Okay, here’s the situation. On a Friday evening, I schlepped the almost three hours from Munich to the Sachsenring with about 37 butterflies in my stomach. The reason? The next day I was set to drive a prototype of the upcoming BMW M4 back to back with the current M4 Competition.
Carsten Wolf, Project Manager for Vehicle Characteristics on the M3 and M4, asks for unsparing opinions in the pits on Saturday morning. He says there’s still time to make changes and tweaks before BMW finalizes the cars for production. It’s nice when automakers treat car journalists as in-demand test drivers for future performance vehicles, rather than as a source of hotel and buffet expenses. The only problem is that it’s been raining cats and dogs for hours and the Sachsenring is soaking wet, limiting any impressions we can make of the 480-horsepower M4.
Three Versions For The First Time
Oh, you’re stuck on that “480-horsepower” bit? This marks the new entry point into the world of the M3 and M4, and it’s exclusively available with a six-speed manual transmission [Ed. Note: In Germany, at least].
"Whether this makes sense from an economic point of view is not so important for the time being,” M developer Jörg Weidinger tells me. “The manual transmission is part of our DNA and we fight hard for it."
Gallery: BMW M3 (2020) Predrive
Those words are as soothing as a balmy summer night. But for those weirdos who find do-it-yourself cog swapping slow and annoying, they’ll have to wait for the new M3 and M4 Competition, which pairs the twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter straight-six to the M-specific ZF-sourced eight-speed automatic originally introduced in the X3 M and X4 M. This pairing packs 510 horsepower and, according to BMW, “up to 480 pound-feet of torque.” That’s 37 lb-ft more than before.
Later, BMW M will add a Competition model with all-wheel drive, a first for the M3 and M4. The system, also featured on the M5, provides rear-biased all-wheel drive, but can also send power to just the rear axle at the press of a button. So don’t worry, dear fans, the Nurburgring Nordschleife’s YouTube Corner will remain firmly in BMW’s hands.
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There’s Always More To It
BMW has packed me into the current 450-hp M4 Competition for a few sighting laps. Introduced in 2014, the F82 marked the beginning of the twin-turbo six-cylinder era after generations of naturally aspirated power that culminated in a sublime V8. The M4 was often criticized at its launch for the effect of 405 lb-ft on the poor rear axle. It was, to put it mildly, a rather unruly beast. Especially in the wet.
Don't let the gallery fool you – Sachsenring still resembles a bathtub with a broken drain, which confirms those early takes on the M4 are still true today. Of course, there’s not much drama when you roll around the track at a crawl – a twitch of the big toe, though, is all it takes to send the M4 hydroplaning sideways.
Apart from the instability, I notice that the soon-to-be-old M4 still looks desirable and feels absolutely up to date in 2020.
“We won the comparative tests right up to the end, so it’s a challenge to make the successor a good deal better in all respects,” says chassis developer Wolf.
But BMW doesn’t really want to tell me too much about the finer points of the new chassis while at the Sachsenring. Compared to the chassis of the predecessor models, everything in the new M4 is, well, new.
“The new 3 Series offers us an excellent basis here with its much stiffer structure,” Wolf says.
As expected, the M3 and M4 get completely independent and much wider axles. Accordingly, the body is two inches wider. There is a comprehensive package of struts and stiffening elements, along with wider tires, which are intended to make the car more stable. For the first time, the M3 and M4 will feature staggered wheel packages, with 19s in front and 20s in back.
The new M3 and M4 are absolutely going to be faster than their predecessors, but Wolf emphasizes that it’s just as much a matter of increasing the car’s suitability for everyday use. Things like noise, vibration, and harshness as well as long-distance comfort play as big a role as controllability and stability at the limit.
BMW rolls out both a new M3 and M4, each with a manual transmission, for this first test drive. But before I set out, an element of the still heavily camouflaged M4 catches my eye: the seats wear Smurf blue upholstery and neon yellow accents (unfortunately not visible in the gallery below).
The flamboyance of the seats doesn’t change the typical sober charm of a BMW cockpit, though. That’s good. The M3 and M4 borrow the M-specific performance settings, drive modes, instrument panels, and wheel-mounted M1 and M2 buttons from newer M cars, such as the facelifted M5. As usual, the steering wheel is heavily padded, but the neat-feeling gear lever feels a little rubbery and doesn’t match the precision or pleasantness in action you’d find in a Porsche, for example.
The flamboyance of the seats doesn’t change the typical sober charm of a BMW cockpit, though.
Once on the still soaking track, two things stand out: The car seems more stable and has a larger reserve in terms of traction. You can push a good bit more before losing the grip on the rear axle.
The four monstrous looking exhaust pipes produce a damn good sound underway. To be honest, the artificially inflated note of the current M4, with its incessant pop and crackle, was a borderline imposition. Now the car sounds much more natural, but also fuller and richer, like a racing car.
It’s Still Going To Be A Minute
If I were to tell you now how unbelievably greedy the new 3.0 liter is, or how sensitive and precise the handling is close to the limit, then that would simply be fiction. On a deluged track, I simply couldn’t drive quick enough to draw any impressions. Sorry.
As far as better driving impressions are concerned, we still have to be a little patient, perhaps until the beginning of 2021 – even though the official premiere will take place in just under three months, it will actually take a little longer to get the M3 and M4 on the road.
Do you know what BMW didn’t talk to me about? Right, the gaping maw, the monster grill, the XXL kidneys. The M3 will get that thing, too, by the way, and I'd stake my life on it. But so far, every generation of the icon has looked absolutely epic in its own way. The hope remains that they'll be able to do it again this time.
Editor’s Note: This story is a translation from a review originally published by Motor1.com Germany. All performance figures reflect the German-market BMW M4. You can find the original piece here.
Gallery: 2021 BMW M4 Prototype: First Drive
2021 BMW M4 Prototype