Evocative terms like "race-bred" and "track-focused" are thrown around so much in this business it's amazing they haven't worn out their hyphens, but too often that marketing hyperbole falls flat as soon as you get out of pit lane. The M4 GT4, however, is something different. This isn't a special edition with a big wing and lots of carbon fiber -- though it has those things. This is a bona fide race car, legal not on the streets but instead IMSA- and FIA-certified for competition, and this is what it's like to drive.
The car I drove is actually a BMW M4 GT4 Evo, that last designation referring to a 2021 update with minor aero tweaks plus revised software to make this package even more tractable -- and what a package it is. The GT4 shares a lot with the M4 coupe -- the old one, not the new one -- including an inline six-cylinder engine that measures out at 3.0 liters. In the new M4 Competition that engine makes 503 horsepower. In the GT4? Well, it's complicated.
Since the GT4 is eligible for racing in numerous series around the world, it can't always be putting down maximum power. Organizing bodies use what's called a Balance of Power, or BoP, to ensure even competition among the vastly different machines on any given grid. To make this process easy, BMW includes Power Sticks with the GT4. So, whether you're running in the Michelin Pilot Challenge or the DTM Trophy, you just slot in the appropriate thumb drive and your car will put down the right amount of power.
BMW M4 GT4 is at home on the trackSee all photos
How much power? Up to about 500 hp, so pretty close to the street car. However, where the new roadgoing M4 Competition weighs a hefty 3,803 pounds, the track-only GT4 is just 3,150 pounds.
The chassis is likewise shared with the last-generation production car, as is the look of the bodywork (no enlarged kidneys here), but everything else is bespoke. Well, everything but the shift knob at least, which is likewise taken right out of the last-gen M4. Like it was in that car, it's connected to a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission in the race car, a more appropriate choice for track use than the current M4's eight-speed auto.
That shifter is the lone familiar piece of equipment on the interior. Everything else is pure function, a bare and clean cockpit. The formula-style wheel features just eight candylike buttons and it fronts a multifunction gauge cluster that is likewise all business. A few toggles in the center console enable lights and the minimal HVAC controls, but that's about it.
The massive, wraparound race seat is integrated into the chassis, but with a quick adjustment I was able to slide the pedals back to where I wanted them and move the telescoping steering wheel to match. Once settled, I didn't have to worry about any complex startup sequence or a finicky hand clutch. I just stabbed at the engine start button, shifted into D and away I went, smooth as can be.
Those first few moments were something of an intimidating experience. The engine and transmission were overwhelmingly loud, the cockpit hot and, since I was practically sitting on the floor of the thing, the sensation of speed was wildly magnified. But once I got over that overwhelming first impression, I was amazed at just how manageable this thing was.
Sure, there's traction control and ABS here to help, but the power delivery on the race car felt even more tractable than the road car, and running through the gears was as simple as a twitch of the finger on the petite paddles behind the wheel.
It was only the brakes that took some getting used to, as the left pedal here offered all the feedback of a freshly cast brick. Helpfully, one of the many readouts on the gauge cluster indicated brake pressure, basically how hard I was stepping on the pedal. Bill Auberlen, who was my coach for the day, said that I should aim for around 60 bar indicated. And when motorsports icon Bill Auburlen tells you to do something in a car, you should probably do it.
He also suggested I start in the wet traction control mode, which more quickly steps in to limit wheelspin, but after a few laps I felt comfortable enough to step up to the dry. Here the car really felt good. With warm tires on a warm track, the GT4 was sublime, quick-ratio steering making the car dance between the tight turns on the Thermal Club's south course. And when the front started to wash out when I carried too much speed into the track's long, left-hand carousel, a little lift of the throttle tucked the nose right back in.
When I did get overeager on the throttle coming out of Thermal's many hairpin bends, the GT4 swung out its tail in a very predictable way. It was easy to catch and a real delight, enough so that despite the desert heat and sun, I felt like I could have lapped all day and had a great time doing so -- even though the air conditioning only worked while braking.
There's no need to put any sugary marketing on the BMW M4 GT4. This is race-ready to the core, and if you have about $210,000 kicking around you can take one to the track yourself. Or, if you just want a taste, BMW offers driving experiences at Thermal starting at $2,795. That to me sounds like a pretty perfect gift for someone with a chronic need for speed.
Editors' note: Travel costs related to this story were covered by the manufacturer, which is common in the auto industry. The judgments and opinions of Roadshow's staff are our own and we do not accept paid editorial content.