BMW M4 – into the Darkness
There’s something indisputably malevolent about the new BMW M4.
From the very moment I’m staring down its intimidating face, I can’t help but feel the E92 has come back home after having witnessed something horrific and has changed forever, suffering now from post traumatic stress. And like any other angry dog, I’m trying hard not to break my gaze – very hard.
Every great hero has some dark past, some story that has helped carve the rock hard persona they represent. The M4 is no stranger to this evolution having graced the automotive halls of fame since the E30 M3 first destroyed all sports car paradigms.
I’m getting ahead of myself. Buying the replacement 118d that was stolen a few weeks ago, I saw an F80 M3 (Saloon) drive past my house and it looked fantastic. Add to this Chris Harris’ recent video waxing lyrical about the M3, I had no choice but to arrange an all day test drive with an F30 M4 (Coupe) at Barons BMW in Hindhead.
Arriving at the dealership, the car was sat there on the forecourt, sneering mischievously in black. With the privacy glass and dark wheels options ticked, the car is sinister and spiteful in its stance. Sitting sleeker than the M3 saloon, its two huge doors are accentuated with the slick wing mirrors designed to force air flow and for added effect.
On those 19s, it looks fabulous. I hate black cars and would never buy one. However, today, there’s no other colour I’d rather have this car in – it is perfect. It’s also in wonderful contrast to the brazen interior, resplendent in tan orange, the forboding nature of the exterior is quickly dissipated when you’re sat in the new M seats.
The dashboard is typically BMW. It’s well designed and surrounds you, with all your chosen settings right under the rev counter but more excitingly, that HUD is awesome. Changing between rev counter and sat nav, it’s a great way of showing you vital stats, such as speed and selected gear and by the end of the day, I was no longer looking at my regular speedo and tacho, instead taking in all the information from the HUD.
As well as sharing the same dashboard controls as the 1 series (simply because they’re brilliant), it also now shares keyless ignition. Pressing the button starts the engine as long as the key is in the car somewhere. It erupts into life and it does not sound like any M car before it. It’s not vocal by any means, but it is purposeful and quite violent.
Turbo charging the engine has changed the dynamic of the car so much, it’s a very very different experience. Gone is the frantic nature of the outgoing V8 replaced instead by an engine that loves to survive midrange, taking advantage of that massive boost in torque – up from 295 to over 406 lb ft. And the noise this engine makes is extraordinary and addictive. There’s an almighty roar at about 2-3k RPM which means this car just lives in the powerband removing any need to thrash the engine like you needed to do on the E92.
All this makes the engine so much more accessible and the fun bits of this new lump can be enjoyed without having to destroy the 3.0 six pot. Given the 911’s sweet spot is at 7k rpm where the exhaust lets out a scream, it’s a welcome change to not be constantly breaking the speed limit to enjoy it. The blow off valve is a cute reminder to my JDM tuner days.
Let’s not forget that contrasting the malevolent aesthetic and aural appeal of the M4, the handling and chassis is so hilariously benign, you can’t help but have huge amounts of fun at relative low speeds. First thing I do when I get into the car is switch off the traction control, in stark defiance of the requests from the salesman. I know of no other car that wants to smoke the tyres going from 2nd gear to 3rd in dry conditions. Let it scramble and the chassis partners the engine’s runaway characteristic by allowing subtle corrections on the steering wheel whilst it contains the power, catapulting you down the road.
It’s quick – very quick. The 997 GTS is a loud car in the cabin and it lets you know when you’re in the danger zone. But the M4 is deceptively quick and at one point whilst on a private run way, I had no idea I had touched nearly 140MPH. It’s a very competent car, but there’s no doubt this isn’t a lithe, nimble sportscar as much as it’s a properly sorted GT.
But it’s not perfect. Let’s go back to the steering. It has three modes of steering damping, from comfort, sport and sport + with each incremental setting stiffening up the steering. I found Sport + to be a little too dampened with most feel being replaced instead with too much noise on the wheel. There’s also a sense of disconnect and catch up on initial steer, only recovering when there’s some body roll to accentuate any turn.
It also struggled a bit when going hard on some bumpy, narrow B roads. There was way too much shuffle in the body and the slightly loose dead centre on the steering wheel required frequent adjustments. But to its credit, it was covering road at incredible speed with great confidence. It has excellent turn in though, much better than its predecessor. And as expected from any M car, if there’s any throttle then it will want the rear to come out. As fun as this is, I’m not sure how tenuous this may become after a while, but for today it was proper 18 certificate joy. I suspect if the traction control is switched onto the middle position, it may help to maintain forward motion and grip – at least the tyre bills won’t be so huge.
Coming out of any roundabout, junction, exit, garage – whatever, it wants to paint big black lines on the floor – over and over and over again and it never gets old. There are so many settings on the car I’d love to spend some more time experimenting on the best road set up.
Overall, I was mighty impressed. I did not expect to be so wowed by what could be classed as the perfect package. Even with only two doors, it has a huge boot and big rear seat space. Road noise is very quiet and as stated it does its job as a GT with great dignity and pride.
That exhaust is addictive. The noise it makes is so murderous, you can’t help but let out a dirty smile of ill intent each time it roars into action. I found myself constantly provoking it into the battlecry and if you suddenly let it off mid boost, the vacuum created in the backbox makes a cackle like bark startling enough to worry any pedestrian.
After a 150 mile drive in the car, I was really smitten. It’s an attractive proposition and I’m going to think very hard about it. I do have some worries though. I don’t think it’s an appealing financial opportunity. Already offered a nearly new car for £10k under list, it makes me think what it was bought in for. Losing £15k coming out of a showroom is standard fare for a BMW, but does it make it right in a world where all other cars are maintaining their value.
Getting back into the GTS, I decide to backtrack the exact country route I took – going from Hindhead to Aldershot and then to Chesham. As the day wears on, the traffic builds and the journey starts to get frustrating. But nothing dampens the purity of the 911. The steering is unbeatable and navigates every bend with such utter precision, it feels half the size and half the weight of the M4. It’s a surgeons tool and is so focused in its delivery of information, the steering wheel acts as the most refined filter of road information you can experience in a sports car and partnered to that rewarding gear shift, it’s a sublime experience.
But even though I can recognise this and respect it, as I put the GTS back into my garage, some part of me can’t stop wishing I had the black demon sitting in there instead.