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Flying in the Face of Convention

The new BMW M4 Coupe is bold, audacious, and most importantly, provocative. Here's to celebrating the non-conformists.

I am about to fly in the face of convention. Call me a contrarian if you wish—I have certainly been called worse, but I love the look of the new M4, particularly the radical design of the front kidney grill. It’s bold, it’s audacious, and most importantly, provocative. It’s a triumph of design over focus groups, customer surveys, and financial and commercial hand-wringing. Something quite rare in the automotive world today, where so many car designs rarely make it from concept to production without dilution or they invisibly blend into the grey concrete.

So, here’s to celebrating the non-conformists.

One of the inherent joys of getting a bit older is also that you worry much less about fitting in and what other people think. The M4, which comes in an array of bold colors, is certainly not for the shy and retiring auto enthusiast, irrespective of age. It looks amazing in Sao Paulo yellow and it’s exactly what an M should be all about.

Over the years I have always gravitated to grey and silver cars—they are practical and elegant, they show off the lines and contours of the car, and they don’t stand out too much. However, after a week with the bright Sao Paolo yellow M4, I have resolved that I absolutely need more color in my life. My next succession of cars will be in bold, bright colors guaranteed to stand out from the fray.

Standing out from the crowd in the M4, however, may also mean that you find yourself devoid of goodwill as you try to ease the vibrant yellow M into gaps in traffic among the sea of generic white Teslas and grey Toyotas that refuse to give you quarter. But who cares? When you have BMW’s superb straight six mated to the gloriously satisfying manual transmission and you are sitting in the well-designed ergonomics of the M4’s cockpit, going against the grain seems like the perfectly natural thing to do.

The lines of the M4 have some similarities with the current M8 and harken back to the early M6s. The M4 is a well-balanced and great looking car. The front has a powerful, broad stance, accentuated by the wide kidney grill, contour lines of the hood and powerfully sculpted wheel arches. The profile of the elegantly tapers to the rear and I particularly like the way the lines on the lower part of the door curve up to the rear wheels above the carbon-fiber side sills. The black carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic roof, which lowers weight and center of gravity and prodigious use of carbon fiber on the diffuser and mirrors contrasts nicely with the Sao Paolo yellow, and M Double spoke black wheels. The M4 looks lithe and trim, with the aerodynamic roof fins and slim rear spoiler subtly adding to the streamlined aesthetic. The stainless tailpipes look huge, like small jet engines slung under the carbon fiber rear diffuser.

Ergonomic seats combine racing functionality with lightweight construction
The central dash is situated slightly more toward the driver

My demo car came with the optional M Double Spoke bi-color wheels with staggered 19-inch on the front and 20-inch on the rears, this configuration is standard on the competition. The wider wheels make the M4 look broader and planted and the black works so well with the Sao Paolo yellow and carbon fiber. The optional M-Carbon Ceramic brakes, at a cool $8,100, amp up the stopping power and the gold calipers are a nice touch. 

The interior ergonomics of the M4 are exceptionally well designed with clean lines, and fully focused on optimizing the experience with subtle orientation of the central dash toward the driver. It is a great place to be with everything well within reach. The thick and grippy M Drive steering looks superb with the carbon-fiber trim, the buttons are cleverly designed to be out of the way, but they are easy to use with just the right amount of pressure. I am still finding the geometric design of the speedometer and anti-clockwise tachometer are taking some getting used to, but the display is easy to navigate. The central 12.3 inch touchscreen is clear and intuitive and the touchscreen works well in parallel with the latest iteration of iDrive which reassuringly still has the large rotary selector and touchpad with clear buttons to switch between settings, navigation, communications, and the excellent Harmon Kardon audio system. It can also be easily used with Apple Car Play.

Built primarily for the road, but also highly capable on track, the M4 comes well equipped with a comprehensive range of safety features that come as standard. These include the forward-collision and lane departure warning systems, emergency braking as well as the blind-spot monitoring, parking sensors, and automatic high beams—all of which seem to be obligatory on these cars now. The demo car also came with the optional M Drive Professional package that syncs with an app on your iPhone to download data. It automatically records lap times, speed, exact position of the accelerator pedal, and G forces, and overlays this with GPS data on race-tracks. It is the perfect tool for a weekend racer that wants to improve and enhance their lap times. 

The Merino leather in Yas Marina Blue and Black with yellow accents is vibrant and I particularly like the level of detail on with the red and blue stitching on the steering wheel and fabric seat pull—these are really nice touches. The interior colors also work really well with the interior carbon fiber trim, the Sao Paolo yellow, and exterior carbon fiber package.

I am absolutely obsessed with the design of the optional M Carbon Bucket Seats and could write an entire blog about them. Designed to combine racing functionality with lightweight construction, they take about 21 pounds off the weight of the standard seats. They are also designed with integrated mounts to accommodate a five-point racing harness. They also feature an innovative integral head rest that can be dismantled for track driving so the fixed head restraint far enough back to accommodate the extra width of a racing helmet. This is an excellent feature as I found driving the previous M3 on track at Monticello with the standard seats didn’t leave much room to accommodate the extra width of a racing helmet. The bolsters provide excellent support for spirited cornering and the with a combination of Merino leather trimmed with Alcantara they are grippy and very supportive, ideal for a track environment. The seats are also fully electric and the slats for the harnesses provide natural ventilation. 

I found myself sitting in the back of the M4 just looking at the front seats as the shell of the carbon fiber seats from the back is truly a work-of-art. While they are comfortable over long distances, the only trade-off of the bucket seats with the rigid side bolsters is that in daily use, it takes some flexibility and deft maneuvering to elegantly step in and out. The carbon seats are also likely to be a bit limiting for people with larger builds and I found that the carbon fiber piece between the legs for the five-point harness takes a bit of getting used to, particularly with the manual transmission where you need slightly more lateral leg movement between the accelerator and brake. At an optional price of $3,800, the seats are perfect for those wanting to switch between road and track. 

The heart of the M4 is the a high-revving, twin-turbocharged in-line six, for which the M cars are well renowned. The standard version of the M4 comes with 473 horsepower and 406 lb-ft of torque and is mated to the manual six-speed transmission and rear-wheel drive configuration. The Competition version has an additional 503 horsepower and 479 lb-ft, with an eight-speed automatic and comes in either two-wheel drive or a rear-biased, all-wheel drive system. The straight-six sounds fantastic, even though there are some acoustic electronic enhancements. Winding up the rev range with peak torque coming in at between 2,650 and 6,130 rpm, the M4 just seems to keep pulling and maximum output of 480hp is available at 6,250 rpm. 

The manual transmission is a really superb and hugely satisfying. It is smooth, slick, and precise with just the right amount of throw between gears and with a relatively light clutch that seamlessly engages. It also has an excellent rev-matching Gear Shift Assistant that uses engagement speed control to endure slip-free operation when downshifting under breaking into corners. However, it can be fully disabled for those of you purists looking for the authentic heel-toe experience. The Competition is only available with the ZF automatic eight speed transmission, which replaces the dual clutch of the prior generation. 

The M4 reflects BMW’s penchant to provide a dazzling array of different drive modes that can precisely tailor the powertrain, steering, chassis, brakes, and throttle response. These can be selected a la carte from the set-up button that offers a range of options, or pre-programmed for easy deployment via the two bright red machined aluminum M1 and M2 buttons on the steering wheel. The options include the adaptive dampers, adjustable brake pedal and throttle response, as well as steering. If you are looking to tighten things up, flip through the engine setting options for Road, Sport, and Sport Plus.

My demo car also came with the optional M Drive Professional package, which offers a mode that BMW has specifically developed for track use. It includes a new M Traction Control system that allows the new wheel slip limitation function to be adjusted through ten levels, which allows the car to deploy differing levels of drift and tail-out antics and still kicks in to save you from spinning. The M Drive Professional package integrates an M Lap Timer as well as an M Drift Analyzer that measures the distance, time, and drift performance with a star rating giving marks out of five—though you can only get the five stars by completely disabling the traction control. It is super fun an easy way to spend an afternoon shredding an expensive set of rear tires.

The M4 is incredibly rewarding and addictive to drive, power from the straight-six is delightfully consistent delivering all the way to over 6,000 rpm and the glossy feel of the transmission is a joy. I found myself holding on to power just to upshift and downshift. I grew up with manual transmissions and I had forgotten just how engaging they are in such a capable machine as the M4.

Overall the M4 feels supremely well balanced, as the chassis is stiff with the active rear differential and the steering is nicely weighted. It is also fast. BMW claims a zero-60mph of 4.2 seconds and maybe the manual transmission adds to the excitement, but it rapidly accelerates. The base M4 is limited to the 155mph, but my demo car was equipped with the M Drivers package that adjusts the governor to 180 mph, which seems inconceivable unless you are on the autobahn.

The M adaptive suspension enhances both performance and comfort with electronically-controlled shock absorbers that can more effectively balance uneven road surfaces as well as tighten settings in sport and sport plus mode for a more precise ride with minimal wheel and body movement for higher torsional rigidity. In Comfort mode, around the doors the M4 is very obliging with a compliant ride and is quite relaxing to drive. My only gripe is that the optional carbon fiber seats are a little cumbersome to easily hop in and out, but I only have to take in the beautiful aesthetic of the seat design and experience the support in spirited driving and this grumble immediately dissolves away. 

The base price of the 2021 M4 is $71,800 which is certainly getting up there. My demo car came equipped with the Yas Marina Blue/Black Full Merino Leather with Yellow Accent at $2,550; the M Drive Professional Package at $900; The 19″/20″ M Double-spoke bi-color wheels, style 826M w/perf non-run-flat tires at $1,300; M Carbon Ceramic Brakes $8,150; Carbon Fiber interior trim $950; M Carbon Exterior Package at $4,700, and the M Drivers Package at $995. This brought the total price to $97,645 including destination and handling. 

I have not driven the Competition, and I am sure the additional horsepower torque and optional four-wheel drive is appealing, but I loved the manual transmission and for this reason would go with the standard M4. I would also go with the M Carbon seats, the funky blue, black and yellow leather, and I would certainly spring for the wider wheels, the M Drive Professional package, and M Drivers Package, which would still bring the M4 in at just under $90k. I would also undoubtedly choose the Sao Paulo yellow.

In the space, the M4 retains its incredible appeal and sets the benchmark for the category. It’s a true driver’s car with phenomenal track capabilities and yet is extremely practical and compliant as a daily driver. Overall, this latest iteration feels more like the iconic E46 M3, despite the increased size. This car is superb and in my view is probably the best M incarnation of the three or four series yet. As with all things new and unique, the controversy over the front end design will likely subside and if you are not a fan I guarantee that once you spend some time behind the wheel it will entirely change your perspective.

Our theme for the year at Exclusive Resorts is all about “Life is too short for should-haves”. Life is clearly too short not to have an M4. It is also too short to worry about conforming to convention.

For more information visit: BMW M4 Coupe

Photographs by James Henderson.