BMW M4 : The dawn of a new era

In Drives by Mickael

The BMW M3 is, as we know, one of the benchmark references of all times when you talk about sports cars. Since the first generation E30 to the last model E92, the M3 has educated several generations of petrolheads to BMW’s sheer driving pleasure. A pleasure that I doubted was going to be renewed, when, in september 2013, BMW revealed that no more M3 Coupés would be produced. And worse, the Motorsport’s department of the bavarian manufacturer had decided to surrender against the ecologist lobbies by downsizing the mighty naturally aspirated V8 to a twin-turbocharged six-cylinder in line engine. And the worst came in when I heard that they had chosen an electronically assisted power steering. No more hydraulics or mechanics. The M3 was dead. Or was it ?

Text & Images : Mickael B., Antoine L. ©

Well the M3 was not dead. At least not totally. BMW explained shortly afterwards that all the Coupés of the different families were now wearing pair numbers, the 6 Series being the Coupé version of the 5 series, the series 2 being the Coupé of the 1 series, X6 for the X5, etc. So basically, the new M3 Coupé would be simply called… the M4. When it came out, we had already briefly talked about this M3 – M4 name issue (and if you don’t recall it’s here) but still today I think my opinion has not changed. At least it was a totally new car ! Not like so many manufacturers that simply disguise their evolutions. BMW developed it to be the descendant of the fantastic, marvelous M3 family. So, was the new M4 Coupé just a new M3 with a new name or was it only a marketing product of the M family, like the X5 or X6M ? The previous M3s were always considered as legends, gods, or whatever you would call them because their aura was so mystical.

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Starting with an L4 engine, the little GT got a magical L6-engine in the E36 and E46, culminating to 110 horsepower/liter in the “holy grail” E46 CSL. After that, BMW introduced two masterpieces of engineering: a 4 liter V8 and a 5 liter V10. In fact, it was quite the same engine with more or less pistons, but sadly the V10 was only available on the E92 M3’s stepsisters, the M5 and the M6. Although, equipped with the V8, the E92 M3 became one of the most exciting cars in the world, with its natural balance, and its ultimate raging engine ! Thanks to the European laws and the CO2 emission legislations, BMW had to put away one of the greatest engine blocks in the world and had to create a new L6. Of course, if things had stopped there, we might have been happy. We loved the straight six engines in the previous E36 and E46, but damn… Why did they had to add two turbos ? I think we can just stop here, close the computer, and conclude by a very simple : It will never be like an atmospherical engine, the M4 is never gonna be as good as the E92 M3. Point.

Luckily for us, BMW has not done everything wrong and are still proposing, as standard, the proper manual – AND ONLY TRUE – gearbox on the M4. So, as we had an opportunity to test drive this F82 M4, it was with an already disappointed state of mind that I sat behind the wheel. And that wasn’t a bad thing. Although you might think it would be such an exciting experience I should have been joyful, but actually it’s better hoping for nothing and get a good surprise in the end. So the M4 could only get better in my mind, starting from the very bottom, especially as our test model was equipped with the new seven speed M-DCT flappy paddle gearbox. The M4 looks good, both from exterior and interior, even terrific from the front in my opinion but once you step inside, it is actually too comfortable and too luxurious – not to mention heavy, of course. Starting the engine and already it made a nice sound, like a true sports car. Not like the 435i that left me the impression of being a Mercedes-Benz S Class because the engine was so quiet. But not as good as the old V8. M mode switched to ON, backs up the traction control off for 30%, opens the exhaust valves and puts the suspension settings to hard, which made it a very good setting for driving on some twisty mountain roads where we were heading.

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Mickael was driving at the beginning, eggs under his feet, trying to apprehend this 3.0 liter 430 horsepower straight six engine. Ten minutes later,just the time for the sun to come back, and we began the Mollendruz pass, just on the premises of swiss Jura. It felt like a long, very long mountain pass. I was trying to remain in the passenger seat in each corner, shaken in the M4’s leather bucket seats. Not so bucket in fact. The road was still humid from the slight storm we managed to escape and the BMW was playing with us, but it should have been the opposite, us playing with the BMW. From this part of the test drive, I only remember three things. Firstly, I have never been a good passenger. Whatever the car. Secondly, if I find myself being a passenger, in such situation, I like to have a handle to grab, in order not to move. But there wasn’t any proper handle, so I was just giggling all over. Bad passenger point for BMW. Thirdly, I was looking at Mickael playing with the steering wheel, concentrated, and I was thinking : Oh my god ! When will it be my turn to drive this monster ? I want to play too !!!

Of course, the M4 being more powerful and lighter than the old E92 M3 Coupé, it’s faster than its older sister. The M-DCT gearbox is better too, faster and smoother, and thanks to the HUD display you don’t tend to get too much in speeding. Every fast car’s a monster on first sight, thanks to the adrenalin spreading our blood during the accelerations. It’s only with hindsight that you rationalise. And for the M4, I’m sorry, but it felt wrong. It felt like going backwards. I was missing something.

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I was missing a connection. This connection that only an M3 could give you. That sense that you and the road were making one. Thanks to this new electric steering, I wasn’t connected at all. You might argue that the balance of the car is almost perfect and yes, you can position the front axle almost wherever you want, so why wonder about feeling something ? And if you’re thinking that, then you might just have spotted what is going wrong with modern car engineering. I would prefer driving a truck connected to the road, than a Formula One with one of these electronic steering. It’s the same thing with the engine itself, too linear, although I do appreciate the effort from BMW to hide the presence of the turbos, it isn’t enough. It is the same story with the exhaust, which would disappoint every single E46 M3 drivers because it sounds so artificial. With the M4, you’re missing feedback. Informations. Sensations. You’re missing driving.