(Disclosure: BMW wanted me to review this seven-year-old M4 so badly that they built and sold it to the original owner, who crashed it two years later. Two owners and 60,000 miles later, it ended up in Boise, Idaho, at the local CarMax, who loaned it to me on one of their 24 Hour Test Drives with a 150-mile limit.)
I hate modern BMWs. I hate the way they look. I hate how heavy they’ve gotten. I hate that they charge a subscription for things like heated seats, Apple CarPlay, and probably the turn signals at this point. Yes, I think BMW has lost its way almost as much as Nissan. So why am I doing this? Why would I willingly drive a car that is absolutely everything I hate rolled up in one nicely-finished, coupe-shaped package?
Because I don’t want to hate BMW.
Many of my friends love, own, and covet various BMW models. The company has a phenomenal track record of making extremely desirable sports sedans, not to mention a very impressive racing pedigree. So let’s get to know this M4 a little bit and see if it can change my mind or if it was the start of BMW’s downfall all along.
- Base MSRP: approx. $65,000 (when-new in 2015) Price As Tested: approx. $45,000 (CarMax asking price)
- Powertrain: 3.0L twin-turbocharged DOHC inline-six // 7-speed dual-clutch automatic
- Horsepower: 425 horsepower
- Torque: 406 pound-feet
- Seating Capacity: 4
- Cargo Volume: 11 cubic feet
- Curb Weight: 3,615 (Car and Driver, October 2014)
- Fuel Economy: 17 MPG city // 24 MPG highway // 20 MPG combined
A Mixed Bag On The Surface
Here’s a potentially controversial one to start. The rear of the M4 doesn’t look nearly as good as its F80 M3 stablemate. Previous M3s were compact sedans, so proportionally, they were incredibly successful. However, with the F80 and E90 before it, they started growing. The beautiful E46 coupe was 176.8-inches long overall, but the E92 added five extra inches onto that, and the F82 gained three more to boot. The E46 was proportioned perfectly with a fairly upright B-pillar and a formal-looking C-pillar.
The F82 has to deal with being a midsize sedan cosplaying as a coupe. Rather than keep the M3’s handsome upright styling, BMW seemingly decided to drop an S550 Mustang roofline on the F80 chassis and call it a day. Normally, this would be just fine. However, on the day the BMW execs called for the final model of the M4’s quarter panel, the designers couldn’t be bothered with sculpting fender flares to house the wider track. So instead, they just smoothed out the clay and handed their work in. As a result, the surfacing of the quarter makes the whole ass end look bulbously smooth and without purpose. It’s a stark contrast to the front of all F80/F82 cars, which looks fantastic; the perfect combination of aggressive, modern, and upscale.
The face says, “get out of my way, peasant,” while the rear says, “yes, I would like a fifth helping of schnitzel, thanks.”
Not Everything Needs A Submenu
The interior is far more successful than the exterior. Material quality is lovely, with leather and carbon fiber everywhere. The dashboard is handsome and interesting if a bit busy. The instrument cluster is simple and beautifully laid out with a few neat tricks, such as a light to indicate the speed you last set your cruise control. There is a digital fuel economy gauge below the tachometer and gear position screen, which transforms into a display showing your steering, dampers, and powertrain settings. But this leads me to the first of the problems I have inside.
The iDrive system.
As a friend put it, it’s logical but unintuitive. Items are laid out simply from the home menu, but each option has roughly eighteen million sub-menus to sift through before finding what you actually want. Switching from the EfficientDynamics gauge to the one that shows your drive mode selections is a five-step process, rather than just having the button that adjusts the mode bring the display back up.
It’s infuriating because the system is so close to being good and just isn’t. My main gripe is the lack of a steering wheel-mounted next-track button, which seems like an impossibly minor nitpick, but it’s irritating in practice once you’re used to having one on almost every other car. There is a physical, unlabeled button for it far right of the stereo controls, so if you don’t know about that, you’d have to go back to the Entertainment/Media section and go through two more menus. Completely idiotic.
Is it better than first-gen iDrive? Of course it is. Is it as good as a basic Ford Sync system? No.
Thankfully, the seats are all heavenly. They are extremely comfortable and supportive, and the side bolsters are width-adjustable. The latter is a welcome addition for my fellow “thiccbois” since most sports seats are too tight. The M4 would be perfect on a long road trip thanks to these seats, and did I mention the M logos light up?
But enough about seats, steering wheel buttons, and infuriating infotainment. Let’s drive this boat.
The Gearbox From Purgatory
Allow me to explain my background, first. I’m a die-hard manual elitist. Both vehicles in my stable are manual. I’m the guy at car shows that will immediately walk away from an otherwise very cool car if I see it has less than three pedals. Yes, I know “automatics are faster,” but car enjoyment isn’t a competition, so I don’t give a toss. Despite this, I have owned and enjoyed an automatic vehicle prior. Not because the transmission was engaging in any way, but rather the opposite of that. My Lexus LS430 was the most refined vehicle I’ve ever owned, and it’s the one scum car I owned that I don’t think would have been improved with the Lord’s gearbox. I also enjoyed a dual-clutch, V10-propelled Audi R8, and the transmission was fantastic. I’ve explicitly said that with something that fast, maybe the auto was a better choice only so you can focus on keeping the car on the grippy bit. So there.
Yes, I prefer manuals, but I can respect some autos.
With that said, the M-DCT in the M4 is indeed a transmission. The shifter “gate” is laid out oddly, and unless you’re familiar with modern BMWs, it does take a moment to get used to it. Despite being capable of functioning like a torque converter automatic as many dual-clutches can, BMW decided to differentiate itself and completely remove the parking gear. So if you forget to put the handbrake up, you may return to find it’s not quite where you left it.
As far as driving goes, it’s fine in Drive. It’s great most of the time, with smooth and quick shifts barely noticeable under acceleration. In manual mode and under duress, the shifts are only as hard as you set them to be, thanks to the adjustable shift ferocity, a setting introduced with the E46 M3’s terrible SMG gearbox. If you turn it all the way down, shift times are increased a minuscule amount but are far smoother. Shifts themselves actuate via real metal paddles but are slightly let down by ho-hum paddle engagement.
Throttle response is great for mid-corner adjustments at the ragged edge but not so much when you’re just trying to get home in rush hour, and it’s downright unrefined between freeway stints. For instance, if the car upshifts from first gear but then immediately has to stop, the transmission will wait until just before your halt to slam back into first.
By now, you’re probably shouting, “Why does traffic matter? It’s a damn high-performance sports coupe!”
Yes, it is. And it’s one that is now within reach of middle-class enthusiasts thanks to the famous German car depreciation curve. But if I was a 40-to-50-year-old middle manager at a bank in 2015 and paid nearly $70,000 for my moderately-optioned M4, I think I’d be a bit annoyed that my car gave me whiplash in traffic.
My only other issues with the DCT were a few neck-breaking upshifts in manual mode if I shift then lift (off the gas) and one instance where it completely bogged trying to depart a slightly obscured junction, even with traction control off. These could have been due to me setting up the car improperly, my driving, or simply due to age and mileage.
Drop the hammer to overtake in automatic mode, and the gearbox will happily kick down but then stay there. It took a solid three-to-five seconds of mild cruising to spur an upshift. You could cut that down by pulling a paddle, but the M engineers will believe you want to be a big kid and let you shift by yourself. By the time you notice, you would have slowed to 20 to 30 miles per hour, trying to rush back to speed from sixth. You would either drop three or four gears or slide the shifter back into automatic, which isn’t in the direction you expected so now you’re in neutral. Useless.
An Engine By (Tone-Deaf) Angels
Phew! With that out of the way, let’s discuss the things the M4 does beautifully.
Power delivery is smooth, immediate, and immense. Holy hell, this thing is quick! I’m no stranger to fast cars, and I knew the stats of the M4 going into this – 425 horsepower, 406 pound-feet – I knew it would be fast, and boy-howdy, it sure was. I didn’t hoon on my local streets of Boise because that would be irresponsible, but a zero-60 time of 3.7 seconds, according to the renowned testers at Car and Driver, is certainly believable, even with this runt’s 60,000 miles.
Like other modern Bimmers, the M4’s launch control is beautifully simple. Full brake, full throttle, release the brakes, and car go brrr. But, tragically, this generation’s S55 turbocharged inline-six is infamous for its tone-deaf screeching, and I can finally agree. Older BMWs made a wide range of sounds and seemed alive and sonorous, but this one just makes a noise. Despite the now-cliche “gargling chainsaws” stereotype, I’d almost say the engine is the highlight of the F82-generation M4 if it wasn’t for the brakes and chassis.
A Chassis By God, But God Took A Couple Sick Days
Yes, this M car is certainly made of M car. Chassis rigidity is excellent; the car is superbly agile despite its roughly 3,600-pound weight. It’s eager to change direction on good or even mediocre switchbacks. The stability control does an admirable job of keeping your right foot from writing checks that your skill can’t cash, and it does so without spoiling the experience. I never tried any twisties at a rapid pace with the system fully disabled as I had no desire to crash and subsequently own an out-of-warranty M car.
The few flies in an otherwise well-tuned jar of ointment include lifeless and artificially-heavy electric power steering. The steering feel subject has been beaten to death by journalists since the car’s release, and now I see why. I’ve driven cars with fantastic EPAS, and this is not one of them. The drive mode doesn’t matter, as they’re all too heavy. My backroad excursions were done with Comfort steering and suspension as that somehow felt the most natural and appropriate.
Speaking of suspension, I don’t see the point of fitting adaptive dampers on the M4 when it’s still too jittery and breast-jiggling, regardless of drive mode. Comfort smooths out very slight surface changes, but it’s nothing transformative. The other main handling nitpick was surprisingly more understeer than anticipated on longer decreasing radius turns. I suspect this has something to do with the staggered 255-section front and 275-section rear tires, and I hope this can be rectified with a squared set of 275s. BMW has a habit of doing these staggered setups, and I’m quite not sure what benefit it offers besides a more aggressive stance.
Brakes are competent and sublime in performance driving. There is no fade, good initial bite, and positive pedal feel. But like everything else, the drawback is that they’re touchy in town. When coupled with the transmission’s inopportune downshifts, low-speed stops were mid-term exams in finesse.
One Of The Cars Of All Time
So what’s the big picture here? Nitpicks aside, I’m grateful to have spent some time in this new-to-me BMW M4. It definitely opened my eyes to a side of cars I had less experience with than others.
But what even is the F82 M4?
It seems confused about its mission. I wouldn’t call it a sports car. It’s far too big and heavy. It’s not a grand tourer because the suspension doesn’t settle down enough, and the back seat isn’t all that big considering it’s based on a mid-size sedan. It’s not a daily driver because it’s too focused on being a track weapon and it’s too compromised with comfort features to be a proper track weapon. In my mind, the M4 is three different cars that are great at their specific tasks rolled into one jumbled-up cluster; a jack of all trades yet a master of none.
It’s a fast, relatively comfortable, technology-filled luxury sports saloon. It’s a riot on a twisty backroad. It’s a big highway cruiser. But if you want the last generation M4 experience and don’t care about interior quality or badge snobbery, get an Alpha-platform Camaro SS or S550-generation Mustang GT. If you want weekend shenanigans or track day capability with most of the same amenities, get the more agile BMW M2. And if all you want is a Bimmer that’s quick in a straight line, gets you around in comfort, looks good, and can handle decently, what’s the matter with an F32 M440i? You get 80 percent of an M4, with the choice of a manual or a proper ZF 8-speed automatic, which, as far as I can tell, shifts just as quickly with no drawbacks around town. These cars are better at a lot of things than an M4, and they all do it for less money. Perhaps the stick-shift variant can better convince me and un-sour my experience with this particular used-lot special. While this particular BMW hasn’t convinced me that the company deserves a second chance, there’s another one that might be able to, it just so happens that it wears a Toyota badge.
Oh, and did I mention it went into limp mode twice in 40 miles? Because it did. BMW: The Moderate Driving Machine.