MOTORING: M to the Power of 4

BMW’s all-new iteration of its iconic performance car may have changed its name, and changed its tune, but the essential song remains the same



$166,900 plus on-road costs
3.0-litre in-line 6 petrol
317kW @ 5500rpm
550Nm @ 1850-5500rpm
6-speed manual 7-speed dual-clutch
4.1 seconds

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SUCCESS can be a doubleedged sword for a carmaker. You can make a mint selling wellpriced cars to which people are indifferent, but if you get every last detail right and build something spectacular, it’s possible you’re screwed. When buyers love your car, they don’t want it to ever change. But government regulations, fickle mainstream tastes, and the fact that nobody but Morgan has yet figured out how to keep an entire company afloat building the same product for decades mean that, eventually, you’ll need to redesign. And change means backlash.

BMW M fans got a double shot of hard-toswallow change when the brand announced the next generation of its internal muse, the M3. It makes its power not as it winds to a banshee-wail, naturally aspirated redline, but rather via a pair of turbochargers. And the coupe, the original and most iconic M3 body style, was rechristened M4 to align with BMW’s naming convention du jour. (The sedan keeps the M3 moniker.)

Based on the current, F30-generation 3- and F32 4-series, the new M4 is longer and wider than its predecessor, but weighs about the same. It also gets its own chassis code for the first time: F82. Extremists applaud BMW’s fanatical approach to weight saving, and on this generation, BMW fashions the front and rear suspension links, as well as the bonnet and guards, from aluminium. Carbon fibre is used for the roof, driveshaft, and bootlid.

Even thought the M3 and the M4 are identical in many ways and share many part numbers, that boot is one of the bigger differences. Engineers tell us they wanted the two cars to have the same aerodynamic properties, but the airflow over the coupe’s shorter roof would have required a large spoiler, which designers didn’t want. Instead, they formed a new bootlid with an integrated ducktail spoiler. The thinking was, “If you’re going to do it, do it right.” So, while they were designing the new lid, they designed it with a carbonfibre inner structure and fibreglass outer skin.

Rubber bushings between the regular 4-Series rear subframe and body structure allow the assembly to squirm under duress, diluting handling precision. Here, there are no rubber bushings. The subframe is bolted directly to the body for a more rigid structure. This, with additional bracing and a stiffer suspension, results in a car that is vastly more responsive and immediate than the regular 4 Series. The M4 thus is more eager to let its tail step out. Once that happens, though, it’s easy to hang it out there and control your slip angle or snap it back into line. It’s a total blast, supremely responsive and controllable.

The downside to such a delightful chassis is that, even in the softest of its three adjustable damper settings, the M4 is stiff-legged.

The roughest stretches of bitumen will still give you a shaking, so we Aussies need to accept this trade-off for such flat, predictable handling. The brakes are strong, but the pedal isn’t quite as responsive at the top of its travel as we’d like.

Electric power steering saves weight in the M4, too, and its weighting can be tailored from Popeye (Sport+) to Olive Oyl (Comfort), Comfort is our preferred steering setting. Sport Plus is predictably wooden, and Sport has a nice weight but an unnaturally sticky insistence to self-centre. Comfort is light and natural, the rack fast and accurate, but I craved more feedback and feel.

M cars used to be heralded for their highrevving engines, but with the discontinuation of the 128i and previous M3, BMW no longer powers a single vehicle in Oz with a naturally aspirated powerplant. Because BMW has decided that half a litre is the ideal cylinder volume, the S55 in-line six powering the M4 displaces the same 3.0-litres as other BMW in-line-sixes, but it’s a unique piece. The block, the crank, the pistons, the rods, and the turbos are all-new. The head is about the only major part to carry over from any other engine.

Yes, winding the E92 M3 beyond 8000rpm is pleasing, but you know what else is satisfying? Torque. Right now. And it’s not like the F82’s 7600-rpm fuel cut-off is low. The F82 packs an additional (8kW) over its predecessor’s V8, and the twin-turbo 3.0-litre has 150Nm more than the E92’s 4.0-litre unit. The result is an immediacy well beyond what the old car was capable of. You’ll rip from 0-100km/h in around 4.1 seconds in a car equipped with the DCT dual-clutch gearbox.

The S55 sounds great, too. Under light load, occupants hear some distant turbo whistle and pop-off sneeze, but floor it, and butterfly valves upstream of the outer two tailpipes open, allowing the exhaust gases to bypass most of the muffler. The result is a bawdy roar, a much bigger sound than expected from a engine small enough to fit in the M4. Inside the car at lower speeds, the soundtrack is augmented by synthesised noise piped through the audio speakers, but the Alan Parsons approach is a minor part of the sonic signature. To bystanders, the M4’s tailpipes spit a savage, race-car tune.

As did the outgoing M3, the M4 will offer a choice of a six-speed manual transmission and seven-speed dual-clutch automatic. This is something to stand up and applaud, given the demise of the manual in most other performance cars. Like seemingly every other one of the car’s systems, the dual-clutch box has three settings. The most aggressive slams into the next gear too hard for road use, but we were annoyed that the slower settings take longer to respond to commands from the paddles. If you want your shift to occur immediately after you pull the paddle, you get harsh shifts. This is just one more reason to order the manual, in which every shift parameter is infinitely variable.

Another reason is pricing. With the manual, an M4 starts at $166,900, and that’s just the start of a very long and expensive options list. Mostly buyers will most likely drop at least another 15 percent over the base price. And you should spend money on one.

We’ve questioned a lot of the changes BMW has made to its vehicles lately, wondering whether the company is building on its successes or changing its cars and making them more complicated simply because it could.

The F32 4-series might not be exactly the 3-series we want it but the M4 is unquestionably an M3.