BMW gets back to the basics

It was a Thursday. I was actually kind of nervous. I woke up knowing that in a few hours there would be a new BMW M4 in my driveway. I never usually get nervous about driving a new car. Last year I drove the Viper, the Corvette, the i8 — and not one gave me as many butterflies in my stomach as this thing did.

In my mind, the BMW M4 was a return to all things that were great about the brand. A smaller displacement engine, a lighter frame, and a manual gearbox, of course. Where the previous generation M3 coupe — while still being wonderful in itself — got a big V8 and a heavy body, the M4 was BMW’s rebirth of a true sports car. At least, that was my thought process going into this. So, the expectations were high, to say the least.

A few hours later and there it sat — a brand new BMW M4 with a bright orange paint job, shiny black wheels, and hips that looked like they belonged in a dirty movie. The lines were absolutely clean as can be. Nowhere near as radically designed as the RC F, nor as subtly ugly as the Audi RS 5. It was just pretty. Clean and pretty. And the inside mimicked the exterior. The black leather, black plastics and black steering wheel were broken up beautifully by the red and blue stitching and emblazoned M badging. Even the M badges on the backs of the seats lit up — which was a very cheesy, American feature. I loved it. But with the subtleness of it all— the clean layout and the over simplified controls (which is something I’ve never described of a BMW in my life) — you would have never known that there was a snarling 431-horsepower engine under the hood. Until you pushed the ignition.

Shrinking from the V8 in the E92 M3, the M4 puts to use a twin-turbocharged inline-six, a manual gearbox — or automatic — and rear-wheel drive. Exactly the layout any good M car should have. Weighing in at around 3,300 pounds, the new M4 is lighter, too. It sheds a little over 480 pounds from the previous M4 (3,483 pounds), not to mention it’s putting down about 17 more horsepower (431 vs 414), and getting to 60 mph quicker (3.9s vs 4.5s). With that perfect combination of weight and power, the M4 really comes into itself in the corners. Just point and shoot and the M4 does what you want it to do. To be fair, the rear tires do want to come out more readily than anticipated, but that just adds to the overall drama. Zero traction control plus wet roads equals one very fun afternoon. The gearbox is quick, and gives drivers a good amount of leeway with the clutch point. If you’re even average with you’re feet, you can slam through those gears like a hot knife through butter. 

Transmission is good, handling is good, looks are good, but there was one feature that really warmed my heart. Next to the gearbox were a few buttons. One was to turn the traction control on and off. The other three tuned the steering, the suspension, and the acceleration. The sheer simplicity of these three buttons astounded me. Never before have I driven a BMW so wonderfully intuitive. You can opt for Eco/Comfort, Sport, or Sport+— all at the push of a single button. Long gone are the days of ridiculous, complicated driver settings. All hail simplicity! So by this point, you're probably think that I’m going to find some ridiculous reason to hate this car. Especially given my unreasonably high expectations at the start of this review. But actually, no. I genuinely, truly love this car. And that’s saying a lot from one of the few writers who holds a special place in his heart for the Lexus RC F.

The M4 is a different animal from the RC F and RS 5. It’s a complete car. It drives great, it looks great, and it feels like something you’d be happy with for a long time. With a $65,150 starting price, you’re only dropping $2K more than you would be on an RC F or C63, but it’s totally worth it. BMW really got back to its roots with this one. It’s exactly as good as I dreamed it would be, and that’s pretty freakin' awesome.

Specs: Engine: Twin-Turbo Inline-6 Horsepower: 431 0-60: 4.1 Seconds Price: $65,150 Positives: Powerful engine Epic handling Gorgeous looks Negatives: Fake engine noise