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.