I’ve researched and followed the M4 ever since the concept car was announced back in 2014. As an E92 M3 owner, I wondered what the wizards at the M-division in Bavaria were conjuring. How would a twin turbo straight six compare to the glorious V8 which gave me shivers every time I started the car in the morning on my daily commute to work? How can the M4 improve on the E92 M3?
I loved my M3. Especially with the Akrapovic exhaust which I installed within weeks from purchasing it, I honestly believed that the car was nigh on perfect. My car was a 2007 manual M3. It had a beautifully balanced chassis married to a race-derived engine which enticed you with a symphony as the tachometer raced past 8K rpm. When you turned all assistance off, you could savour every moment as the limited slip diff was taken past its limits, and the car settled in to an angle which you could sustain with your right foot until you simply decided it is time for the rear end to be called back in.
Oh the joys of 360 degree drifts in an empty car park or on a deserted roundabout. All of this with the comfort of a full four seat coupe, with rear seats which fold down to accommodate all your Ikea needs, with a car seat isofixed to the back, and a one year old daughter shouting “yeyyyyyyy” every time the engine revs past 6K. Take it from me, this car will go down in history as one of the greatest hits of BMW. A masterpiece. A symphony. A delicately tuned instrument which can play anything from Mendelssohn’s Opus 64 in E Minor to AC/DC’s You Shook Me All Night Long.
My curiosity had me researching comparisons between the E92 M3 and the F82 M4 yet rarely did you find reviews which gave you more info than two basic differences: the first being that the F82 is a faster, torquier car and the second being that it lacks the sound track of the ‘glorious V8’. Two facts, which quite honestly I had perceived beforehand without anyone needing to tell me. Just by reading the stats I knew that a twin turbo 3.0 engine with 550NM of torque at 1800 revs = a very fast car which sounds artificial at best. What I wanted to know with all of my heart, nobody answered. Is this car better?
Luck would have it that last week the opportunity to part exchange my M3 with a lovely M4 in the same colour combination as my E92 came up and I snapped it up faster than the M4 snaps gears. The exterior is Alpine White and the interior is Sakhir orange. This car had practically all the options boxes ticked, including DCT, cameras all round, exterior carbon fiber package and most importantly a sublime Harman Kardon system. To my eyes it looks somewhat passive aggressive from the outside, slightly understated but with a menacing poise from most angles and the carbon fibre roof contrasts beautifully with the white exterior colour. The interior is a step up from the E92, with subtle touches of class in an unmistakably BMW interior. The seats are firm and supportive and infinitely adjustable although truth be said my back has never been a fan of BMW seats and this car is no exception. It might be my impression but it does feel like you sit lower than I sat in the E92 which is a good thing.
The latest iDrive system is miles ahead of the previous gen iDrive and bluetooth connectivity with my iPhone finally works seamlessly with the ability to stream music wirelessly. When the phone is connected via USB, the Spotify interface is actually managed from the iDrive screen. Amen.
What’s it like to drive? On Sport Plus settings all round the M4 is brutal. Unforgiving. Savage. From the moment I sat down in the drivers seat, I felt exposed to a new drug altogether, and oh how I just wanted more of it. I honestly thought I could abuse and control this car as you would most others but the rush of torque which develops so early down the rev range kicks you so hard in the arse that it has you wondering every time ‘what would have happened with traction control turned off’? Forget steering the car on the throttle, forget abusing the engine with the knowledge that the rear end will come back in every time like a faithful Labrador as it did on the E92. This is a Rottweiler on a tight leash. I’ve only had the car a week, yet I believe that I would only ever go balls out in this car in perfectly dry conditions and even then, probably in a controlled environment.
Everything in the car is customisable. There are three settings for each of throttle response, steering feel, suspension and gear shift speed and you get two M buttons which can be pre-set to your favourite settings. On our roads and for day to day use, I have set the M1 button to the most docile settings possible. Comfort suspension, efficient throttle, comfort steering and normal gear change. In these settings the car is a doddle to drive, and it potters about town as any competent city car would do with the DCT gearbox ensuring silk smooth gearshifts at any speed.
This gearbox is beyond superlative. It is so versatile, so responsive and so bloody fast when you need it to be. It is way faster than I will ever be and it hits really hard in its most aggressive setting. Having fiddled around with all of the sportier settings when deciding on how to configure the M2 button for more spirited driving, I seem to have struck a sweet spot by leaving all settings on the medium Sport setting. In super dry conditions and on new tires I’d probably want Sport+ throttle, but on Maltese ‘roads’ I believe that the Sport setting is more than enough. Same can be said for suspension settings, which I sometimes get tempted to leave in the Comfort setting for all types of driving. Sport+ suspension is probably too hard for all but German or French roads. And the steering sweet spot seems to be the Sport setting with Comfort setting somewhat vague and Sport+ setting way too hard for my liking.
This car is different to anything I’ve ever driven. It takes patience and getting used to. It takes learning the art of squeezing the throttle rather than hitting it hard. And it also takes learning the art of short-shifting. I found that especially on less than perfect roads or in damp conditions, you’re probably fastest point to point by short shifting at around 5K rpm.
The chassis is (and feels) way stiffer than the car that precedes it. The front end of the M4 is super willing to turn in and the car has no concept of what it means to understeer. You approach a corner with steady throttle and the car just turns effortlessly waiting impatiently for further instructions. Where on the E92 you’d floor the throttle on mid exit and tame the rear with opposite lock, with the F82 you wait… before gently squeezing the throttle and feeling the turbo rush to your chest. There is virtually no turbo lag. Just a ‘swooosh’ which keeps giving until you change gear. In the most aggressive gearbox shift setting you get another kick in the chest with each gear change as long as you keep the gas pedal fully pressed between shifts. When pushed, the M4 is a loaded weapon and you really do have to be very careful not to hit the trigger unless you really mean it.
The M4 doesn’t sound anywhere near as musical as the E92 M3 but somehow it really doesn’t matter to me. Will I miss the M3? I’ll definitely miss the fact that it could be taken to its limits at will. I’ll miss the playful, delightful compliant chassis. I’ll miss the manual shifter. I’ll miss the last of the great natural aspirated free revving V8’s. I’ll miss the faithful, predictable, docile and gentle friend which took me to and from work for almost two years. But human nature is messed up and five minutes is all it took for me to bid farewell to a car I truly adored. Do I regret it? Not one bit. Not yet at least. There is a time for love and a time for war. I’ll never love the M4 the way I loved the M3. But with the world on the verge of a third world war, I feel better armed with the M4.
One thing which the M4 has in common with the E92 M3 is that BMW has managed once more to make a car which feels precisely as at ease in a fully blown war as it would in a children’s nursery. How they do it honestly beats me.
So I come back to the question I asked myself when I first heard of the M4. How do you evolve an E92 M3? My brief period of owning the M4 has brought me closer to an answer: you don’t.
What BMW have done, very intelligently in my view, is to take a different direction altogether. Blame it on emissions but don’t call it progress. This is not progress, this is change. BMW has closed the chapter on delicately tuned precision instruments and has opened a new chapter which deals with assault rifles. BMW has closed a chapter on single-malts and opened a chapter on Jaeger bombs. BMW has closed the chapter on fine cigars and opened the chapter on cocaine. You don’t sip this car. You down it.