Car reviews - BMW - 4 Series - M4 Competition
Sublime higher-speed handling, epic mid-range performance, improved suspension and stability control, sedan’s practicality and value
Room for improvement
Initial steering response lacking, new exhaust fails to amend acoustics, excellent MDM stability control mode clad with warning lights
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20 Jul 2016
THE $144,615 plus on-road costs pricetag for the M3 Competition is these days starting to look like a relative performance bargain for a vehicle with a 4.0-second 0-100km/h claim and four doors. A near-identically priced ($145,500 with PDK auto) Porsche 718 Cayman S is two-tenths and two doors adrift respectively.
There is even a decent-sized boot and choice of six-speed manual or seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission – both of which were available to sample at the national media launch in northern New South Wales, in addition to a $154,615 M4 Competition Coupe automatic.
Both Competition models are identically specified, although the third $165,615 M4 Convertible variant (unavailable at launch) loses the M performance buckets standard in sedan and two-door coupe.
Otherwise, as with the standard models, there is a head-up display, 8.8-inch colour screen with satellite navigation, digital radio and Harman Kardon premium audio system, electrically adjustable and heated leather-trimmed front buckets and active cruise control.
Safety kit extends to LED headlights with adaptive auto high-beam, surround-view camera with front and rear parking sensors, lane change warning and ‘light’ autonomous emergency braking (AEB).
Major options are a no-cost sunroof (though the lightweight carbonfibre roof is lost) and $15,000 carbon ceramic disc brakes (none of which were available to sample at launch).
The M3 and M4 interior may be four years old – with design roots from the 2012 F30 3 Series – but it still does a fine impression of a luxury car with its stitched-faux-leather dashboard, soft mood lighting and decently average medium sedan/coupe rear legroom. The infotainment system remains the benchmark in the segment, too.
Pulling away from a standstill, though, there is too much of a ‘lazy luxury’ impression that remains in the M3 and M4 Competition, however. It centres around the initially soft dual-clutch auto take-up and particularly on-centre steering response that is still loose and disconnected.
The retuned suspension in Comfort mode at first appears quite choppy working above the size-larger 20-inch wheels of the Competition models, but these are just first around town impressions. Things do not initially improve through tight cornering away from the coastline and into the south-east Queensland hinterland either, though.
Through slower speed corners the M4 Coupe that we start our drive in can feel cumbersome, and the lack of steering alacrity together with an engine that sends 550Nm of torque to the back wheels at just 1850rpm can make for an unsettling combination regularly punctuated by a flashing ESC light.
In any case the 3.0-litre twin-turbo six-cylinder still sounds like a propshaft aeroplane on light throttle, droning away in the background.
Where previous M3 generations – and the best current performance models – feel ‘right’ from the get-go, this coupe takes time on different roads and with a different approach to show off its newfound Competition-clad mettle.
As roads open and speeds rise, the Competition steps up in a new way.
Despite the claim that springs are 15 per cent stiffer, the M4 now feels more supple and controlled over bumpy country roads while the stability control is calmer than before. The 10mm-wider rear Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres permit increasing throttle pressure earlier when coming out of faster bends, where the ESC now stays silent. Even the steering at speed tightens up, although Comfort is too light and Sport Plus is too heavy. Middle-weight Sport it is, then.
The M4 (and M3 we then swap into) can deliver staggering pace and poise across all surfaces in Competition guise, whether in Comfort or firmer Sport mode (Sport Plus is racetrack-reserved).
The 1515kg coupe and 1535kg sedan feel even faster than the performance claims indicate, the 331kW/550Nm 3.0-litre twin-turbocharged six-cylinder inhaling the horizon like no compact M-car before it. Keep it revving – with a 7300rpm cut-out and up to seven gears it is easy to do so – and it even sounds growly, although it is never as creamy as a BMW six should be.
The six-speed manual is a delightful choice, even though 98 per cent of buyers choose the dual-clutch that is superbly quick and responsive but can be lurchy around town at slow speeds. Yes, there is a pattern here: the M3 and M4, whether in Competition guise or not, are best driven at maximum attack.
At the racetrack the M3 and M4 Competition prove that point emphatically. There is no need to put the ABC’s Fact Checker to task over 50:50 weight distribution claims because this BMW M-car’s hard-driven balance is flawless. There is a delicacy to its front-end response that is ideally matched to a planted yet (with intent) playful rear.
Steering feel remains limited, but the driver’s seat fizzes with communication and the rear M differential turns slight oversteer slides into child’s play. It feels supernaturally gifted – and superbly natural to drive hard – for a cramped two-seater coupe, let alone a spacious medium-sized sedan.
If there is one dynamic critique, it lies with BMW M’s OH&S department.
The ESC’s M Dynamics Mode (MDM) illuminates an orange icon on the dashboard with ‘off’ next to it along with a “limited driving stabilisation” warning that would understandably make some owners hesitant to select it on the road. It should not be that way, though, because the retuned MDM only allows slight rear-end movements before subtle but sure intervention.
It arguably should be the standard setting, with room for an even more lenient mode for track usage.
Regardless of that, the deft M3 and M4 are more delightful in Competition guise (particularly in most affordable sedan guise) with the actual ESC as improved as the increased suspension comfort and control. With extra attention paid to the sound and steering, a Competition II could properly dominate the brutish Mercedes-AMG C63 S.
Currently, that would be a competition with each player on equally short odds.
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