Goodwood Test: 2021 BMW M4 Competition Review
The BMW M4 is the coupe version of the BMW M3. The smaller saloon in the BMW range used to have a coupe equivalent with the same name, until the F80 came along and the F32 4 Series was born. But, despite the divergence of name, the pair still share a lot in common. Same platforms, same engines, transmission and all the important bits, they just look and weigh a little different to each other. There’s now a second generation M4, the G22, and it comes with a whole load of intrigue and a fair amount of disgust thanks to a total redesign of the front. The word snout has been mentioned... But looking past all that, is this an M4 to continue the legacy? Or something a little different, and does the Mercedes-AMG C63 have something to fear?
- Engine is excellent
- Customisable M drive settings create a car just for you
- Rear pliability is welcome in a modern car
We don't like
- The looks aren’t to all tastes...
- Brake feel is a little woolly
- It’s expensive
There’s barely been a single other talking point about the M4 beyond its looks. It’s hard to find conversation online about any other part of the car, which is harsh on the rest of the engineering team. But, harsh as it may be, the M4 is designed with the intention to provoke. You cannot look at that new nose without having some kind of reaction – the initial one is normally to recoil.
To hark back to BMWs of old, very old, the M4 now has an upright grille, still a pair of kidneys but they’re now tall and hexagonal rather than broad and rounded. The look doesn’t stop there, with the shape of the bonnet dictated by the grilles, giving it a definite nasal look. How it looks can vary wildly, depending on grille and body colour choice. In darker hues it’s hardly a noticeable shape, with other feature more dominant, but if you go for a light car, well, expect to really see it.
I’ve grown over time to like it – that could just be familiarity, but in real life it isn’t an unpleasant design, and the rest of the car is mostly on point. The side profile is a nice coupe shape, and whereas the M3 has a slightly odd, stocky silhouette, the M4 is more refined. At the rear the lights are not dissimilar to what has gone before and four exhausts set off a rear diffuser at the base. To be honest, my biggest design issue with the M4 is that diffuser/exhaust combo, which looks as fake as it is and has the after effect of putting the exhausts in a sort of carbon-fibre straight jacket. That said, overall, the design is good when you see it in real life, so give it a chance.
Performance and Handling
Other than that honker, here’s where the M4 differs most from its predecessor. M cars haven’t always been a precise scalpel, ready to carve out lap times with absolute precision, but the new M4 feels more like a blunt instrument from the get go. This is not a car you are necessarily going to feel you understand with complete intuition straight away, it’s more of a learning process.
But let’s get back to the basics. The M4 has a 3.0-litre, twin turbocharged straight-six engine. There are two versions of the M4, but only one will make its way to the UK: the M4 Competition. That is good for 510PS (375kW), 650Nm (475lb ft) and a top speed limited to 155mph. The sprint to 62mph is ticked off in 3.9 seconds thanks to pure rear-wheel-drive, connected to the inline-six by an eight-speed automatic. Yes, you read that right, an automatic – this is a torque converter, not a DSG. Following the pattern already seen in the bigger Ms 5-8, the fastest BMWs are no longer being fitted with the fastest gearboxes, which is an interesting choice. What they are fitted with is a new electronic diff to help control the flow of power to the rear.
With a lot of power, a lower-tech gearbox and everything just through the rears, you might think the M4 is going to be a bit of a handful. You’d be mostly wrong. It’s actually a handful because it weighs basically 1,700kg, which is a lardy 180kg increase over the outgoing car despite the use of carbon-fibre to keep weight down. That is evident on your initial drive of the M4 Competition. While you never feel like you’re having to haul a fat lump around, the weight is apparent. However what is also apparent is the ability of that new diff. Plant your right foot at the M4 feels instantly rear-driven, it squirms no matter how you have the traction control set. But squirm is all it does. The M4 never, unless it is particularly wet, tries to send itself into a nearby hedge in a straight line. In fact, there’s barely any need for steering correction as the diff spits power to whichever wheel has found traction – just keep it planted and let the M4 sort itself out. That rear-biased handling is still evident come a corner. Turn in is good without being world-breaking, but you can feather the throttle as you get into the corner to rotate the car from the back. We’re not talking lurid dollops of oversteer, most tiny corrections.
That makes the M4 a very fun car to drive once you’ve had a few goes, and it becomes even more enjoyable when you start to play with the M1 and M2 buttons. The adaptive suspension and dampers have three settings, as does the steering, gearchange ferocity and engine, the brakes have two settings and the traction control? That has ten. Yes, ten settings. You can spend hours just slightly adjusting the traction control to find the right balance of slip and safety for your drive and then set one of the M buttons to easily access. It’s a simple, but excellent system, made better than Audi’s RS button by the fact that there are two, and you aren’t left clicking through multiple settings. The dampers by the way are not massively changed from sport to sport plus, so leave them in sport while you whack everything else up. Do all that, and you’ll have a fun, rear-driven car tailored to you. And then if you do have a lot of space, there’s nothing stopping you from finding those lurid drifts... so you can spend hours impressing your mates with the drift analyser.
Our test car came with vivid interior of orange (Kyalami Orange to be precise) with merino leather and black accents. It’s a bold choice, but it works with the Dravit grey our M4 Competition came in. The interior it swathes is the opposite of a revolution, it’s a tinkering of the well-worn BMW plan. There’s an updated version of iDrive sat in the centre console, a 10.25-inch touchscreen in the centre and now a 12.3-inch one making up the dials in front of you. If you want to you can pay the £6,750 that adds the carbon pack and brings the excellent M carbon bucket seats. These are fantastic, if a little... interesting to get in and out thanks to a very high lip on the outside and an odd carbon bump between your legs (no giggling at the back please). It’s nothing particularly bold, but then given how big BMW went with the outside, they had to reserve something of their keystone for the bit in the middle.
The steering wheel is chunky, but nicely-sized, but sadly the “carbon” gear paddles feel more like plastic with a carbon-fibre effect sticker than anything of particularly high quality. That said, the rubberized rear for better grip is an excellent addition.
Technology and Features
That 10.25-inch screen is where the latest version of iDrive can be found, a system that’s now so old and has been through so many different iterations, it’s basically as intuitive as it will ever get. Gesture control is included, but still feels like a gimmick, although it will spend its life trying to suggest you use it, but everything truly important still has a good old fashioned button. The new 12.3-inch dash screen is also well set out, with navigation systems quite quietly integrated into it as well as media systems, which can also be accessed from the heads-up display.
Three-zone climate control is standard, as is a cloud-based Sat-Nav system, Harman Kardon sound system, electric memory seats (not the £6k fancy ones), heated front seats, auto-dipping headlights, DAB radio and cruise control (adaptive will cost more). There’s also speaker enhancements to the engine sound when you are in Sport Plus mode on the motor. While this certainly sounds louder, there is a slight issue when you are listening to music or a podcast while that sound comes in – they interfere with each other and rattle the speaker systems.
BMW has quietly talked of taking on the 911 rather than the RS5 with the new M4 Competition. Indeed its price – a base of £76,000 – puts it up in Porsche territory, and many buyers are believed to be ones who were considering something from Stuttgart. But the M4 is not a 911 in its characteristics, and nor should it try to be. This is a muscular GT, a car that, to me, feels like it has found its niche. It’s not an outright muscle car, ready to shred its rears the moment you try to move, but it’s not a precise sportscar, that’ll link corner to corner as if they were but mere bumps in the road.
The M4 has its own character, and in bucket loads, the adaptability of the drive and the brilliance of that diff make it stand apart from some, more dynamically restricted or controlled cars. You’ll find a happy medium in the M4 after you give it a go, with an engine that feels like it has every one of its 510PS and a chassis that is ready to work the new diff for all its worth. If you can look past the weight and the nose, it’s a real M Sport gem.
This score is an average based on aggregated reviews from trusted and verified sources.
|Engine||3.0-litre twin-turbocharged, straight-six petrol|
|Power||510PS (375kW) @ 5,500rpm|
|Torque||550Nm (407lb ft) @ 2,700-5,500rpm|
|Transmission||Eight-speed automatic, rear-wheel-drive|
155mph (limited, increased to 180mph with optional M Driver’s Package)
|Price||£76,000 (£84,495 as tested)|
Reviewed by Ben Miles