BMW M4 review
The BMW M3 Coupe is no more, buyers wanting sleek looks and incredible performance on the 3-Series platform need the BMW M4
For many purists, the M4's turbocharged engine can't match the old car's naturally aspirated V8 for drama and character. Yet look past the artificial soundtrack and you'll discover a truly great powerplant. It delivers the sort of pace that will have supercar owners looking nervously in their rear-view mirror, yet is far more efficient than the unit it replaces.
Better still, like all BMW M cars, the M4 is thrilling to drive. The rear-wheel drive handling demands respect in slippery conditions, but the upshot is that you have to have your wits about and that helps it deliver an involving driving experience. Competition Pack models are even more extreme, so make sure you can live with the compromises ride comfort.
Factor in the M4's decent everyday practicality and this BMW is a true supercar for every occassion.
The bold new BMW M4 is the all-new replacement for the M3 coupe. Based on the sleek 4 Series coupe, the high performance flagship is designed to go head-to-head with models such as the Audi RS5 and Porsche Cayman.
Like the new M3 Saloon, the M4 uses an all-new twin-turbocharged 3.0-litre straight-six that’s both more powerful and efficient than larger naturally aspirated V8 unit it replaces.
As ever, the powerful motor is mated to a traditional rear-wheel drive transmission for maximum driver thrills. Buyers can then choose between a six-speed manual gearbox and a paddle shift-operated seven-speed twin-clutch unit.
The M4 is easy to identify thanks to its muscular bodywork. Using the 4 Series coupe as a template, the M4 gets flared wheelarches, a distinctive power bulge in its bonnet, quad exhausts and deeper front and rear bumpers. Vast 18-inch alloy wheels complete the racy makeover.
It’s a similar story inside, where the classy interior of the 4 Series is given a sporty new look. Figure-hugging sports seats, a chunky three-spoke steering wheel and numerous M badges are the biggest clues, while eagle-eyed fans will spot the trademark grey-backed dials.
Even better, because the M4 is based on a 4 Series, it’s surprisingly practical. There’s enough room for four adults, while the boot features is well-shaped and features a decent 445-litre capacity. You also get plenty of standard kit – although like all BMW models, it’s possible to get carried away with the extensive and expensive options list.
One worthwhile upgrade is the Competition Pack, which adds lowered and stiffened suspension, a sports exhaust system, larger 20-inch alloy wheels and extra 19bhp, taking power to a monstrous 444bhp. There have also been changes to the mapping of the electronic limited slip differential, plus a host of visual tweaks inside and out. All these changes add a not unreasonable £3,000 to the price.
If you want some wind-in-the-hair thrills, then the M4 Convertible could be just the ticket. Featuring a folding metal hardtop, it offers the refinement and security benefits of the coupe, but with the bonus of opening up you and your passengers to the sunshine at the touch of a button. However, it’s worth bearing in mind that the bulky roof mechanism eats into boot space when the hood is stowed.
Engines, performance and drive
All BMW M4s fitted with the dual-clutch gearbox come with Launch Control as standard. Engage it, floor the throttle and step off the brake and you’ll realise how ferociously powerful it is. It rockets off the line, hitting 62mph in just 4.1 seconds and quickly onto a limited top speed of 155mph.
Buyers wanting to go faster can choose the Competition Pack version, which adds 19bhp and shaves a tenth of a second off the 0-62mph for both manual and DCT gearbox equipped models. You can also pay extra to have the electronic speed limiter’s threshold raised to a hairy 170mph.
Put the suspension and throttle in their most performance-focused settings and the M4 is an absolute blast to drive. It grips so hard in corners that you’re constantly waiting for it to understeer, but it never does. You can also adjust the steering weighting to suit conditions, but it feels too heavy in the sportiest setting, so its best left in Comfort, which delivers more than enough refinement.
As with all BMW M models you can use some of this car’s prodigious power to coax the back end into a slide – although you’ll need to be quick with your corrections because the rear tyres break away quickly.
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Better still, the adaptive dampers deliver rock-solid body control and very little roll – although the ride is firm in Sports Plus. Set everything to Comfort and the M4 is almost as refined and relaxed as the standard 4 Series, making light work of long motorway journeys and congested city commutes. It can still feel a bit edgy and alert when you want to calm things down a bit, though.
The Competition Pack model feels even sharper to drive. Even with the dampers in their softest setting the ride is firm, and the whole car fizzes and vibrates over the smoothest surfaces. The trade-off for this stiffness is even greater agility and involvement. In the dry the recalibrated differential delivers greater traction, but with the stability control disabled it’s still possible to get the rear wheels smoking. In the wet the traction control fights wheelspin in the first four gears. This hardcore approach won’t be to all tastes, but there’s no denying it delivers an even more exciting driving experience.
The most controversial aspect of the new M4 is its engine, which features turbochargers for the first time. However, diehard M car fans have nothing to fear, as it’s sensational. The partly synthesised exhaust note in Sports Plus mode is slightly noisy and has an artificial sound, but the performance potential isn’t in doubt
Then there’s the way it revs. Despite its turbocharged design, the 3.0-litre straight-six has the same insatiable appetite for hard work as its predecessor’s naturally aspirated V8. Yet because there’s so much more torque, the M4 delivers blistering acceleration even when you keep the revs down.
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A sports exhaust is standard on the Competition Pack cars and an option on the standard model. Purists will find its bombastic crackles, pops and deep growl a little artificial, but it adds to the drama both inside and outside the car.
As before you can specify BMW’s M-DCT seven-speed twin-clutch gearbox. In auto mode this unit delivers silky smooth shifts, yet use the steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters and you benefit from searingly quick manual changes.
However, for the ultimate involving driving experience we’d recommend saving a few thousand pounds and sticking with the standard six-speed manual transmission.
MPG, CO2 and running costs
Compared with the old M3 Coupe – which used a large naturally aspirated V8 – the M4 uses a turbocharged 3.0-litre six-cylinder unit. As a result this car is a lot more efficient than the car it replaces, with BMW claiming the improvements amount to around a 25% increase.
Low 194g/km CO2 emissions are good for company car drivers, with higher-rate earners facing an annual Benefit in Kind bill of £7,267, which is £992 less than for the Audi RS5.
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Its official fuel consumption figures looks good, too, with the M-DCT version claiming 34mpg and the six-speed manual promising 32.1mpg with the manual. Yet in the real world you’ll struggle to achieve these figures, particularly if you access the BMW’s full performance potential.
Still, CO2 emissions that range between 194 and 213g/km mean that the M4 won’t cost the earth to tax for both private buyers and business users alike. And like all BMW models, the high performance flaship is available with a great value pre-paid servicing pack – a five-year 50,000 miles plan will set you back £1,000.
The BMW M4 is a high value, high performance car that attracts an unsurprisingly high insurance grouping of 42. That said, insurance experts Thatcham gave the car a five star rating for its theft protection. All versions of the M4 get a Category 1 alarm and immobiliser, while deadlocks come as standard. However, there's no tracking device fitted, so we'd recommend forking out for an approved device.
Currently the M4 Competition Pack hasn't been handed an insurance grouping, but the car's increased power and go-faster visual additions are likely to result in larger insurance premiums.
Strong demand has helped keep M4 residuals buoyant, with our experts calculating that all versions will hold onto around 50 percent of their new value after three years. Best of the coupe models is the standard six-speed manual, which should retain a fraction over 50 percent. Models equipped with the DCT twin-clutch automatics hold onto slighlty less of their new value, but we're only talking a couple of percentage points.
It's a similar picture for the Convertible models, with manual versions prving to be more resistant to depreciation. However, all the drop top models feature residual figures that are couple of percent high than their Coupe counterparts.
Interior, design and technology
Given that the M4 is based on relatively humble underpinnings, sharing parts of its platform with the basic 3 Series saloon, BMW’s styling modifications have transformed the two-door M car into a menacing coupé.
The low-slung, muscular stance sets the car’s stall out straight away; there are three big air dams that span the width of the car underneath the BMW kidney grille and flattened headlamps, while the low bonnet and flared wheelarches increase the M4’s eye-popping stance.
In the past, the M3 always had special wing mirrors, and it’s no different with the M4. They feature cut-outs to reduce drag and channel air down the side of the car to the rear. At the back, the M4’s exhaust count weighs in with four, fat tailpipes. There’s also a slight ducktail profile to the boot lid. From every angle, the BMW looks like a properly focused sports car.
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Competition Pack cars look even more aggressive, thanks to their larger 20-inch multi-spoke forged alloy wheels and gloss black trim detailing.
Glossy, carbon-fibre detailing inside continues the focused design theme, with a widescreen 8.8-inch display for the iDrive system. There’s a head-up display on offer, too, with two configurable ‘M’ driving modes, while the seats give excellent support for faster driving thanks to inflatable side bolsters. Our only real criticism is that with some parts carried over from cheaper BMW saloons, the M4 doesn’t feel quite as special as some cars in this class. That said, the Competition Pack versions are given a lift courtesy of even more heavily bolstered front seats and seat belts that get the M Sports stripe woven into the webbing.
The rest of the cabin is pure 4 Series, which does means a thoughtfully laid-out dash, high-grade materials and excellent build quality. Plus, the low-slung driving position is perfect. The standard equipment count extends to sat-nav, a DAB radio, climate control and heated seats.
As with other 4 Series Convertible variants, the drop-top M4 gets a three piece folding metal hardtop. Yet while the set-up delivers coupe-like refinement and security when raised, it’s sluggish to lower, adds weight and eats into boot space.
Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment
Like all BMW models, the M4 comes with sat-nav as standard - in this case it's the brand's flagship Professional set-up. That means you get a large, dash top-mounted 8.8-inch screen that boasts crisp graphics and clear three dimensional mapping. Also included is the familiar split-screen function that allows you to view the map while also calling up handy route information and detailed junction junction, roundabout and motorway exit layouts. Finally, this Professional model gets BMW's excellent Real Time Traffic Information (RTTI) function that uses up to the minute information to advise you of traffic jams. Roads on the map are highlighted green, yellow, orange or red depending on the severity of the hold-up. As an added bonus BMW will update the cars maps and RTTI subscription free of charge for the first three years of ownership.
As ever, this system is controlled by BMW's trademark iDrive rotary controller which has been refined over the years to become one of most intuitive to use. The large central wheel combines with around five shortcut keys, and with a little practice it's possible to change between functions without taking you hands off the wheel. Better still, the M4 also gets the Touch Controller function that allows you to 'write' instructions and destination entries with your finger on a touch sensitive pad set into the top of iDrive's rotary control.
The M4 gets a six-speaker sound system that features a DAB radio, Bluetooth connectivity, a USB port and a 20GB memory for audio files. Buyers looking for a sound upgrade can go for either the £430 BMW Advanced Loudspeaker system or the £675 harman/kardon set-up, both of which add more speakers and a separate power amplifier.
Other options include the £95 mobile internet upgrade that converts the car into a mobile 4G hotspot plus gives you access to various apps. Also available is the £825 TV tuner, which allows you to tap into the various digital channels - although the picture is disabled on the move.
Practicality, comfort and boot space
It’s mechanically near identical to the four-door BMW M3, but the low-slung M4 is clearly the least practical of the two. The 445-litre boot is 35 litres smaller than in the saloon’s, but it’s well-shaped and features a decent-sized opening. The same can’t be said of the convertible, which features a 370-litre capacity with the roof up, and stingy 220-litre layout when it’s lowered.
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Both the coupe and convertible have the same sloping rooflines, so anyone over six-foot tall will have their head rubbing against the roof. Still, there’s plenty of legroom in the back, plus the two individual seats are supremely supportive.
Obviously, those back seats are more difficult to access because of the two-door layout and you can only get two individual seats, rather than a three-seat bench. Even so, the M4 is still practical for a coupe, particularly when compared to similarly priced two-seat rivals such as the Porsche Cayman. For instance, the BMW can realistically be used as a daily driver and occasional family transport.
In terms of its external dimensions, the M4 is a little larger than the standard 4 Series Coupe. The wider front and rear track mean its 55mm wider, while the aggressively styled front and rear bumpers add 33mm to the car's overall length. Suprisingly, the M4 is actually 6mm taller than the run-of-the-mill 4 Series.
The M4's two-door body isn't ideal for family use, but the doors open wide and there front seats tilt and slide forward to ease access to the rear bench. And while the M4 is marketed as a coupe, it's features a traditional 'three-box' saloon design meaning you get a decent glass area with good visibility. This isn't quite the case with the Convertible, which features a folding hardtop with thick C-pillars, which hinder your over-the-shoulder vision.
Leg room, head room & passenger space
Despite its Coupe name tag, the M4 is surprisingly spacious and practical. Unlike other 4 Series models, teh M4 is a strict four-seater, with the rear bench divided into two, bolstered chairs. Still, head room is good despite the sloping roofine and there's a decent amount of headroom.
Convertible models aren't quite as spacious in the rear as the hood mechanism eats into shoulder and elbow room. Still, while its cosier than the Coupe, there's still enough space for two adults to sit in reasonable comfort. And while the thick C-Pillars make it feel a little claustrophobic with the roof in place, it's far airer than the fabric roofed Audi RS5.
Up front there's lots of room to lounge around in, while the wide range of seat and wheel adjustment makes it easy to get comfortable behind the wheel. Importantly for a high performance machine, the M4's seat can be set very low which helps you feel part of the car when driving quickly.
There's plenty of handly storage for odds and ends, including a large glovebox, deep door bins with integrated cupholders and useful trinket tray ahead of the gearlever. There's also a lidded cubby between the front seats, although it's quite shallow.
Like the standard 4 Series, the M4 has a slightly smaller boot than the four-door 3 Series on which it's based. More importantly, at 445-litres it's 10-litres down on the Audi RS5's load bay. That said, teh M4 benefits from a large opening, plus the load area is well shaped wirth few awkward intrusions.
Sadly the same can't be said for the Convertible, which gets a 370-litre capacity with the roof raised. However, lower the hood and the available space shrinks to a 220-litres, which is less than many city cars. As a result, you'll have to travel light if you want to take a trip four up and experience some wind-in-the-hair thrills.
Reliability and Safety
With the BMW M4 being so new it's hard to say how reliable it will turn out to be. What we do know is that it shares a lot of its electrical systems and basic chassis components with the BMW 3 Series and 4 Series. With both those models boasting a good reliability track record, there’s a good chance the M4 will be reliable, too.
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BMW’s standard 3 Series finished an impressive 14th in our Driver Power 2014 satisfaction survey, which is good news because it shares some of its mechanical components with the 4 Series. While many of the M4’s underpinnings are bespoke, the car is also part hand-built by M Division.
Standard safety kit isn’t in short supply, with all models featuring six airbags, lots of electronic safety nets and uprated brakes. You can also add an £825 head-up display and £370 lane keep assist.
As with all BMW models, teh M4 is covered by the brand's standard three year unlimited mileage warranty. The paintwork is guarranteed for the same period, while there's also protection against rust for 12 years. At the end of the standard warranty period you can extend the cover for an extra cost.
Also included in the three year warranty is BMW's Emergency Services cover. Effectively this is breakdown recovery assistance, although there's also a provision for hire cars if your car can't be repaired at the roadside and you need to continue your journey.
BMW models don't have a standard mileage and time based servicing schedule and rely instead on the car's onboard computer to advise when maintenance is needed. As a result, drivers doing higher mileages mainly on motorways will probably go far further between routine garage visits.
As with its lesser models, BMW offers the M4 with its great value Service Inclusive packages. However, due to the high performance nature of these M Sport developed machines, these pre-paid plans are more expensive, with the standard five years and 50,000 miles scheme setting you back £1,050. The comprehensive Service Inclusive Plus is a hefty £3,560 but includes cover for brake pads and discs, clutch assembly and wiper blades if they wear out durin the period of cover.