Richard Aucock | May 2014
BMW has a glittering back catalogue that makes replacing its most legendary models an almost impossible task. How do you build a modern day E30 M3, or a new E46 M3 CSL? Some say you can’t. Munich disagrees. The new M4 Coupe aims to take M back to its roots.
To do this, it has ditched the thirsty, high-revving old V8 lump in the E92 M3, and replace it with a high-tech 3.0-litre straight-six twin-turbo. Moving back to six cylinders is good, but turbo? Isn’t that anything but purist? Absolutely not, promises BMW. You’ll tell this engine is turbocharged, it reckons, because of the torque. Not the lag.
The two-pronged approach sees the M3 Saloon take the traditional badge, and the M4 Coupe follow up the old two-door M3 in spirit. This is the most important model of the range, by far: BMW expects the M4 to outsell the M3 by more than 5 to 1. Both have the same 431hp engine, both accelerate to 62mph with the stock six-speed manual in 4.3 seconds, both emit just over 200g/km CO2 (and dip beneath it with the M DCT).
The difference is in how they look. And the M4 Coupe looks fantastic. Flared wheelarches, fantastic forged wheels, huge brakes, impossibly complex aero channels built into the air intake-laden front and rear bumpers – and of course, the eye-catching carbon roof.
The bonnet bulge is prominent at the front (this time it’s there to clear intercoolers rather than the engine itself) and the quad exhausts stand proud at the rear – check out how the rear silencer is exposed and actually forms a diffuser element itself. The M4 gets a carbon fibre reinforced plastic bootlid too, with built in ducktail-style spoiler.
Double takes will not be needed to pick out the M4 Coupe: just as the original E30 M3 was a motorsport homologation special, this one is itself influenced by motorsport, with a visual richness and substance to it lacking in other 4 Series.
What is the 2014 BMW M4 Coupe like to drive?
Starting the engine all seems quite normal: BMW has chosen not to engineer in raucous start-up exhaust explosions. And around town, it’s very meek and mellow. It sounds like a regular straight-six BMW – a very refined one at that. Flute-like turbo whistles are as prominent as the engine itself. Disappointment alert?
Not one bit. All changes the moment you start getting the gasses flowing and the speed rising. It’s like opening a trapdoor to rich, deep and surprisingly complex engine noise. This is bassy straight six plus cracking, throbbing exhausts and it’s extremely pleasing that BMW’s been able to make it sound so good. No, not as electric as a V8 on full song, but certainly more than pleasing enough for most.
It has a waterfall of torque. Just get 2,000rpm showing: you’ll soon be rushing along. You’ll be hyper-alert to any turbo lag at first but, with time, you’ll stop noticing it. Lag is not an issue, never leaves you frustrated (the slight on-throttle softness is acceptable, given what it generates). The bigger job is metering all the torque it dishes out virtually throughout the rev range. You could change up at 5,000rpm and still have a very rapid car.
Let it rev and its nature hardens. The engine hurtles to the redline and both sounds and feels like it’s completely come on cam – the final 2,000rpm are glorious. The soft rev limiter at 7,600rpm belies the turbo roots (at first it often comes as a surprise) but it’s second nature to drive around it as, unlike with the V8, you don’t have such a narrow power band anymore.
We drove the M4 Coupe with the standard six-speed manual. This isn’t the fastest of shifts but it’s very feel-good and the connection with the drivetrain and rear wheels is satisfying (does that one-piece carbon fibre propshaft help make it feel more cohesive?). Stirring it and exercising the surging torque of the motor is almost an old school feel – it may not be as quick against the clock as M DCT, but it’s still extremely satisfying.
The chassis is fantastic. Well balanced, engaging, easy to lean on. There are a multitude of settings – Comfort, Sport and Sport Plus, plus ‘M1’ and ‘M2’ steering wheel hotkeys – and a combination of MDM and traction control off is best for fast road motoring: this lets you experience safe but satisfying power-oversteer moments, something the engine’s easy delivery makes it simple to tap into. And it’s the fact you so quickly have the confidence to drive the M4 like this, feel happy pushing its boundaries, that’s the real mark of how much more confidence it provides, how much of a better driver connection it has.
It uses electric power steering but BMW’s even been able to make this work. The steering writhe and chatter on grotty, undulating roads is borderline too much but it’s certainly not a complaint to have so many road messages transmitted through it. The rack is accurate, has weight (probably too much weight in Sport Plus) and even the steering wheel isn’t soft and overstuffed like it was before. The small boss and twin-arm spokes are beautiful.
Essentially, the M4 Coupe does what we hoped – deliver an engaging and crisp experience for fast motoring but still feels sporting and accessible in more normal conditions. With an engine that will exceed your expectations and amaze you with its charisma.
Is the BMW M4 Coupe a classic ‘M3’?
The E30 M3 was a specialists’ car: the model found its stride with the E36 and, in particular, the E46 M3 models. The outgoing E92 V8 was a step up but too far removed from the willingness of its predecessors. Constant high revs were too much for some and, for all its amazing engine, the car didn’t quite engage in a way the older cars did.
The M4 Coupe does. It’s surprised us just how likeable it is, how much feel it offers the driver, how willing it is even if you’re not one of the DTM aces that developed it. Turn up the wick and it’s devilishly fast and capable – the chassis never runs out of ideas, feel and feedback never depart – but it’s the everyday sportiness that really satisfies.
The engine has torque, it sounds nice, the crisp and tight car is reactive and dynamic without being aloof. Which is just what the well-loved E46 M3 was. BMW has, successfully, engineered in the pinnacle-chasing of the V8 car but also brought back the character and charisma of the older six-cylinder cars. This is why the M4 Coupe is such an impressive car, and why it may well become a classic M car.
An M car that you can enjoy every day, that is. The ride is supple, all that torque makes it child’s play in town, the M-branded cabin is executive-level and the bolstered seats, with their one-piece backs, are great. Long high-speed journeys are not the slight frustration they were in the E92 – not least because of the torque delivery and the 25% improvement in fuel efficiency…
MR VERDICT: 2014 BMW M4 Coupe
Worries about the BMW M4 Coupe can be quelled. It feels turbo in a good way, not bad. The six-cylinder engine has character because of the turbo, not in spite of it. Speed and response are exceptional and the driver will feel more connected to this high-tech engine, not less so.
As they will with the car itself. BMW has brought us a proper driver’s car, which delivers great feedback, instils confidence and raises its limits as the driver ups theirs, rather than looking down on them from a lofty pinnacle. It’s a car with character, yet doesn’t forget all the sensible stuff that’s essential to its success either.
It’s an M car that’s going to make a lot of people very happy indeed. A new legend in the making? Our bets are on…
- Mercedes-Benz C 63 AMG Coupe
- Audi RS 5
- BMW M3 Saloon
- Jaguar F-Type Coupe V6 S
- Porsche Cayman GTS
Specification: 2014 BMW M4 Coupe
Engine: 3.0-litre straight-six twin-turbo
Drivetrain: Six-speed manual (seven-speed M DCT), rear-wheel drive
Prices from: £56,635
Torque: 406lb ft
0-62mph: 4.3 seconds (4.1 seconds)
Top speed: 155mph
MPG: 32.1mpg (34.0mpg)
CO2: 204g/km (194g/km)