NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Laura Burstein filed this report after her drive of the M4 in and around Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin and the Road America racing circuit.
While the M3 is a great all-around sedan that can go from the track to the grocery store with daily-driver practicality, the M4 looks more like a true sports car. Unlike the M3's more upright stance, the BMW M4 is slightly leaned-back, with a signature BMW twin kidney grille that is ever-so-slightly lower and wider. Large front air intakes are functional and give the M4 an aggressive look. Vertical vents alongside the front fenders channel air down the sides of the car. A rear integrated lip spoiler keeps the car planted, while a smooth underbody and rear diffuser help the M4 to slice through the air with as little resistance as possible. And although the M4 also has a backseat, it's the kind of car you'd prefer to drive alone, or with one great friend.
Under the hood, the 2015 BMW M4, internally dubbed F82 by BMW, shares the powerplant found in the new M3: a 3.0-liter turbocharged inline-6 that churns out 425 horsepower and 406 pound-feet of torque, the latter on tap from as low as 1850 rpm. With the optional 7-speed dual-clutch transmission, the 2015 BMW M4 can dash from 0-60 mph in an estimated 3.9 seconds, or in 4.1 seconds with the standard 6-speed manual. All M4 coupes are rear-wheel drive.
Compared with the last-generation M3 coupe, the M4 is substantially lighter, thanks in part to a body that uses a greater percentage of aluminum and carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic. Like the M3, the M4 gets a carbon fiber driveshaft and roof. On M4 coupes, the trunk lid is also made of carbon fiber.
Another significant change includes the switch to electromechanical steering. Fans of hydraulic power steering tend to complain that electric systems are numb and unresponsive, but we found the M4's feel precise and direct. Drivers can also select from three modes that adjust the level of steering effort, independently from suspension and throttle settings.
Handling is aided by a new five-link rear suspension, which is mounted directly to the body, giving the M4 a stiffer ride and more direct road feel. Most components are made out of aluminum, rather than steel, shaving off more weight. The only downside with the new setup is that it produces quite a bit of road noise.
Optional carbon ceramic brakes offer heart-stopping performance, but also near-heartbreaking prices, as it's a $8,150 option that is really more like $9,350, since it requires the addition of optional 19-inch wheels. Also optional is BMW's adaptive M suspension, which lets drivers choose between Comfort, Sport and Sport Plus modes.
Inside the cabin, there's signature M stitching around the doors, dash, and sport steering wheel. Standard upholstery is a cloth/leather combination; options include a gorgeous orange and black two-tone combination with buttery Merino leather. BMW's widescreen display and iDrive with BMW apps come standard. For the track day crowd, there's a new GoPro app, which lets drivers control a car-mounted GoPro camera (sold separately) directly from the iDrive interface.
Although it's perhaps not as practical as its four-door counterpart, the M4 can still carry people and cargo with relative ease compared to many sports cars. Trunk space measures nearly as much as the M3, and 60/40-split folding rear seats allow even more versatility.
Fuel economy for the BMW M4 is an EPA-estimated 17/26 mpg City/Highway with 6-speed manual, 17/24 mpg with 7-speed automatic; Premium gasoline is required. That's a big improvement over the V8-powered 2013 M3 coupe's 14/20 mpg.
The closest competitor to the 2015 BMW M4 is the 450-hp, all-wheel-drive Audi RS 5 coupe. Though, for the money, those seeking head-turning sports coupes could also get the handsome (but less powerful) base Jaguar F-Type Coupe, Lotus Evora, or a nicely loaded Chevrolet Corvette Stingray.
Standard features include automatic climate control, cloth and leather upholstery, power front seats with lumbar support and driver-seat memory function, heated front seats, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel with multifunction controls, automatic start/stop, universal garage door opener, dynamic cruise control, carbon fiber interior trim, the iDrive interface with color display screen and navigation with real-time traffic information, BMW Apps, Bluetooth, HD Radio, satellite radio capability, USB audio port, 60-40 split-folding rear seat, auto-dimming rearview and side mirrors, rain sensors, adaptive xenon HID headlights, 18-inch alloy wheels with mixed performance tires.
Options include the Executive Package ($4,000), which adds extended Merino leather trim, a head-up display, heated steering wheel, rearview camera, parking sensors, satellite radio with one-year subscription and retractable headlight washers. The Lighting Package ($1,900) adds adaptive full LED headlights. Standalone options include M carbon ceramic brakes ($8,150), which also require a choice of two 19-inch wheel designs ($1,200), an adaptive suspension ($1,000), an upgraded Harman Kardon audio system ($875) and enhanced USB and Bluetooth connectivity plus smartphone integration ($500).
Safety features include front-impact airbags, front passenger side-impact airbags, full-cabin, curtain-type head protection airbags, antilock brakes, traction control and dynamic stability control (DSC). The BMW TeleServices and BMW Assist eCall emergency notification systems are included for the first ten years of the vehicle. Optional safety features include a Driver Assistance Plus package ($1,900) which adds blind spot detection, the Active Driving assistant, side and top view cameras and real-time speed limit information.
Unlike the M3's more upright stance, the BMW M4 is slightly leaned back, with a signature BMW twin kidney grille that is ever-so-slightly lower and wider. Large front air intakes are functional and give the M4 an aggressive look. Vertical vents alongside the front fenders channel air down the sides of the car. A rear integrated lip spoiler keeps the car planted, while a smooth underbody and rear diffuser help the M4 to slice through the air with as little resistance as possible.
As with all M cars, the M4 offers a distinct and unique palate of exterior colors. The M4's signature hue is Austin Yellow, a greenish metallic yellow named in honor of F1's new U.S. racetrack, the Circuit of the Americas. Also new is Yas Marina Blue, a bright, medium hue that, depending on the light, can look either cool or downright Smurfy. While these colors might be polarizing, they most certainly garner attention. The only standard exterior color is BMW's long-running Alpine White; the rest are metallic paints and cost an extra $550.
Standard 18-inch alloy wheels come wrapped in Michelin Pilot Super Sport mixed performance tires. Upgraded 19-inch wheels are also available, with a choice of two designs. Those who want to upgrade to the carbon ceramic brakes must also shell out for the bigger wheels. Carbon ceramics are denoted by their giant, gold-painted calipers, which we wish came in different color options.
At a time when many carmakers are going to digital TFT displays, the M4 sticks with traditional analog gauges. Glowing white text atop a black background looks sporty and is easy to read. A small display between the large tachometer shows a variety of information, including music, navigation, MPG and vehicle diagnostics. An optional head-up display included with the Executive Package makes it easy to check speed going down the straights.
Standard upholstery is a mix of fabric and leather; upgrades include extended leather or full leather trim. The latter two options are available in a beautiful two-tone red and black combination, which are decidedly not for the inconspicuous. Leather is soft yet durable, and the well-bolstered sports seats cradled us perfectly whether blasting down the highway or cranking it around the turns. Trim can be done in Anthracite wood with pearl gloss chrome accents, or Aluminum Blade trim with black gloss accents.
Regardless of trim, the M4's cockpit remains oriented around driving, the dash angled slightly toward the driver bringing all controls within easy reach. Climate controls are traditional BMW, intuitive and easy to operate. On the center console, controls for suspension, throttle and steering settings are conveniently next to the gear shifter.
Navigation comes standard on the M4, along with BMW's widescreen display and BMW Apps, all controlled by the iDrive interface. Track enthusiasts will rejoice over the new GoPro app, which lets drivers record and control their car-mounted GoPro camera (sold separately) directly from the iDrive interface.
Although the M4 is not as practical as the four-door M3, there's adequate interior storage space, like wide door pockets that can accommodate water bottles and mugs, plus two cupholders on the center console. Rear seats are fine for average adults on shorter trips, with 33.7 inches of legroom and 36.1 inches of headroom, compared with 35.1 and 37.7 inches in the M3, respectively.
Cargo space measures 11 cubic feet, one cubic foot less than the M3, which is enough to fit a couple of large suitcases with a bit of room to spare. Standard 60/40-spilt folding rear seats allow for even more carrying capacity.
The new 3.0-liter turbocharged inline-6 (S55) makes an impressive 425 hp and 406 lb.-ft. of torque, the latter of which is on tap from 1850 rpm. The high-revving engine redlines at 7500, and those not used to the sound of the new motor might be tempted to shift early. But let it wind all the way up, and you'll be handsomely rewarded with the kind of power and thrust worthy of one of the country's fastest racetracks.
Drivers can customize the M4 with separate adjustments for steering, throttle control and damping (the latter with the optional adaptive suspension). Two memory settings, M1 and M2, allow a quick switch between favorite setups.
The M4 uses a new electromechanical steering system, with three modes that allow drivers to choose the level of steering effort. Though some might lament the end of hydraulic steering, we found the feel of the M4 to be precise and direct. Steering feel depends largely on personal preference, and heavier steering doesn't necessarily mean better performance. Comfort is the default, and is by no means light. In fact, our driving instructor at Road America, who heads the M Performance Center driving program in Spartanburg, South Carolina, switched our steering from Sport into Comfort in the middle of a lap. Though at first we thought we were being demoted, he explained the lighter steering effort can help when learning the track, so you don't have to feel like you're fighting the wheel. Sport and Sport Plus increase the steering effort, in the case of the latter, quite considerably.
Suspension consists of a double-joint spring strut setup in front and a new five-link axle in the rear. Most components, including control arms, are aluminum. The rear suspension is mounted directly to the body (omitting the connecting parts normally in between), giving the M4 a stiff ride and more direct road feel. Combined with the M4's fantastically rigid chassis, the M4 is solid, planted and absolutely joyful through the corners, with BMW's signature near-50/50 weight distribution. Even with the suspension in comfort mode, the M4 is firm and well-sprung, though more compliant over bumps and rough roads.
Dynamic stability control can be adjusted for optimum safety or optimum slip. With it on, it can save your bacon if you make a mistake, but we also felt the system holding us back when rounding corners at Road America. With it off, the M4 commands a healthy dose of respect, as a few of our colleagues found out by taking some unintentional offroad excursions.
A 6-speed manual comes standard, and although it might be more fun for purists to drive, it's slower than the optional dual-clutch, with a 0-60 mph time of 4.1 seconds. In Efficient and Sport modes, the manual has an automatic rev-matching function, though the blip comes when you take the shifter out of gear, so your shifts had better be fast for optimal performance. In Sport Plus mode, the auto rev matching turns off, leaving you to your own heel-toe skills.
With the optional 7-speed double-clutch transmission, the M4 can sprint from 0-60 mpg in 3.9 seconds. It's the most versatile option, since one can simply put it in drive and let the car do it's thing, or switch it over to manual mode for some F1-style paddle shifting. The latter was especially satisfying on the track, where we could focus more on the line and less on the body mechanics of changing gears. While shifts from the double-clutch are blink-of-an-eye fast, we did find they could feel abrupt when pushing hard in Sport and Sport Plus modes.
Our test cars were fitted with upgraded carbon-ceramic rotors, complete with huge gold-painted calipers. These monsters are unbelievably powerful, though they perform best once you get some heat into then. If you opt for the $8,150 carbon ceramics, be aware you'll also have to upgrade to 19-inch wheels for another $1,200. Both standard 18-inch wheels and the upgraded 19s are wrapped in sticky Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires, designed specifically for the new M4. Their mixed performance designation means they should hold up well in a variety of driving conditions.
The M4's road manners are equally impressive on the track as well as around town. Though, like the M3, the turning circle is nearly three feet wider than its non-M counterpart, making the M4 a tad clunkier than the standard 4 Series to maneuver through parking lots and in other tight spots.
BMW does a particularly good job with exhaust notes, and the M4 is no exception, though partially engineered, the M4's sound is loud and unmistakable, from both within and without. On the downside, we also got quite a bit of road noise inside the cabin, in large part due to the direct-mounted rear suspension.
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