TO SAY THE 2016 BMW M4 COMPETITION COUPE ATTEMPTS TO RIGHT THE WRONGS OF THE CURRENT GENERATION MODEL THAT LAUNCHED HERE TWO YEARS AGO WOULD BE ACCURATE – but apparently that is not the whole story.
While brilliantly fast, and still feeling fresh (as does the current M3), the M4 can feel a tad 'too-alive' on road, like a bad boy with too many jelly snakes and red cordial.
Whatever, BMW argues the rapid pace of competitor development has forced it to quickly reveal the aptly titled Competition. The previous M3 Competition arrived a full four years after the last generation model.
BMW’s M division has made Competition-specific changes to the spring rates (15 percent stiffer), damper settings (firmer all ‘round), stability control calibration (more lenient) and Active M Differential tune among others.
Along with a minor 14kW power lift and upsized 20-inch alloy wheel package, the M3 and M4 Competition add $10,000 to the price of the regular models. But do they add substantially to the driving experience?
Vehicle Style: Sports coupe
Price: $154,615 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 331kW/550Nm 3.0 4cyl twin-turbo petrol | 7spd dual-clutch automatic
Fuel Economy Claimed: 8.8 l/100km | Tested: 16.3 l/100km
When the BMW M3 switched from sonorous, high-revving 4.0-litre naturally aspirated V8 to 3.0-litre twin-turbocharged six-cylinder for the latest M3 and M4 sedan, coupe and convertible, there were issues.
The heavily boosted nature of the new engine struggled to fit cohesively with a buttoned down chassis that disliked bumpy roads and felt twitchy underfoot, most noticeably with small throttle applications. Along with mute steering, this was a fast but frenetic driver’s car.
There are no major changes to the engine, but the Competition is in some ways greater than the sum of its parts. It has to be.
While a six-speed manual is a no-cost option above the standard seven-speed dual-clutch automatic in M3 sedan ($144,615 plus on-road costs), M4 coupe ($154,615 plus orc) and M4 convertible ($165,615 plus orc), we’re testing the middle version with the auto to find out whether the Competition can go from M-car zero to hero.
- Standard Equipment: Power windows and mirrors, multi-function trip computer, dual-zone climate control air-conditioning, leather trim with power adjustable and heated front seats, cruise control, auto on/off headlights/wipers, and keyless auto-entry with push button start
- Infotainment: 8.8-inch colour touchscreen with Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, USB input, AM/FM radio, satellite navigation, digital radio and 600-watt Harman Kardon audio
- Cargo Volume: 445 litres
We steered the BMW M2 coupe weeks before this test, and suddenly everything clicked into place. The M2 with a similar seven-speed dual-clutch automatic costs $98,615 (plus orc) – a staggering $56,000 less than this M4 Competition coupe.
We’ll get to what that buys you on the road a little later in this test, but overwhelmingly the larger coupe purchases a far roomier and more luxurious cabin.
Where the M2 feels quite basic and bland inside, with down-spec plastics and a cheap variety of leather trim, the M4 starts from a richer 4 Series base then offers significant additions from there.
The equipment level is higher, as expected, with the M4 Competition including a head-up display and surround view camera over its sibling, in addition to a more powerful Harman Kardon audio system (600 watts v 375w).
Although the standard carbonfibre roof is lost if a no-cost sunroof is added, it comparatively adds $2600 to the smaller BMW coupe, which only gets a steel roof.
However, it is the soft mood lighting (including illuminated M badges on the seats), the demonstrably higher quality Merino leather trim covering snug bucket seats and the swathes of leather-look trim on the dash that push the M4 Competition upmarket.
It’s more than possible to imagine many M-car buyers heading into a BMW showroom and concluding the M4 Competition feels like a $155K vehicle inside whereas the M2 coupe doesn’t quite feel as premium as a $100K vehicle should.
Perhaps the company wants that to be the case, leaving the smaller coupe as the purists’ choice.
Either way, the 4 Series is a medium coupe at its core, so rear legroom is impressive, although headroom is limited even for this 178cm-tall tester.
Our pick would be the M3 Competition, which provides five seatbelts instead of four, has a taller roofline for increased headroom and costs $10K less than the M4 Competition.
Viewed another way, for the price of a non-Competition M4 it’s possible to purchase an M3 Competition. To our eyes the sedan is a chunkier, more proportionally balanced looker, though ‘the eyes’ could have it when it comes to cliché coupe style demanding a premium. In all other respects, the M3 and M4 are identical drives.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 331kW/550Nm 3.0 4cyl twin-turbo petrol
- Transmission: seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, RWD
- Suspension: MacPherson strut front, independent rear
- Brake: ventilated front and rear disc brakes
- Steering: electrically assisted mechanical steering, 12.2m turning circle
The engine figures of the M4 Competition look barely changed.
Peak power of 331kW is now made at 6000rpm, versus 314kW at 5500rpm. Maximum torque of 550Nm is still produced over a staggeringly broad 1850rpm to 5500rpm range, but the revised twin-turbo six-cylinder now makes 525Nm at 6000rpm versus 500Nm at the same point of the tachometer.
It improves the 0-100km/h acceleration claim by a tenth to 4.0 seconds flat. The new sports exhaust is cracklier – almost offensively so around town – but the engine still sounds like metal pieces placed in a blender; forced-machoism acoustics above what should be a smooth six.
From the moment a wheel is turned kerbside, it’s also apparent that the steering remains loose on centre and, as lock is further wound on, it lacks the fizzy communication that leaves the M2 so connected with its driver.
To match its larger dimensions and leather-lined cabin, the original M4 seemingly tried to do a fast, lazy grand tourer double-act rather than focusing on being the driver’s car its predecessors were.
However, in terms of suspension and ESC calibration, the M4 Competition represents a big improvement.
It gets three-mode adjustable dampers – Comfort, Normal and Sport – like before, but the coupe now feels more settled over big bumps. Around town it certainly isn’t as tough as the single-setting fixed suspension of the M2.
The M Dynamics Mode (MDM) of stability control is now superbly calibrated to allow some throttle adjustability when cornering, because, after all, this is a rear-wheel-drive sports car. It also doesn’t get frightened of its own shadow, where previously it would clamp the brakes over mid-corner bumps, reacting to a problem of its own creation.
The M4, however, has always been balletic on smooth roads.
It feels born for a racetrack – and we tested it there too – with supreme agility to rival ‘bespoke’ two-seat sports coupes such as the Porsche Cayman. Stuffed with weight-saving aluminium and carbonfibre parts, the 1515kg Competition coupe is only 20kg heavier than the smaller M2.
Only in really tight corners, where driver communication and throttle response is most needed, does the M4 Competition fall adrift of its smaller brattish sibling. There is just too much torque going to the rear wheels at such low revs that some of that twitchiness remains.
The M2 gets a far more manageable 465Nm versus the 550Nm here, yet in the real world it barely feels slower.
ANCAP rating: Not tested.
Safety Features: Dual front, side and curtain airbags, ABS and ESC, front and rear parking sensors, surround-view camera, blind-spot warning, and lane departure and collision warning alert with low-speed autonomous emergency braking (AEB).
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years/100,000km.
Servicing: BMW’s Basic Service Inclusive package costs $2878 for five years or 80,000km.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
The M2 remains the purists’ choice, but don’t expect it to be the all-rounder in terms of urban ride comfort and cabin indulgence. A C63 S sounds better and has extra brawn, but it can’t match the M4 Competition’s balletic smooth road balance. A Cayman can, but it only seats two and its options pricing is endless.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
The BMW M4 Competition is a greatly improved BMW M4. The new exhaust resolves the original M4's try-hard engine acoustics, while the revised suspension and stability control gel more seamlessly with the heavily boosted six-cylinder.
On the one hand the Competition can offer four people luxurious cabin surroundings with plenty of features, and on the other it can rival the Cayman for handling on smooth roads, while being faster than almost anything for the price.
Paying extra for a vehicle with broader attributes makes sense, and here the M4 Competition scores over the M2. For those who simply want that M-car driving spirit without the frippery, however, the cheaper coupe remains more convincing.
Either way, BMW now has two clear choices on the table for what is likely to be two very different types of sports coupe buyer.