Whenever BMW unveils a new generation of M3/M4, it’s undeniably a Really Big Deal. At any given local track day or Cars and Coffee it is all but guaranteed there will be a handful in attendance spanning various model years. An untold number of kids have grown up in awe of these vaunted sports cars and for good reason, which we’ll delve into.
The 1988 BMW M3 is the car that started it all and each generation that has followed has advanced the breed appreciably- OK, maybe there have been some models that don’t fully capture the magic of the manic four-cylinder original. But there is not one enthusiast out there with petrol coursing through his or her veins that will deny these cars have earned a rightful spot in the pantheon of the greatest sports cars of all time.
With such rabid attention and admiration also comes intense scrutiny, and those who take interest in these cars can be downright relentless in both their praise and criticisms. Dip a toe into the vast pool of online chatter where the M3/M4 are concerned and you will be overwhelmed by a tsunami of opinions both for and against, and the fevered pitch reaches new heights whenever a new generation drops every 8 years or so. Some express barely contained excitement at what’s around the corner while others aren’t shy about hiding their contempt, and others still are fraught with worry that this could be the one where BMW totally loses its way and gifts us with a car that doesn’t deserve its M badge whatsoever.
When the G80 generation you see here was confirmed, many rejoiced that BMW managed to keep these cars free of any electrification, and that yes, a manual gearbox would live on. They told us that these would be the first of their kind with all-wheel drive, and that they would have more luxury features and technology than ever before. Fans could hardly wait until BMW officially debuted the cars to an expectant legion of enthusiasts- and then the narrative changed to “What the $#%* did they do to the front end?”
The front end is indeed controversial. But remember the Chris Bangle styled cars from the late 90’s and early oughts and the polarizing styling they had? Not only did people get used to them, but now there’s a renewed interest in those cars and now people keep talking about how well they have aged. When you see the M3/M4 in the flesh, the front visage is much easier on the eyes then it is in pictures and in a few years, we won’t even be talking about that massive shnoz. Other than that, our M4 tester was a handsome conveyance, especially so painted in Isle of Man Green. It is low slung, swollen in all the right places and turns heads readily.
Inside, our M4 boasted meaningful upgrades from its F80 predecessor. This is an extremely nice environment to do your driving in and is more comfortable, refined, and better equipped than ever. Even without the racy carbon fibre racing buckets- which you should skip on the options sheet if your joints howl in protest when you get out of bed in the morning- the M4 is a study in a tasteful amalgam of high-end materials and textures to the point where you can safely say it is nicer than any of its competitors. We do confess to missing the old analogue gauges and never warmed fully to the digital instrument panel but that’s about as far as miscues go in the cockpit. The infotainment system is still great, the stereo faithfully plays your favourite tunes loudly and crisply and there is slightly more room in every dimension for drivers and passengers alike to get comfortable with. The biggest surprise revealed itself on a lengthy highway slog, and that would be the hushed isolation that settles over the car when cruising. The M4 could never be described as cacophonous, but there is a very refined Grand Touring vibe that settles over the cabin when you relax the drive modes while clicking off many kilometres in the saddle. It is so good at playing the roll of cross-country missile that it begins to encroach on the M5’s territory within this metric. The M3/M4’s bandwidth is as welcome as it is fascinating.
As much as the interior enhancements deserve their share of the spotlight, the M4 has never been about long-distance touring. No, this car is more about carving up your favourite roads with speed and precision and our Competition trimmed tester reminded us at just how great it is at flooding your automotive synapses with sweet, sweet dopamine.
Two things reveal themselves in stark clarity about the M4 Competition’s driving experience. The first is the immense power coming from the familiar 3.0 turbocharged straight six. In Competition guise it’s making 503 horsepower and 479 pounds feet of torque, much more than the outgoing F80 and a healthy increase over the non-Competition models which manage a still impressive 473 horsepower and 406-pound feet of torque. We have never been shy about professing our love for this engine, truly one of the greats in the automotive kingdom. Mashing the throttle brings a whole new level of explosive urgency and the rush of power will not let up until the 7,200 rpm redline, something that cannot be said of most turbocharged engines which only make meaningful thrust low in the rev range. Any gear, any speed, any drive mode you find yourself in- it matters not. The M4 surges forward with a ferocity that no previous M4 would be able to match. Being a Competition model with all-wheel drive, the only gearbox is the excellent ZF 8-speed which BMW has done a masterful job in calibrating for lighting fast shifts or slurred ratio swaps depending on what your right foot is doing.
The other revelation comes from the handling department. It won’t shock anyone to learn that the M4 has very high limits when you show it some corners, but for this generation BMW tweaked the suspension and widened the front track by 1.5 inches. That might not sound like much, but the way the front-end bites into your intended line and holds itself there is simply magical, even on the squidgy winter tires fitted to our tester. The best part is that the car doesn’t feel like it’s exerting itself do that, remaining unflappable but still eminently tossable. If that isn’t the mark of incredible handling pedigree, please show us another example of a car that so easily does what you want it to while flattering its driver; go on, we’ll wait.
All Competition models come with BMW’s M-tuned xDrive all-wheel drive system. While that might seem like a bit of a buzzkill, you should know that there are very few drivetrains sending power to all four wheels that are this engaging. In inclement weather, it never falters at putting the power down and even in the dry it does its part to put all that horsepower to the tarmac instead of turning its pricey Michelins into clouds of smoke. It has a traction control setting called MDM mode where it allows you to partake in some very entertaining shenanigans but steps in gently if things get too bent out of shape. And like the M5, it will allow you to disconnect power to the front axle so you can enjoy very lurid and very antisocial levels of oversteer if shortening the life of your rear tires is high on your priority list. BMW is so serious about you fulfilling your Ken Block fantasies that they have even included a Drift Analyser with varying levels of intervention that will judge your tail out antics and then give them a score. No, we’re not joking, that actually exists- how they managed to finesse that through their legal department is a mystery that we are not going to question.
Like each generation that proceeded it, the G80 M4 is not without its faults. Some will point out that the BMW bloat that affects each passing model year is no less apparent on the M4 Comp that it is an a regular 3-series. It has gained weight and size to the point where it isn’t that much smaller than the old Bangle-butted E60 M5 in terms of footprint and curb weight. The issue of steering feel, or lack thereof, is always part of the conversation where modern BMWs are concerned and while the M4 does offer millimetric precise placement through its steering rack it is not nearly as chatty with feedback as its ancestors. We mentioned the front-end styling that some folks will simply not let go of with their complaints, but we’re already over it. Our last grumble may be seen as an asset to some, and that is aimed squarely at the myriad of combinations with respect to engine, brakes, transmission, steering and suspension settings. Surely everyone will find their own secret sauce and get their own cars dialed into exactly their specification. But what happened to the days where BMW offered but one factory default setting for everything because it was perfect the way it was? We trust BMW’s M engineers far more than customer feedback or even our own framework of what makes a perfectly set up M4 but clearly, those days are a distant memory.
Speaking of memory, do you recall at the beginning of this review when we said that the ushering in of each new M3/M4 generation was a Really Big Deal, to say nothing of the torrent of opinions unleashed into the void of cyberspace on the subject? Well, enthusiasts the world over can rest easy, secure in the knowledge that the G80 series you see here safeguards the reputation of the legendary M car twins. Sure, there will always be haters who fixate on the flaws and compare it (unfairly/irrelevantly) to versions many years out of production, but such is life when you are an automotive icon- no one is ever going to be 100% happy, no matter what. But for those that can move past these unfounded criticisms, they will clearly see that the current M3/M4 keeps the flame burning bright. They are faster, handle more sharply and boast interiors that compete with the world’s best.
Perhaps it is a good time to remind those naysayers that the G80 generation just might be the final curtain call to traditional M cars as we know it. BMW managed to keep the manual transmission alive and while you sacrifice some power in choosing to row your own gears, how many of its competitors offer that option? Precisely zero. And with Mercedes Benz and Audi confirming that future offerings would include downsized engines (from a V8 to a turbo four-cylinder in the C63’s case!) and some degree of electrification, BMW has held fast to the formula that has served it so well over the decades. No matter which camp you fall into- devout and loyal fan or curmudgeonly critic- now is the time to get into one of these cars before the formula is fundamentally changed forever.
2022 BMW M4 Competition Coupe M xDrive – Specifications
This content was originally published here.