We've had some time to think about it. Here's the final verdict on BMW's new slugger…
By PH Staff / Saturday, May 8, 2021 / Loading comments
+ Nailed it…
- Immense performance
- Drives exactly how a modern M car should
- Stunning interior
– Failed it…
- Left kidney grille
- Right kidney grille
- Options can get expensive
Replacing a car like the BMW M3 is never easy. With cars that have been as loved for as long as M GmbH’s core offering has, there are an awful lot of fans to impress. And that’s before you even think about what conquest sales might be nabbed from anyone pondering AMG V8 muscle or Audi Sport traction. ‘Multifaceted’ doesn’t even come close to describing it; the result needs motorsport influence with flagship luxury, more power from a more efficient engine, greater excitement and improved refinement, an obvious advantages over rivals… and not cost much more than before. Oh yes, and for the M3 and M4 especially, it needs that intangible M car attitude, too; the feeling that separates the great from the very good and which nobody can actually identify – but absolutely know when they experience it.
So BMW’s task was always going to be unforgiving. For every person wanting current thinking to be inspired by the past, another would likely want a car that looks relentlessly forward. And so on and so forth. For this G82 generation, the second M4 (the M3 is the G80) is nothing if not potent: 510hp is 60hp up on the previous Competition, and 479lb ft trounces the old 406lb ft. Here’s an M4 that, in standard format, will reach 62mph in less than four seconds. And that’s before the four-wheel drive version arrives…
However, as you might have heard, the model pairing are not without their divisive elements. There are the subjective ones – we’ll leave those to be thrashed out elsewhere – but also some rather more tangible issues in play. The demise of the dual-clutch gearbox, for example, after two excellent installations; the S58 straight-six engine, which made its debut in an X3 and hasn’t met with universal acclaim; and the kerbweight, a distinctly chubby 1,800kg with driver onboard. This is just the start, too. With xDrive cars imminent, plus the Touring and a Convertible, the M3/4 will only get heavier from this point on – not lighter. At least, not until the six-figure, circuit-ready special comes along. And there really aren’t many cars in this world that gain plaudits when they gain weight. Might the G82 M4 be the car to changes things?
SPECIFICATION | BMW M4 COMPETITION (G82)
Engine: 2,993cc, twin-turbo straight-six
Transmission: 8-speed auto, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): [email protected],250rpm
Torque (lb ft): [email protected],750-5,500rpm
Top speed: 155mph
Price: Base price (OTR): £74,205, (£87,745 as tested, including £1,700 full Merino leather interior, £1,500 visibility pack, £1,750 technology pack, £6,750 M carbon pack, £990 comfort pack, £850 19/20-inch M double-spoke bicolour alloys)
The more BMW interiors change, the more they stay they same. No, really. Because for all that’s been added – and there’s a lot in this M4, even going on the amount of buttons and screens – there are some things that can always be relied upon. The incredible carbon bucket seats are fantastically supportive and drop the driver low; the steering wheel comes right out; the important setup buttons are near the stubby gear lever, just as they were in a mid-2000s M5; and the pedals are offset slightly to the right, which is as BMW as the blue-and-white roundel.
Beyond tradition, however – look, the dash is still slightly angled towards the driver – the G82 M4 is jam-packed with new technology. Much of it is borrowed from cars further up the M family tree, with M Mode and the Integrated Brake System as seen in the M8 Competition. Like that car and its M5 sibling, the M4 does need a degree of configuring before departure: Powertrain, Chassis, Steering and Brake all have at least two settings, and that’s before considering traction control (with 10 settings once DSC is deactivated) and the active safety settings. Which, initially, is bewildering – there’s no avoiding that. It’s impossible to imagine an Alfa Giulia Quadrifoglio driver craving this level of complexity once accustomed to their car. Thankfully, a long press on either of the M1 or M2 buttons stores the current drive settings as a shortcut. Which is handy.
In fact, once over the initial confusion – and an excess of carbon trim – the M4’s interior is a very, very good one. Its touchscreens are slick, the switchgear feels substantial, iDrive remains the best infotainment out there and the leather is really nice. This isn’t merely a 4 Series interior with some M badges, crucially, even if the commonality is evident in the way it wouldn’t be with, say, a Porsche 911. Furthermore, a larger, heavier M4 does at least make for a more accommodating one, for driver and passengers.
ENGINE & GEARBOX
BMW M engines have become such icons over time that they’re often revered as much (if not more than) the cars they powered. They’re often referred to by code alone: S14, S54, S62 and so on. And though this BMW straight-six follows convention – it’s called S58, and is significantly overhauled over its B58 base – it’s hard to imagine it joining the M hall of fame.
Which isn’t to say the 3.0-litre unit doesn’t impress. Not only are there meaningful tweaks – a new forged crank, a 3D-printed cylinder head, 350 bar direct injection – it’s also devastatingly effective on the road. Torque is mighty, hauling the M4 along with very little effort – and not at the expense of power, with an appetite for high engine speeds that the base engine lacks. BMW talks of a “linear power delivery… that has marked out the performance experience in BMW M models since their arrival on the scene.” Which is true to some extent, because this M4 engine is undoubtedly smooth; but those fireworks we’ve come to associate from great M engines are absent, and conspicuous because of it. That’s what denies the S58 legendary status, along with a fairly ordinary soundtrack.
As a means to an end though, the engine is fantastic. It’s hard to argue with 0-124mph in 12.5 seconds. It should be noted, too, that engine and chassis sit together in this G82 car far more harmoniously than early versions of the F82; the power is there to overwhelm the car, but the driver is far more in control of it. Perhaps, too, we should all be grateful for an M4 still powered by a turbocharged straight-six; the next C63 is confirmed as a four-cylinder hybrid, and it would be a shock if this car’s successor didn’t follow a similar route. Maybe the S58 isn’t the greatest engine ever made by BMW, but the fact that it doesn’t quite live up to those standards says more about the old engines than it does this one.
As for the eight-speed Steptronic automatic, it is also a lot more impressive in real life than it is on the spec sheet. Designed specifically for this M3 and M4, BMW says this gearbox offers “ratio spacing perfectly attuned to the engine’s characteristics and extremely sporty gearshifts”. Most of that rings true. Certainly the auto complements the engine well, with short intermediate ratios making it feel even more potent, though the fact remains a DCT would deliver more convincingly on the ‘extremely sporty gearshifts’ front. The immediacy both up and down has gone, replaced by slightly more languid responses. The Steptronic is a long way from bad – and it should be noted preferable to the DCT in the majority of driving – but isn’t the most convincing at higher commitment levels. Upshifts can labour and downshifts aren’t the crispest. It feels like nitpicking, but again, that is a consequence of the BMW’s own sky-high benchmark.
Everyone likely has a story to tell about driving the old M3 or M4. Usually it would involve a bumpy road, a mistimed throttle application and some muttering about how lethal it was. Not so here: the biggest transformation from the last M4 to this one is in the chassis. What was once lairy to the point of unruly is now rigorously assured, immensely capable – and very good fun, too.
Ignore the silly bits like M Drift Analyser, 10-stage M Traction Control and pretty much any mention of development alongside the GT3 racer – none of that has any validity on the A449, but then this is where motorsport heritage gets you. Instead pay attention to a long wheelbase, wide tracks, 50:50 weight distribution, significantly increased torsional rigidity and a bespoke steering system to make the most of that stiffness. These are the sorts of things which really make a difference.
And they do. Some familiar gripes remain – the sportier steering and suspension modes are still too much for the road – but this is fundamentally a much more sorted M4 than before. It’s good enough to make you question the need for an xDrive version. Crucially, however, the G82 M4 hasn’t suddenly become a performance car that priorities outright grip over the experience, and that’s important. There’s immense front-end purchase (helped in part by 275-section tyres) but also steering that’s better than the old car’s; the rear P Zeros put down the power extremely well, but the M4 gives just enough information about available grip to push those limits with confidence. It doesn’t take long to have enormous faith in the behaviour of both axles, which is exactly what you want with 510hp and rear-wheel drive. Beyond that you’ll find balance, composure and accuracy that belies both the M4’s heritage and kerbweight, helped by driver aids that BMW still does better than anyone else.
Still, the M4 does require some deliberation over its best settings. BMW certainly isn’t shy about its intentions: it describes Sport as “appreciably stiffer” than Comfort for the adaptive M suspension, and is the mode for the Nordschleife, while Sport Plus serves to “maximise performance on smooth race tracks”. None of those are for the road, and it shows, where Comfort is all that’s needed. And, truth be told, an Alpina-style ‘Comfort Plus’ feels like it might be useful at low speed. Same goes for the steering; it’s a case of more not being better, Sport bringing additional heft and nothing more in terms of engagement. Where the more aggressive mode seemed to work best was with the IBS, Sport delivering a firmer brake pedal that suited the car better. On road, then, the M4 seems best with Sport Engine, Comfort Chassis, Comfort Steering and Sport Brake. With the traction control on, too, because it’s that well sorted.
Another bone of contention for this generation of M4, because many appear to be struggling to reconcile a two-door M3 with a £75k asking price – or one nearer £90k with options. Because we all remember when an M3 was less than £40k, right? Well, not only was that an awfully long time ago, it’s worth remembering that the V8 M3’s £50,695 launch price in 2007 is more than £70,000 in today’s money – M3s and M4s have never been cheap cars. It just seems we all used to have more disposable income…
It’s hardly like the M4 is like bad value, either, and that’s arguably the more salient point. Not only is this what its rivals from Audi, Alfa Romeo and Mercedes-Benz cost (even a RS5 kicks off at £71k, or £88,000 for the fully loaded Vorsprung), the G82 Competition feels worthy of its valuation. Perhaps not in the carbon trinkets and other dubious add-ons, but certainly as a package (i.e. the way it feels as a product, the way it accelerates, steers, brakes and corners). If this were a new BMW model, as opposed to one with a familiar name and all too many stories of bargain used buys, precious few would baulk at this experience for this money.
That said, an M4 can swiftly get pretty pricey, with options like the carbon seats (expect them to be desirable) costing £3k on their own or even more as part of a Carbon Pack. Clearly inspired by the M5 equivalent, an £11,250 Ultimate Pack bundles in lots of options together, and does feature useful equipment, but it’s an awfully expensive tick. How much do you really need Laserlights, Parking Assistant Plus, Comfort Access and an Electric Bootlid? Get the seats, leave the ceramic brakes (it’s a road car) and maybe splash out on some more expensive leather; with a lot of good colours offered for free, there shouldn’t be much more you need.
As for running costs, the M3 is comparable with its arch rival from Alfa Romeo, the Giulia Quadrifoglio. Power is identical from engines very similar in size, and the BMW’s weight disadvantage is only felt in fraction of a mile per gallon (27.2 against 27.7) and both are over 200g/km for CO2.
Last time around, following glowing reviews from sun-drenched European racetracks, there was some equivocation about the M4 once it was tested in the UK. Some doubt crept in about just how good the car was when there wasn’t smoke billowing from the rear Michelins. No such doubt this time: this generation of M4 is fantastic, whatever the scenario – and is light years ahead of where its predecessor was at launch. We’re yet to try it on track, but it’s road showing augurs very well for circuit performance.
Certainly its kerbweight seldom registers, such is the M4’s ability to manage its mass. Any disappointment around the engine should be qualified by the stupendous performance it delivers – and the chassis’s stupendous ability to manage it. And if the behaviour of this automatic gearbox really is too sluggish for you on a regular basis, then nothing less than a dual-clutch will ever suffice. Automatics don’t get an awful lot better.
That same sentiment applies to the M4 in general. Everything that was so intimidating on paper manifests itself as a positive (or at least nowhere near the deal-breaker that was expected) in reality. Even the grilles aren’t quite so hateful after a while. It’s a more mature M4 than previously, yes, and some will miss the ragged edge. In its place, though, we have a far more capable car, and a more enjoyable one, too. This is an M car as happy to play the hooligan as it is dissecting a road in a way that wasn’t simply wasn’t possible before. And it does all of this while being more luxurious and more technologically advanced. The G82 moves the game on, for both its maker and the wider segment. For that reason alone, the new M4 must be considered a triumph.
- 2021 BMW M3 Competition | PH Review
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