DRIVEN: Why the BMW M4 Competition is not the kind of car you think it is
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JOHANNESBURG - 1700kg. Eight-speed automatic. R2 million.
The new BMW M4 Competition has landed in South Africa and we’ve been given the opportunity to put it to the test for a week to see what it’s like to live with, and more importantly to see if the boys and girls over at BMW M have managed to move the compact sports car game forward.
Much has already been said about the M4’s styling, in particular, people don’t seem to like the car’s gaping front end. I was one of those people right up until the point where I was standing in front of the test car, unable to take my gaze away from its majestic presence. Pictures and videos do nothing for the kind of impact this styling direction has. You have to see the M4 in person to truly appreciate the way it all comes together as a package with its heavily raked roofline and aggressive rear end slashes.
Our test car came in the not so subtle Sao Paulo Yellow exterior paint finish, while the inside was trimmed with the equally polarising multi-colour velour bucket seats. I didn’t like the seats, not so much for it’s styling, but more on that later.
IT’S MOTORSPORT HONED
While the BMW M4 Competition might be loosely based on your best friend’s mom’s M440i, it’s a far cry from that car in every way you can imagine.
Yes yes, it shares a body and the DNA, but essentially you are looking at a vehicle that’s been designed to be a track racing car from the very beginning. All of the M4’s tuning work was conducted alongside the testing programme for the new BMW M4 GT3 racing car to ensure it offers dynamism, agility and precision while still catering for everyday usability and long-distance capability. You can just feel that driving specialists honed this car after the first few hundred metres in the driver’s seat.
Powering the M4 Competition is a 3.0-litre twin-turbo straight-six, lifted from last year’s X4 M Competition, which means it has the same 375kW of power and up to 650Nm of torque. The engine’s two turbochargers, optimised direct injection system, advanced cooling and oil supply adapted for track use, and model-specific exhaust system with electrically operated flaps for an emotionally stirring engine soundtrack is all there as standard.
The nice thing about the M4 is that you have torque from low down in the rev range for cruising around town and there’s enough power at the top end to chase older generation supercars, but it just lacks that sparkle and fizz on the rev limit. It doesn’t rev as high as it should in my opinion, as most of the fun of driving an M4 (and M3) is revving it out through the gears and hanging on the limiter for those instances were every rev counts.
NO MORE DCT
BMW has decided to go with an eight-speed torque converter automatic gearbox for the latest M4, which is perfectly fine and perhaps one of the best autoboxes you can buy in any car right now, but it has lost some of that sharpness on the upshift that we became used to in the previous generation car. Even in its fastest shift setting, when shifting up on the limit, it doesn’t give you quite as much of that satisfying thunk that the DCT gearbox cars did in the previous generation either.
Adaptive M suspension with electronically controlled shock absorbers and M Servotronic steering with variable ratio are fitted as standard, as is M‑specific front- and rear-axle modifications.
A new integrated braking system with two settings for pedal feel and response is also fitted and we found that it works best if you just leave it in the Sport setting all the time. The test car’s ceramic brakes (optional) proved insanely grippy on track and although they do take some getting used to on the road, you’ll have to tick the ceramic brake option to truly and confidently lean on the car’s potential when driving it hard.
You get Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) including M Dynamic Mode as before and, for the first time, integrated wheel slip limitation and M Traction Control that can be adjustable through ten stages, kind of like the variable traction control system Mercedes-AMG fitted to the AMG GT-R we tested a few years ago. I found MDM mode to work best on the road, and then everything off on track to work best.
M BESPOKE INSIDE AND OUT
Our test car came with gorgeous optional alloy wheels that are staggered and offset; 19-inch at the front and 20-inch at the back. We’ve seen this setup growing in popularity on road cars, as the Porsche 911 we recently tested was stanced in this exact way.
It offers an extremely stiff body structure and chassis mounting points thanks to model-specific bracing elements for the engine compartment, including a front axle subframe with aluminium shear panel, underfloor bracing elements and a rear axle subframe with a rigid connection to the body. You really feel the rigidity of the car when you’re cornering hard on a track as there’s absolutely no scuttle or flex to speak of. It moves and feels as though it’s one solid piece of granite.
The inside of the M4 is as extravagant as the outside, particularly our test car with the bright bucket seats. I don’t particularly like the seats because after only a few hours behind the wheel, my buttocks started to go numb. The seat cushions are really too firm for long distance use, and if you plan to use the car on a daily basis or as a family vehicle, rather get the standard leather seats in black/grey.
The rest of the cabin is pretty much what you get in any range-topping 3 Series or 4 Series, but of course, fettled with by BMW M. Some of the cool features that our car came with included an M Drift Analyser, M Laptimer and M Traction Control, for a particularly intense performance experience on the race track, making you feel like you’re more in control of how the car is performing in your hands.
Away from the hype and the marketing, and particularly after driving the M4 on the road and with intent on the track I can tell you that it’s every bit of an M car that you think it is. It’s not however an M4 (or M3) anymore, as it reminds me more of the often-forgotten BMW M6.
It’s a big, heavy bruiser of a car, which can be driven in a very gymkhana like manner if you want to, but it’s more suited to gobbling up long distances as a grand tourer, luxury car. The steering is sharp and accurate and as you dial it up through the driving modes it becomes more and more ferocious, but it just feels too big, too heavy and too thundering for my liking and in terms of what the M4 (and M3) always stood for.
I didn’t like the seating position, probably due to those hard seats, and while the ride is acceptable, there are other cars at this price point that ride so much better and give you just as much performance.
If you want a two-door sports car, I’d recommend taking the M4 Competition for a spin to see exactly what I’m talking about. It’s more of a sledgehammer now, less of a scalpel and that’s great if you want that sort of feeling in your performance car. My money would go elsewhere, perhaps the BMW M2 Competition, which is arguably the best M car they make right now because that car is more like the compact M car that we knew.
The new M4 Competition will certainly satisfy the most demanding of drivers out there and it will blow your mind on the track when going quickly thanks to its sub-4 second claimed sprint time and optional 290km/h top speed, but it’s lost that old-school charm, those intake noises, those exhaust chirps that we loved.
All BMW M3 and M4 models come with a five-year/100 000km maintenance plan, but ask about what’s covered specifically on your car if you plan on tracking the vehicle as you don’t want to be in for any nasty surprises when your dealer declines a pad or disc claim because you attend regular track sessions.
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