Over the last few years BMW has been on quite an alphanumeric tear. As President and CEO Ludwig Willisch told me at the Detroit show this year, BMW North America offers about 100 different models/variants today. There are the 1 Series, 2’s, 3’s, 4’s, 5’s, 6’s, GT’s, GC’s (Gran Coupe), X’s, M’s, Z’s and i’s. And yet, despite the increasingly crowded family parking lot, a standout among all of these finely engineered rides is the new M4 (which is now the only way you can get a two-door M car in this size class—the venerable M3 is sedan-only).
The M4 takes over where the M3 coupe left off. But with its flowing roofline and taut and saucy rear end, the sleek two-door is an entirely different and delectable visual experience.
When the Austin Yellow Metallic press car landed in my driveway, it was clear that it was built for one purpose only: torque-laden, tire-smoking, stupid-grin performance. So I took it to a playground big enough to let it run free: the new private racetrack outside of Palm Desert, CA, the Thermal Club (“Laps of Luxury”).
The two-hour drive from LA gave me a chance to get acquainted with the M4. And there’s quite a lot to get to know. With the optional DCT dual-clutch seven-speed automatic transmission, there are three different stability settings as well as three different modes for the suspension, steering and engine.
I finally got cozy with the myriad controls and dialed in my optimal selections, so that by the time I arrived at the 1.96-mile ribbon of lip-smacking tarmac, I was more than ready to go.
The EPA categorizes BMW’s M4 as a “sub-compact.” Weak words for a performance predator. BMW has once again upped the ante with its latest M car, a fact that a few hot laps proved. The M4’s lag-free throttle response made eating up the corners of Thermal’s main track seem effortless. But I still broke a sweat: With all the screaming (motor) and shrieking (tires) going on, it was a 3D ride brought to life.
The M4 is more than admirable, and after a long day in the driver’s seat, I can sum up its pros and cons. Pros:
—Mighty twin-turbo-charged 425-hp inline six-cylinder engine
—406 lb-ft of torque at a mere 1850 rpm—gobs of grunt!
—seven-speed, dual-clutch automatic transmission with paddle shift
—carbon-fiber driveshaft and roof and aluminum suspension to save weight
—sexy, ripped M coupe styling
—a flaccid—and short!—first gear in automatic mode with traction control on—a problem to work around or just shut off by switching settings
—Confusing if precise shifter—finding a gear took finesse at first
—Enough settings to play with that it takes a while to configure the perfect set-up
—The dubious achievement of heightening the engine’s sounds via computer-generated engine noise piped through the car’s speakers
At the end of a long, hot, adrenaline-filled day, the M4 blows through BMW’s model clutter to assert itself as a lithe, competent member of the M family. It’s a real and confident threat to any contender—a high bar most will never come close to reaching. And a pure statement of performance greatness in corners, straight lines and braking as only the geniuses at the M skunkworks can achieve.
Base Price: $64,200
Price as Tested: $91,175
Engine: 3-liter twin-turbo-charged inline 6-cylinder
Power: 425 hp
Torque: 406 lb ft @1850 rpm
0 to 60: 3.9 sec
Top Speed: 156 mph
MPG: 17 city, 26 highway