If car building were an art, this would not be it.
BMW’s M4 has never been about pretty. The car, developed in the mid-1980s is strictly about science above all else, forsaking sentiment about its creator and devoting everything to its creation.
Even the name itself — M4 — is a slash at its own history. The badge is brand new, taken from the outgoing and historic M3 and thrown onto a coupe. The M3 still exists, it’s just now reserved for the sedan; M4 is for the coupes and quite frankly BMW doesn’t particularly care how you feel about it.
And that’s heresy to fans of the brand. Beginning in 1986, M3 has stood for German muscle, a surgically manipulative Teutonic experiment where the bell curve of speed and natural law intersect and fight against each other. Many auto fans took decades to understand the first models, which is why they were bought up quickly on the Internet almost 20 years after their release. In fact, whispering the name of that model, “E30” in a crowded room of BMW jackets and $30 branded hats can still start fights.
BMW doesn’t worship at its own altar, however. The company has unceremoniously stuck everything but the kitchen sink into the hood of an M3/M4. It’s shoved four, six and even eight cylinders behind the kidney shaped grille, and all without batting an eye. The latter of those powerplants — the most recent generation before this one — being the most coveted because of its siren song from about a block away.
There shouldn’t be much of a surprise then, when driving the new M4, that everything’s different and its all the same. For starters, the M4’s powerplant, a twin-turboed inline six, carries on the familial tradition of insanity. Producing 425 horsepower and 406 lb.-ft. of torque, the motor’s motivation is closer to a kick in the spine than a steady rush of power. The power surges from the wailing turbos and rockets the M4 to 60 mph in just shy of four seconds, over and over and over and over again. Chiropractors are going to hate this car.
Its predictable launch comes from launch control, a feature found now on an increasing number of cars, which is simultaneously great and dangerous. The idea behind launch control is this: You’re no good at reflexes. Most sportscars now are more complex than the Space Shuttle and have internal computers that can dissect road conditions, speed and traction thousands of times each second. Launching a car off the line quickly and predictably without launch control is like lighting a canon blindfolded with a blowtorch. It’s seldom safe or effective, and can be equally dumb and hilarious to watch.
To solve that problem, BMW and other automakers have offered launch control in their higher-end cars, which can be initiated through a sequence of events that makes sure you mean to scare the lunch out of your coworkers. The M4’s goes like this: Disable the traction control by holding down the button for more than four seconds but fewer than 10 seconds. Set the three-stage programmable transmission setting to its highest, most-aggressive setting. Similarly, set the three-stage engine management from stun to kill. At this point, the M4 must be warm, driven at least six consecutive miles without stopping, because why? Remember the Space Shuttle analogy? Launch control can be every bit as violent as one of those blast-offs.
Traction control? Check. Transmission setting? Check. Engine management? Check. Mash the brake pedal all the way to the floor with your left foot, then mash the gas pedal all the way to the floor with your right foot. A small, checkered flag appears in the dash, letting you know that you’ve initiated launch control — or more accurately, overkill for anything you’re about to do now. The engine speed drones at a constant 4,000 rpm — albeit with retarded timing, which is better for takeoff — regardless of how hard you grip the wheel, how much sweat puddles on top of your brow, and how quickly your courage seems to escape your worried face.
Quickly remove left foot from brake pedal.
In an instant, the M4’s rear end squirms with the twist. Tires shake in first gear, and the turbo brap from the quad exhaust in the back gives way to rubber wailing with pain. A shortened first gear (intentionally done to minimize the massive amounts of strain launch control puts on a car) quickly gives way to second gear, which spins up the tires like first gear — only a heartbeat ago. In the heads-up speedometer projected onto the windshield so drivers can keep their eyes peeled on the pavement ahead, 40 mph quickly gives way to 60 mph, which quickly gives way to 80 mph … or as fast as you can legally drive in the metro area.
The speed isn’t novel, plenty of cars can speed. The predictability is what sets the M4 apart from other drag racers. Launch control — which is so violent on the car’s guts it won’t let you use it back-to-back — means that pro racers can reliably run the M4 up to 60 in under four seconds in the same way Labrador retrievers could do the same run.
And launch control is only a microcosm of the rest of the M4. The same precision permeates the car everywhere. Carbon ceramic brakes, heroic in slowing the 3,500-lb. car from massive amounts of speed, look like they were drilled by an electron microscope. The car’s electric steering — almost heresy to automotive traditionalists — is so precise it’s almost telepathic. The banshee scream of escaping boost, exhaust and turbo wail is equally wild and scientific from the M4, despite the fact that BMW now pipes artificial engine noise through the speakers, generally considered to be the Mendoza line between pretenders and bona fides in the sportscar world.
If all this scares you from the M4, it should. From the minute these cars came into existence, BMW’s M division made no bones about the cars it built: They were meant to thrill through fear. And if that’s not scary enough, consider that the M4 starts at more than $66,000 — twice the average price for a new car sold in America today.
And just like BMW always has done, good luck finding a base model. Our tester, lavishly equipped, ran well north of $85,000 and in true M4 fashion, very quickly got there. Carbon ceramic brakes, while grabby on the roads, are an $8,150 option that may come in handy soon. Quick shifting dual-clutch gearbox ($2,150) will too. Same goes for upgraded wheels ($1,200). In fact, the only superfluous items on such a superlative car were the $1,900 lighting package and $550 Austin Yellow paint scheme. Give me Alpine White with black wheels and a black hood and I’ll drive us all straight into many nightmares.
And that’s because there’s no quarter given to sentiment in the 2015 BMW M4. By shedding its name, two cylinders and replacing them with two turbos, the car proves again that it’s less about tradition than it is about forsaking all else for performance.