More M4 than the original machine
BMW just built the M4 it should have built in the first place, writes Michael Taylor
Has BMW, at long last, figured out how to make the best out of the M4? By stripping out weight, putting in grip and stepping up the power and torque, it has turned the M4 into a useful car that’s nimble, reassuring,ly fast and fun.
Sadly, it’s a limited-run car, and will only be built until 2019, though demand might force M division to reconsider that.
The M4 forced us to ask uncomfortable questions about M. The most uncomfortable of them was whether BMW’s M division still knew how to make light, lithe, nimble sporty cars.
M threw out the M4 GTS, presumably just to show us that its chassis was capable of giggles and hoots, but it was microscopically limited in scope.
But now there’s this, the M4 CS. And it’s really very good, addressing most of the M4’s headaches as M tries its best to make a GT car a sports car.
While the engine isn’t at the core of the issues that rob the M4 of its E30 M3 lineage, M has still given the M4 CS more of it. The 3.0l in-line six eschews twin-scroll turbochargers for a pair of variable-geometry units and they’ve now been amped up to punch out 338kW of power and 600Nm of torque.
Those numbers add 7kW and 50Nm to the M4 Competition Package’s output figures and M claims the rear-wheel drive coupe punches to 100km/h in 3.9 seconds, on its way to a 280km/h top speed.
The M4 CS has been softened off to the point where it’s not a pure track car, but a road car that’s happy on the track.
It’s the work on the suspension tuning, the geometry and the stiffness of the rear that have made a difference. Where the M4 manages corners nicely, the M4 CS hunts them down and attacks them, with glee.
Firmer than the M4 Competition Package and softer than the GTS, the CS delivers the same Comfort, Sport and Sport+ steps as the standard car, but its feet land on different rungs when you push the button. The differences are noticeable as soon as the car starts rolling, but unavoidable when it starts yawing towards an apex.
The steering wheel is still too fat, settling blobbily in your hands and failing to invite intimacy in the way an Audi RS wheel does, but the improvements in the electric power steering’s setup put that to rest. There are more feedback and more directness in the steering now, and the calmer back end means you get more accuracy at the front end with a reduction in nervousness on direction changes at the back. Talk about goal conflicts.
It invites confidence and joy, where the M4 invites respect and progress. The (optional) carbon ceramic brakes are unstoppable, capable of absorbing ferocious punishment while retaining a high, strong, stable pedal position.
There is no more waiting for the odd moment after turn-in with the standard M4, the one where you’re waiting for the body to move across on the rear springs. That doesn’t happen, because the body control is astonishingly good.
You still feel as though you sit too high, above the roll centre of the car in the heavily bolstered, strongly supportive driver’s seat, but that no longer feels disconcerting in any way.
There’s a flatness to the car’s cornering stance that invokes reassurance, yet it still manages to absorb every bump and to punch out of any shape of bend without being tossed around.
The extra grip of the CS is matched by extra freedoms and accuracy from the skid-control system. You can hardly pick when the computer is intervening in its Sport and Sport+ modes and you don’t seem to lose any speed anyway, so you don’t bother ever turning it off.
All of these upgrades leave the M4 CS as a car that invites you to be aggressive with it, in the vain hope that you’ll make it lose its manners or find the point at which it stops being fast and fun. And you don’t find any of it, just dollops of giggle factor.
It’s the back end that keeps climbing in estimation, with an ability to ride well, tie down any float and to explode out of bends all at the same time.
It’s a far better machine on winding slow corners, too, rotating around its axis either under brakes, under a bit of throttle or even just leaning on the front tyres.
It’s still more than 1,500kg, but it feels 200kg lighter, without losing the precision it always had at high speed.
The engine is strong, but it’s not the highlight, even if it now crackles on every Sport and Sport+ mode liftoff like you’re running over bubble wrap.
There never seems to be an end to the engine’s midrange strength, which is its glory and its curse at the same time.
It reaches its torque peak at 4,000rpm and keeps grinding out 600Nm until 5,380rpm and then it hits the power peak at 6,250rpm, but keeps revving to 7,600rpm before you need to pull the right-side steering-wheel paddle back to go into another gear.
Pushing the in-line six out to the rev limiter is a nice thing to do because its smooth, sweet and sounds deep down low and more metallic up high, but it doesn’t rise to a crescendo in the way the classic in-line sixes do.
It’s mightily fast, and the torque means it can be mightily fast all the time. It’s just not aurally thrilling in the way it does it, apart from the off-throttle theatrics, though it’s never bad or boring. There are so few unwanted vibrations that it’s almost worthy of a place in a limo, and the depth of the engine note is more Johnny Cash than the last CSL’s torn corrugated iron sheets.
The seven-speed dual-clutch has a flaw, though, and that’s in the middle mode of its three steps. The first is for comfort, gently slipping through changes, while the upper level is short and sharp, snapping out blistering shifts with barely a crack.
But the middle mode is altogether less convincing, with light-throttle shifts delivering unwelcome head-toss backwards and forwards.
The trick part of the entire package is that, while BMW insists it’s a firmer, more aggressive car than the M4 or the M4 Competition Package, the reality is that the ride is just fine, thanks very much.
It doesn’t seem to lose anything significant in bump absorption for comfort (not to mention for power-down or turn-in), even with the damping rate in the middle setting.
The cabin is dotted with Merino leather and Alcantara (the seats, the steering wheel), while it retains niceties like climate-controlled airconditioning, the brand’s top-level HiFi Professional sound system and its Professional satnav unit.
M also hooks this all together with BMW’s Laptimer application, if tracks are your thing.