.
In terms of normal driving, the car is super-quick, meaning you can get it up to any reasonable speed remarkably fast. As for what a more detailed acceleration report would include, it’s time to discuss stages. To properly extract the performance, you need to go past 3,000 rpm. The next level is waiting for you at 4,000 revs. From this point on, it’s a linear-but-wild roller coaster ride to the 7,600 rpm redline.
BMW claims the M4 can play the 0 to 60 mph game in 3.9 seconds (4.1 with the manual) and you could swear the car feels even quicker than that. If you’re not up for Launch Control games, you might want to try the other special function of the transmission, Smokey Burnout. This basically brings back and enhances an ability that was lost when the E90 generation got its facelift, allowing you to roast the rear tires when setting off.
As for the top speed, should the M4 be freed of any restriction, the car would do north of 180 mph (290 km/h).
When you have to lose some speed, both the standard and the optional M Carbon Ceramic brakes offer stopping power to match the muscle. It was especially pleasing to notice how usable the ceramics are. You can easily use these everyday, but you don’t really need them. Unless you decide to go to the track, that is.
If you do visit a circuit, there’s no point in racing any E92 M3 driver. Sure, that car comes with a V8, but yours is 15 seconds quicker around the Nurburgring.
When it comes to the M-DCT gearbox on the test car, it delivers devilishly fast shifts and can cope with comfort driving when asked to do so. The only problem here is that there’s a bit of lag when you drive around normally and suddenly decide to put your foot down. Yep, the kickdown stuff is not quite as sharp as expected.
The standard six-speed manual isn’t too shabby either. From dry sump lubrication to synchronizer rings with carbon friction linings, this is one sharp box. It’s smart too, as it will blip the throttle on downshifts. No more heel and toe games then. This doesn't matter too much though, since only one fifth of the customers are expected to swipe cogs themselves.
The electronically-controlled limited slip diff (a multi-plate clutch) deserves quite some praise. And this is where we get to the delicious handling of the M4.
The 4 Series was prepared for this, as it was already well planted, but the M4 is simply impressive. For instance, the way in which the air is channeled through the oil cooler generates a Venturi effect, which pushes the front axle onto the road, improving steering feel. You don't have to know all this, you'll instantly feel it once you get up to speed. There’s a perfect balance in the way this BMW corners. The handling is clean, so the car borrows its master’s character. You also get plenty of feedback, so you won’t fool anybody by saying you didn’t know what you were doing when you raced your way up the hill.
I didn’t feel any bit of understeer sitting between me and the mountainous road BMW had suggested for driving the M4 - once again, the diff knows when to open up in order to solve this problem. Overcoming the grip is harder than expected, simply because the BMW M4 offers tons and tons of it.
Be it dry or wet, the M4 is incredibly stable at any speed. Unlike the M5 and the M6, this isn’t that kind of BMW that needs xDrive. Sure, getting this as an option would be nice, just so you could extend the M4 pleasures into the winter without having to worry about anything.
Once you start sliding, things are overly sharp, with all the systems of the car paying close attention to you. Drifting an M4 makes one feel a bit like an orchestra conductor.
Part of this agility comes thanks to the fact that this is the first time when the engineers managed to achieve a weight reduction for a new generation. Tipping BMW’s scales at 3,300 lbs (1,497 kg), the M4 is about 176 lbs (80 kg) lighter than the car it replaces. The weight savings can be found throughout the car.
BMW has gone wild with the CFRP
(Carbon Fiber Reinforced Plastic) stuff lately and this obviously shows here. You can find the material all around the vehicle, from the roof (now also on the Sedan) to the engine compartment brace and even the driveshaft. At the same time, the front side walls and the hood are aluminum. So are many suspension components, which use forged aluminum.
By the way, the adaptive suspension is brilliant. You can feel any wrinkle of the road underneath and yet things don't become bothering when you hit a bump or a pothole. As for the steering, this is precise around the turning point, offering good levels of feedback all-round.
A certain part of the drive included soaking wet canyons and, with the DSC in M Dynamic Mode, the M4 played its part extremely well. The car gives you confidence in a way that shames the Jaguar F-Type.
Guess German aluminum is stiffer than the British one.
When you take this BMW to the edge, the car leaves anything else aside and connects with its driver in a manner that puts a smile on your face. Mind you, the thing will be in the triple digit area by the time this happens, so you won’t have too much time for giggles.
Back on the Austrian highways that were part of the test, the M4 proved remarkably pleasant as a cruiser. Thus, there was enough time to check the fuel efficiency. Throughout our drive, which included plenty of spirited moments, the M4 returned 18 US mpg (13l/100 km). A tamer driving style would've brought that to about 23.5 US mpg (10l/100 km), while BMW claims 26.7 US mpg (8.8l/100 km).
Since this is a BMW, you get all the expected gadgets and features. From the blind sport monitor
and the head-up display to the downright delicious Harman Kardon audio or the handy navigation, they’re all here.
Not only was the fear of the F82 M4 altering the spirit of the franchise unjustified, but the new generation takes the story much further. It offers the same driving delights as the E92 M3, but its extends the capabilities of its predecessor
. This isn’t a pumped-up BMW 4 Series, it’s a sportscar by all means.
Driving the M4 is a bit like graduating... performance driving school, while the car can also serve as a daily driver, as long as the road is not covered in snow.
The last few years of driving BMWs have seen us lust for their good old behind-the-wheel-pleasure values, of which we got to enjoy less and less - the company has repositioned itself, focusing more on the premium part of the experience. Well, the M4 makes up for all that.
The thing is so good that... you only need it if you’re genuinely into the manic stuff. A 435i is more refined car for cruising and let’s not forget that it also comes at two thirds of the M4’s price. Speaking of this, you have to pay at least US$ 64,200 for an M4, while a fully-loaded one will set you back around US$ 88,000. In Europe, the price ranges between EUR 72,200 and EUR 107,500 – the prices include 19 percent VAT.
Then again the good M cars have always been about bringing the motorsport experience onto the road and the M4 does a hell of a job when it comes to reminding us of the original E30 M3’s racing roots.