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New name, new engine and two turbos and even a much needed facelift, the main question lingers - can the BMW M4 grab the initiative off of the Mercedes-AMG C 63 Coupé

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The new nomenclature says BMW M4, but for all practical purposes you can put that to one side for the latest BMW model.

This is M division’s variant of BMW’s 3 Series Coupe, hitherto called the BMW M3. The original M3, the E30 of 1985, was a homologation car created to allow BMW to go Group A touring car racing.

The M4 is claimed to be capable of sprinting from 0-62mph in 4.3sec

Ultimately, however, selling an M3 for the road was more compelling than racing it. Later versions of the M3, such as the six-cylinder E36 (1992-1999) and E46 (2000-2006), were road cars first.

Any racing activity came later and was secondary to development of the production model. The first and, so far, only eight-cylinder BMW M3 arrived in 2007, making way now for the current BMW M3/M4.

There are two things of note this time around. First is the return of a six-cylinder engine – two more pots than in the first M3 but two fewer than in the just-departed version.

Second is the arrival of turbochargers to keep the power output of the downsized engine appropriate for a new performance car. It follows a now-familiar formula: more powerful, faster, lighter, cleaner.

Turbos aren’t renowned for providing the kind of instant engine response we’re used to in M cars, but they do produce torque and improve engine efficiency, thereby lowering CO2 emissions – hence their adoption here. The turn of 2017, saw BMW M division increase the heat on its closest rivals by facelifting the regular M4 and by creating the hardcore, limited edition BMW M4 GTS - while later in the year the halfway house or 'the perfect M4' joins the ranks in the shape of the BMW M4 CS.

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How these two things will affect the BMW M4’s character, then, are the big questions. The ensuing review will provide the answers.

 

DESIGN & STYLING

BMW M4 xenon headlights

We’re not sure why the adoption of the name shared with that of the Gunnersbury-Llanedi motorway should cause such mirth in this country when the M3 and M6 do not, but the M4 badge does just that.

There is at least some significance to the single-digit increase. This M Series coupé is some 4671mm long, which represents a 53mm increase over the departing M3 coupé. It’s also 180mm longer than the generation before that, the E46, and 326mm – a full a foot and a bit – longer than the original E30 M3. This is a seriously large car.

New car, new badge. With the coupé likely to massively outsell the saloon, expect this insignia to quickly become part of the landscape

Nonetheless, BMW says it targeted the weight of the last six-cylinder M3 when it set out to create the M4. Equipped with the standard M DCT seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, our test M4 weighed in at 1610kg. That’s only 10kg lighter than the M3 we tested in 2007, but that was equipped with a manual transmission.

It’s also telling how difficult it is becoming for BMW to retain its trademark 50 percent front, 50 percent rear weight distribution. Removing weight from the rear of the car is easy enough (by using a composite tailgate, for example, as here), but it’s rather more expensive to remove it from the front.

Our test car was 52 percent biased over its nose, which is no bad result given that a 3.0-litre straight six engine with two turbochargers resides there.

Ah, the engine. The capacity has dropped by a full litre over that of its 2007 predecessor, yet power is up from 414bhp to 425bhp, while torque rises from 295lb ft to a fairly whopping 406lb ft. If you add the Competition Pack the M4 gains an additional 19bhp while its torque remains the same. The newest addition to the range is the M4 CS, which gets a peak 453bhp driven through its rear wheels, while heading the range is the limited edition GTS which produces a monstrous 493bhp.

It is developed from 1850rpm and is available until 5500rpm, rather than at the 3900rpm of the V8. The red line has decreased from 8500rpm to 7600rpm in the process, but all of the headline figures are more compelling than they were before. The fitment of two turbochargers has increased the natural lethargy of the M4’s six-cylinder engine, so BMW has gone to great lengths to mitigate the lag.

The most effective way to do so is to minimise rotating masses and therefore inertia, which is why there are two small turbos rather than one big one. They’re both single-scroll units. Twin-scroll turbos split exhaust gases from the cylinders until they reach the turbine, but you can’t really do that between an uneven number of cylinders.

Ancillaries that might in past times have been driven off the engine — such as the power steering, obviously, and the pump that drives coolant to the turbo bearings when the car is stationary, less obviously — are here electrically driven to further reduce the load on the engine.

Farther down the line, the driveshaft is constructed from carbonfibre, which makes it 40 percent lighter than that of its predecessor, while half-shafts are hollow and therefore spin more easily than on the previous-gen M3.

Elsewhere, other changes deemed worthy of BMW’s M division include a carbonfibre roof and output shaft, aluminium suspension components, an ‘active’ differential (in the form of an electronically controlled mechanical limited-slip differential) and an aluminium bonnet and wings.

INTERIOR

BMW M4 interior

If you’ve seen the inside of a regular 4 Series, 3 Series or in fact any BMW of late, you’ll be familiar with what’s going on inside the M4.

One of the M3’s obvious strengths has always been that there’s a high-grade 3 Series bubbling just below the surface, and the same is true here.

Visibility is average but the optional parking cameras make life easier

Fit and finish are predictably high, the ergonomics are still superb and, while a sunroof is ruled out by that single-piece carbonfibre-reinforced plastic roof, there’s sufficient space up front for the interior ambience not to be smothered by its darkly brooding aesthetic.

In the back, the generous proportions mean even the sportiest version remains a genuine four-seater, while a 445-litre boot keeps the practicality score high.

Two buttons – labelled M1 and M2 – on the excellent steering wheel allow you to assign specific settings from the car’s long menu of adaptive options. Without doing this, you either drive the car in its default mode (pleasant enough) or spend precious journey time tapping at buttons.

BMW’s Professional Media system is a carryover from the rest of the range, and while our familiarity with it certainly negates a totally unbiased first look, we’re fairly confident that it remains one of the best infotainment packages offered anywhere.

The set-up, which is powered by the best version yet of iDrive and viewed via an 8.8-inch widescreen display, comes equipped with DAB tuner, Bluetooth, satellite navigation (including excellent real-time traffic information), BMW's online services and USB connectivity as standard. Shortcut buttons around the circular iDrive controller keep dial-spinning to a minimum, and there’s nothing like a pin-sharp screen resolution to confirm the wisdom of choosing a premium product.

The M4 is also available in two core trims - regular and Competition Pack. The standard M car gets dual-zone climate control, cruise control, wi-fi hotspot preparation, front heated seats, all-round parking sensors, auto lights and wipers, LED head, rear and fog lights, and tuned adaptive suspension and active differential. Upgrade to the Competition Pack  and the M4 gets special configurations of the active differential, sports suspension and dynamic stability control, while there are 20in alloys, a louder exhaust and a better audio system included too.

The limited edition BMW M4 GTS is a stripped out track car with a lightweight titanium exhaust, adaptive LED headlights, carbon ceramic brakes, a water injection tank and adjustable front splitter, while inside gets racing harnesses, bucket seats, Alcantara and leather interior, a roll cage and a fire extinguisher.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

the 425bhp BMW M4

At the introduction of a turbocharged motor, the way power is delivered is as important as the raw figures.

There is no drama with the latter; the M4 is a ridiculously fast car, with launch control ensuring that it passed 60mph from rest, in our hands, in 4.1sec, and 100mph in 8.8sec.

I can't help but wonder what the BMW's engine might sound like without the augmentation

Despite a claimed 155mph limited top speed, it took only 25.2sec to hit 160mph on MIRA’s mile straight, passing a standing quarter mile in 12.3sec and at 120.9mph on the way. That’s only a fraction slower – a single tenth over a quarter mile – than a 2012 Porsche 911 GT3 RS.

Power delivery is a different question entirely. BMW has fitted two relatively small turbos – each working on three cylinders – to ensure they spool up quickly.

The engine is canted to clear the bonnet and has a sophisticated oil return system to avoid starvation and thus cope with the track-day running that is so essential to enjoying this car’s capabilities.

In practice, the turbos may be small, but they do have an effect. No matter how minimal the lag is, there’s no question that this is a less responsive engine than a naturally aspirated one and therefore comes with less urgency to a throttle prod than any M3 to date.

That fact appears harsh when written down, because on the road, for the most part, it doesn’t matter. Yes, there is the tiniest delay between asking for a lot and getting it, but BMW has still crafted an engine that is better than any of its turbocharged peers. It is silky smooth, revs commendably high and, at higher revs, responds as closely to natural aspiration as it’s reasonable to expect.

There’s also the argument – and it’s not a bad one – that to obtain the same performance at a given road speed, you’d have to have a naturally aspirated engine in a lower gear and wound much further around its rev range to prove as devastatingly effective as the M4.

In fourth gear, for example, an M4 will go from 30-70mph in 5.4sec. The last generation Audi RS5 won’t quite manage that even in third (it wants 7.6sec in fourth). A Mercedes-AMG C 63 will match that in third but takes 9.1sec to cover the same benchmark in fourth. Put simply, an M4 gives away a degree of response but, in return, is faster through more of the rev range.

It also sounds good. Engine noise is amplified through the speakers, and all the more so if you select the powertrain’s settings that give you more revs if the gearbox is in D and more noise when you’re on the gas. We tended to leave the powertrain in its sportiest setting and change gear ourselves.

The brakes of our test M4 were the optional carbon-ceramics. Feel and response were good, even from cold – carbon-ceramics have come a long way in that respect – and they showed no sign of letting up after repeated laps of our handling circuit.

On track, they responded better to a gentler initial application of the pedal, which eased weight transfer to the front, than they did to a sharp stab, which more quickly set the ABS alive, resulting in a stopping distance that was no shorter.

RIDE & HANDLING

BMW M4 cornering

All M4s get three settings for the electrically assisted power steering and all have three modes of firmness on the adaptive dampers (as opposed to the usual two). All UK cars, meanwhile also come with 19-inch alloy wheels as standard, although the GTS rides on 20ins shod in Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres.

Your options are Comfort, Sport and Sport+, but even in Sport+ the BMW is bearable on the smoothest UK roads. Generally, though, we found ourselves picking Comfort on the road and Sport+ on a circuit.

The BMW M4 is inherently and pleasingly well balanced

The steering is weightier in its latter setting but feel remains similar in both, the only difference being that the signals reach you at a different amplitude. That’s fine by most of today’s standards, but it would send an E30 driver weeping into his Warsteiner at the inertness of it all.

Control of body movements is very good, though, for a 1600kg car, and the M4 drives with a maturity and isolation that is the logical progression from its predecessor.

Driving an M4 back to back with an BMW M240i brings that into sharp context; the M4 feels like a bruising cruiser next to the more lithe, more agile, more compact M240i, although the long-anticipated M2 muddies those waters somewhat.

In fact, the 2 Series feels more like a 3 Series coupé usually does. Or did. The M4, then, is a bit more grown up than the car that immediately preceded it. It has always been that way.

The M4’s road manners may have improved, but this isn’t a sensible, soulless car. The key ingredients are all here: a front-mounted engine with ample power to overwhelm the rear tyres, and, of course, the team at M division behind it.

Select the M4’s angriest settings and you’ll have a car that is adeptly tied down yet compliant over the worst bumps. Body movements are well contained and the M4 turns with decent willingness given its weight.

The rear diff can be completely open (and usually is under braking) so it doesn’t push into understeer on corner entry, or it can be completely locked, which turns the car into the kind of adjustable drift machine that M cars have recently become.

There’s also a track setting on the stability control that allows a bit of slip angle before gently intervening, which lets you drive the M4 on a neutral steer point, rear wheels happily straightening a line. So while there’s less incisiveness here than on earlier M cars, there is plenty of fun to be had.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

BMW M4

The standard M4 is marginally more expensive than the outgoing M3 coupé but it comes stocked with considerably more in the way of standard equipment.

With its CO2 emissions rated at 194g/km, the car keeps clear of the highest company car tax bands and will be at least £200 cheaper to tax privately than the outgoing Audi RS5 or Mercedes-AMG C 63.

You get plenty of kit but I'd be miffed at a £140 bill for an armrest and £155 for extended storage

Our near-30mpg average will be easy to better if you steer clear of driving on circuits too often.

Resistance to depreciation, our experts say, will also be class leading.

With the standard specification being generous, it's entirely possible that you might not need to start ticking option boxes. The M DCT is the only real thinker; on balance, we'd take its speed over the manual transmission.

 

VERDICT

4 star BMW M4

It seems that each time a new M3 arrives, we lament the passing of the previous-generation car for one that, yes, is faster, but also proves to be less incisive and not as rewarding to drive.

This time things are a little different. There’s no question that the new M4 is a more visceral, engaging car than the previous M3 was at its launch in 2007. The E90 evolved nicely into a car that, when fitted with a Competition Pack, was at least as enjoyable as this M4 is at launch.

The new M4 is a step forward, but not necessarily in every way that counts

But with this generation there is genuine progress. Not only is the M4 more powerful, lighter and cleaner than the old M3, but if you took like-for-like launch examples you’d find an M division car that is also better now than it was then.

Still a note of hesitancy, though: the 4 Series is a big car, as much like a junior M6 as an M3 used to be. An M4 will satisfy BMW and most of its buyers; an M2 would better thrill the purists.

Alternatively, if you can live without rear seats, the Porsche 718 Cayman S gives you everything you'll need. Although the emergence of the M4 CS could redress that balance as it takes all that was good about the standard car and mixes with the best from the GTS.

 

Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

BMW M4 2014-2020 First drives