When you get a chance to really drive the 2015 BMW M4, not just shepherd it down suburban streets but really push it, my no. 1 tip is to leave the windows open, no matter how hot or cold it might be, as you don't want to miss the brilliant engine note. The new M4's 3-liter engine roared with rev-matching fury every time I snapped off gear changes with the car's dual-clutch transmission (DCT). That sound, and the car's sheer willingness to meet my every driving need, filled me with joy as I powered along a set of twisty backroads.
Despite being an all-new model, few cars face expectations as high as those for the M4. It is the successor to the M3 Coupe, deriving its name from BMW's recent decree that odd-numbered model names are for sedans, while even numbers apply to two-door vehicles. The M4 must live up to and surpass the standard set by the M3 Coupe, a favorite of track day participants and amateur racers.
The M4 is the high-performance version of BMW's 4-series coupe, gaining more power, much tighter suspension tuning, dual clutch transmission and a host of other upgrades. It will excel on the track and grudgingly allow you to drive it to work every day. BMW still makes the M3, but that car comes only with four doors, albeit with identical performance upgrades to the M4.
As the reputation of BMW's M cars has grown over the years, so has their price. The M4 comes in at a base price of $65,150 in the US, £56,635 in the UK, and AU$179,730 in Australia, counting in each country's delivery fees and taxes. BMW equips the M4 with navigation as standard, but leaves as options a rear-view camera, driver-assistance systems, LED headlights and a head-up display. A six-speed manual transmission comes standard, but the example I drove came with the optional seven-speed dual-clutch version. An adaptive suspension can also be had for the bargain price of $1,000.
When we last saw an M3 coupe, it came with a naturally aspirated 4-liter V-8 making 425 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque. The M4 gets by with a smaller engine, a 3-liter in-line six. However, tuning and the all-important inclusion of two single scroll turbochargers brings its output to 425 horsepower and 406 pound-feet of torque, at the same time gaining substantial fuel economy to avoid a gas guzzler tax. Despite the power gains from forced induction, turbo lag just wasn't a factor on the road, so I would consider the new engine a win-win situation.
Fuel economy isn't something M4 buyers should be overly concerned with, but the M4 earns EPA ratings of 17 mpg city and 26 mpg highway. During my drive time, which included a good dose of high-revving back roads, city slogging and highway cruising, I came in at 18.6 mpg. I relied on the idle-stop feature which saved fuel at long stop lights and managed to bring the engine back online very quickly when I let off the brake. In fact, I found I could lift the brake pedal just enough to prime the engine when I could anticipate a green light.
Three-pedal fans should at least give the dual-clutch transmission a test drive to see how they like it. BMW makes it as close to a manual transmission experience as possible, yet with the advantage of incredibly fast gear changes and the engine's rev-matching magic. The DCT presents some unique characteristics. For example, it lacks a Park setting. Instead, it wanted me to leave the transmission in Drive, set the hand brake, and turn off the engine. Likewise, the top of the shifter includes a label for D/S. D stands for drive, of course, but S does not mean "sport." In the M4, "S" means sequential, indicating the driver should be making manual gear changes with the steering wheel-mounted paddles.
Put it all together, and the M4 is ferocious on the roads. It gave me miles and miles of sheer joy piloting it down twisty backroads. In second gear for a series of S-turns, I marveled at the highly tuned power under my right foot. Snapping up to third gear, I blasted down the straights, the car nonplussed by the occasional bumpy asphalt of roads left too long without the care of a paving crew. Putting the M4 through turns reminded me of everything that makes BMWs good. The front end responded so perfectly to inputs that I barely registered it, only pondering on how well it handled later.
I tend to prefer adaptive suspensions, but this M4 lacked that option. No matter, as I was perfectly happy with the way this car let me feel the road through the seat of its multicontour sport seat. BMW mixes the tire set, using 18-inch rims all around but wider tires on the rears. And that old BMW magic is present, where the car let the rear end drift out a bit in the turns, adding a little controllable oversteer.
In modern BMW M-car style, the M4 offered me a multitude of settings. The throttle could be in Efficient, Sport or Sport Plus. Steering could be in Comfort, Sport or Sport Plus. Dynamic stability control could be in normal, M Dynamic mode or off. The transmission's sequential mode gave me three levels from soft to hard gear changes, while its automatic mode went through three levels of aggressiveness. If the adaptive suspension had been present, there would have been even more settings.
However, BMW includes two programmable M buttons, so you can get your preferred driving profile with one touch. My preferred settings for a twisty back road where Sport Plus for throttle and steering, M Dynamic mode for the stability program, and the transmission's Sequential mode dialed into its hardest setting. Your mileage may vary. These settings would also work on the track, although you might also want to turn the stability program off.
Dialing all the settings down for the mundane roads, the M4 went through a drastic change, like Superman suiting up in his Clark Kent disguise. The M4 was drivable enough, but this mild-mannered mode felt against its nature. Where an Audi S5 can still feel comfortable slogging through traffic, the M4 just felt constrained. Making matters worse, the fixed suspension delivered hard jolts through the car. Successive bumps on the highway had the headrest continually bopping me in the back of the head. The adaptive suspension would likely mitigate this behavior, although I have found in other M cars that the setting BMW labels as Comfort, other automakers would name Sport.
Propped up in the center of the dashboard was a wide LCD showing BMW's characteristically rich navigation maps, standard in the M4. The new BMW aesthetic, in common with a few other automakers, has the LCD sticking up out the dashboard like a flat-screen sitting on an entertainment center. I like this navigation system, as it reacts quickly to inputs and includes detailed maps with topographic features and 3D rendered buildings. As I've seen with other recent BMW systems, the live traffic coverage is extensive, available on many more surface streets and highways then you see on systems from other makers.
A couple of new features caught my eye, too, showing that BMW is continually updating its software. When I brought up the left-hand menu on the map and selected POIs, for points-of-interest, the top choice on the menu was Online search. Previous BMWs I have reviewed offered online destination search using the car's built-in data connection, but it was nice to see BMW bring this option to the forefront of its menus instead of burying it. The M4 let me enter search terms through voice, manually with its rotary menu, and by tracing letters on the dial-mounted touchpad. For the latter, I was pleased to find that BMW built a little more time into the tracing-recognition software. In previous BMW models, the tracing software didn't give me time to cross a T or an H before coming up with the wrong letter.
I also found that the navigation system proactively let me know about problems on the road ahead, even when I didn't have a route programmed.
Besides the car's built-in data connection, which powers destination search and a few other features, the M4 includes BMW Connected Drive, integrating a number of online services through the BMW Connected app running on a connected smartphone. With my iPhone 5S paired to the car, I could post canned tweets and Facebook status updates using the dial and LCD interface, which BMW calls iDrive. BMW Connected also integrates apps such as Glympse, TuneIn Radio, Aupeo Internet radio and Amazon Music. M4 drivers will likely be interested in the M Laptimer app and the GoPro integration, which lets you control a GoPro camera mounted to the car through iDrive.
Beyond the Internet-based music options, the M4 includes the usual suspects, such as a USB port for iOS integration and USB drives, 20 gigabytes of onboard storage, HD radio, satellite radio and Bluetooth streaming. For the latter, I could actually see a music library interface for my paired phone on the car's LCD, and select music using iDrive.
The standard audio system is reasonably powerful, but doesn't create much in the way of fidelity. BMW offers a Harman Kardon premium system for those wanting higher quality audio playback.
Built for the track
The 2015 BMW M4 upholds the legend of the M3 quite well, although the price has made the car more aspirational. That quintessential BMW handling, allowing a bit of rear-wheel drift, is present and dialed in better than ever. The new powerplant doesn't suffer from turbo lag, and builds on BMW's legendary inline six-cylinder engines. It surpasses the previous V-8 in torque, equals it in horsepower, yet also turns in far superior fuel economy. Whether to take the six-speed manual or DCT is kind of like being asked if you would like a million dollars in gold or in diamonds. The best thing about the M4 is it does exactly what a good track car should do: gives you what you need, when you need it. No hesitation for power or steering response.
And "track car" describes the M4 well. Despite coming standard with an excellent array of connected cabin tech, this car would not be my first choice for going to meetings in the city or making a quick grocery run. It is a little bit temperamental for mundane street driving. If you want a sporty BMW coupe for everyday driving, option up a 4-series with performance gear. The M4 would be wasted if not, at least occasionally, tracked.
|Model||2015 BMW M4|
|Powertrain||Turbocharged direct injection 3-liter inline six-cylinder engine, seven-speed dual clutch transmission|
|EPA fuel economy||17 mpg city/26 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||18.6 mpg|
|Navigation||Standard with live traffic|
|Bluetooth phone support||Standard|
|Digital audio sources||Internet streaming, onboard hard drive, Bluetooth streaming, iOS integration, USB drive, satellite radio, HD radio|
|Audio system||Eight speaker system|
|Driver aids||Head-up display, rear view camera|
|Price as tested||$72,975|