Exclusive test: BMW M4: The M I love !

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I still have a hard time calling this BMW coupe the M4. For me, the German brand’s iconic sports coupe will always be called M3 and as for the transmission, even if they try to make us believe otherwise, it’s with a good old manual gearbox that I like to have fun while keeping control of the vehicle at all times. In short, I don’t care about its questionable colour, its questionable physical appearance or its questionable price…

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Today, many cars look the same and copy one another. Therefore, you can’t blame BMW for trying to be different and give its latest 4-Series a distinctive front end. As I wrote in the 420i review, you can make the grille less ostentatious by opting for a sober black colour instead of highlighting it with chrome. However, that won’t spoil my pleasure driving a good old rear-wheel drive car with Michelin Pilot Sport+ tyres that are just waiting to bite the road. The carbon roof inevitably reminds me of the 2003 E46 M3 CSL, which is one of the cars you should own if you can afford it. Under the bonnet of this sixth generation car is a twin-turbocharged 3.0 6-cylinder engine with 480 bhp and 650 Nm torque, which, as I said earlier, is mated to a 6-speed manual gearbox. Like many of today’s cars, the BMW M4 has to deal with a substantial weight of 1,725 kg, but I’ll soon forget about this detail…

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Once seated, I recognize a well-known environment as it’s nearly identical in all BMW’s most recent models : digital screens of reasonable size combine with quality materials. Leather, chrome and carbon are perfectly combined to offer a unique atmosphere. The three-spoke carbon steering wheel has a very thick rim and features two small red paddles, M1 and M2, allowing you to find your favourite settings with a flick of the thumb. The Setup button on the centre console provides direct access to engine, suspension, steering and even brake settings, as you can now adjust the brake pedal as well.

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The control panel in the centre console also features the M Mode switch. It can change the activation threshold and characteristics of the driver assistance systems and the display on the instrument panel and head-up display. The driver can choose between Road and Sport modes, while the Track mode, designed specifically for track days, is an addition to the choices available with the M Drive Professional option. I’ll admit that in just three days of testing, I never played around with the multiple settings, just opting for the Sport mode when I was driving.

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Amongst the various displays available, the drift analyzer rates your slides and other tricky moves from 1 to 5 stars as well as delivering information about  duration, angles and length. Car park freaks will appreciate this. As far as I am concerned, the tortuous roads of our beautiful Ardennes suit me better to test this green car. My first drive test was done on a completely dry road, allowing me to use the explosive power of this in-line 6 to the full. I was amazed by its continuous thrust, but I was also seduced by its ability to pick up strongly at low revs. In short, this engine is powerful all along the rev range. It responds instantly to the driver’s requests and constantly urges you to commit offences… Or to be happy, depending on the situation.

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No doubt that using such an engine is always a great moment. Thanks to the automatic throttle that simulates double declutching, the racing atmosphere is guaranteed. I must admit that I got confused from time to time when shifting from 5 to 4, which is a shame for a mechanical gearbox fan. However, in the past we found the BMW gearbox to be more precise. On dry roads, the brakes quickly disapproved my driving style, emitting suspicious noises as well as letting me experience  a less than reassuring pedal feel.

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On the other hand, it is clear BMW has done a superb job engineering the chassis. The front end is as incisive and precise as ever; the damping brilliantly controls body movements, especially on particularly bumpy B roads. I ended up not even lifting my foot where I slowed down driving an M2, for example, as the M4 is just so efficient. And I’m not talking about its amazing traction on dry roads. In short, it will always be the driver slowing down the car too early, even though it is capable of extraordinary cornering speeds.

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A second day spent in the rain on the most beautiful roads of our country confirmed my analysis. I drove it at high speeds in complete serenity. Bends taken in Sport mode mean the rear wheels can let go a bit, however the car’s passengers were never in danger at any time. The car spins from one curve to the next and can rely a bit more on its brakes as the braking distances in the rain are safer. Should I say I had even more fun in these conditions even if I am aware that it is the driving assistance systems that made this drive so serene and so secure.

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This manual gearbox RWD M4 may be the cheapest version, especially compared to the 510hp autobox- only 4 WD Competition versions but it suits me perfectly. However, I have no doubt it will probably be the least popular M 4 for posh and poseur buyers . Starting at € 86,300, it would almost be a good deal if there was no need to add a few mandatory extras that takes its price to the € 100,000 level… (Translation: Dimitri Urbain – Pictures: Emmanuel van de Brûle – Thibaut Miserque – Drivetime.be et habitacle: vroom.be)

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