Versus the competiton:
The 2015 BMW M4 is a car that sets the standard for sport coupes and impresses us with both its performance and its intelligent use of technology.
Change is inevitable, both in life and in the automotive world, but it’s not always for the better. Every so often, though, changes really do bring improvements. So it is for the BMW M4.
M4 is a new name for 2015, covering redesigned versions of the cars last sold as the 2013 M3 coupe and convertible. Compare the BMW M4 and the previous version of the M3 coupe here.
The M4 competes primarily with the Audi RS 5, Cadillac CTS-V coupe and Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG. You can comb through their particulars here.
We tested a 2015 BMW M4 coupe with options like a $4,000 Executive Package, a $1,900 Lighting Package, a $2,900 double-clutch automatic transmission, $8,150 carbon-ceramic brakes and a $1,000 adaptive suspension. That brought the total test price to $86,200, including a $925 destination charge.
A reworked front bumper with larger air intakes and front air curtains make the front end look busy — there are a lot of fins and flanks up there. On a performance car like the BMW M4, that’s not a bad thing; to me it suggests the car means business.
In profile, the M4 is all BMW. There are fairly short overhangs — the distance between the edges of the wheel wells and the ends of the car — and an angular coupe shape. Also of note: With the M4, there is no rear spoiler. BMW achieves the same effect by sweeping up the trunk lid, and that touch is probably my favorite little appearance detail on the car.
I’m less certain about the roof. All BMW M4s have a carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic roof to keep weight down. The roof is unpainted, so you get a good look at the carbon-fiber weave. I thought it looked fine on our car — which was painted a light yellow-green color — but I’m not sure how it’d look on, say, the blue, orange or silver choices. A way around this conundrum is to opt for the no-cost moonroof option. You then lose the carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic roof in favor of a steel roof that’s painted the same color as the body. But you also lose the light weight of the carbon fiber.
Oh, and a word about the color of our M4: I liked it. Others were overcome by the shade, and my advice to them is this: Chill. It’s just paint, and BMW does have other colors back at the factory. They’ll paint one a different shade for you.
What is worth getting worked up over is the fact that the paint — in fact, all metallic paints for the M4 — costs an extra $550. Oh, and seven of the eight colors you can paint your M4 are metallic, so it’s a sneaky little extra charge BMW has put in there that will affect most M4 buyers. Not cool.
BMW’s M cars are designed to be the most powerful, best handling versions of their cars. As such, it’s reasonable to approach the M4 expecting a lot. The M4 doesn’t disappoint.
For starters, I think the new engine is an improvement. Previous M3 models were powered by a 414-horsepower, 4.0-liter V-8, while the 2015 M4 and M3 get a more powerful 425-hp, turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six-cylinder. The previous V-8 produced a great deal of power, but I always felt like I had to really wind it out to the last rev to get all the power. This new inline six-cylinder just felt like it had more ready power across the range. Whether I was passing at highway speeds, sprinting from light to light or switching between cruising and being more aggressive, I just didn’t find a hole in the power.
The sound was also a positive — it had a nice, mean-sounding snarl — but BMW is using the stereo to help out. The M3 and M4 use the audio system at the lower and middle end of the rev range to compensate for the muffling effect of the turbochargers. A dedicated control unit uses rpm, engine load and throttle position as inputs to synthesize engine sound, which is then fed to the audio amplifier.
Some people find this approach to be heresy, but I liked the sound of the engine and I don’t really mind that it’s assisted by the stereo. It certainly didn’t sound fake or cartoonishly aggressive. It sounded like performance BMW.
Our M4 also stopped with prodigious force and exhibited no discernable brake fade, but I have to think that’s partly thanks to the optional carbon-ceramic brakes. They cost $8,150, and that’s a whopping price. A nice thing about the brakes — aside from their power — is that BMW offers them as a stand-alone option for the M4. Some competitors include upgraded brakes only in option packages.
Going and stopping is great, but what makes or breaks a sports car for me is its steering. The whole point of a performance car is to enjoy driving, to revel in the sensation of just piloting the car through turns. If the steering is too light, you lose the communication you’re seeking. If it’s too heavy, it’s just a silly exercise in trying not to wear yourself out.
Here, again, BMW finds a sweet spot. I found the steering to be excellent; I was able to put the car exactly where I wanted to and, as a bonus, the steering wheel has a nice chunky feel to it, with a grippy leather cover.
There is some technological wizardry that helps the M4 sedan achieve these impressive results. BMW allows you to change many attributes — not only the power-steering assist level, but also the shifting characteristics, engine response and suspension damping (if you’ve purchased the adaptive suspension, which is a $1,000 stand-alone option).
At first glance, all this adjustability can seem overwhelming, but in each case there’s a dedicated button for each feature in the cabin, and the changes are all in a three-step range. The steering, for example, can be toggled between Comfort, Sport and Sport Plus settings, where each setting allows a little more feedback — and requires a bit more effort.
That same “easy/sportier/sportiest” delineation continues through all parts of the car that BMW lets you adjust, and in each case it’s a simple matter of pressing a button until you see the setting you want on the instrument panel. The best part: Whether it’s the steering or the suspension or whatever, there is a clear distinction between the settings. It’s not a gimmick: It works.
BMW also allows you to select each of these settings and then save them in two all-encompassing modes you can activate using preset buttons on the steering wheel, marked M1 and M2.
Our BMW M4 came to us with one mode already configured as a full-on-everything Sport Plus, and the other mode was a sedate, everything-set-to-comfort-and-efficiency mode. Over the course of the test, I used these buttons several times an hour in my driving. It was fantastic to be able to change the car to dawdle through town or attack a twisty section of road just by pressing a button.
The automatic transmission — a twin-clutch seven-speed automatic — is also adjustable by pressing a button that varies shift quickness. Like the above settings, it’s a three-step adjustment: The higher up the range you go, the faster the shift. The “slowest” shifts still happen quickly enough to be satisfying, and the fastest ones are impressively race-car quick.
Technology should make things easier, and the fact that I happily changed modes demonstrates BMW nailed this. I wasn’t flipping between the modes because I was unhappy with how the car was driving, but simply because it was so easy to tune. In other cars, or even the previous M3, I would have probably left the car in one mode and not taken advantage of the ability to make adjustments.
But there is a bigger, intrinsic problem with the M4: Its power and handling. Wait, what!?
What I mean is that the BMW M4 offers so much power and handling that to really experience it to the fullest, you need a closed course. It’s just so fast, so quick and stops so well, you really shouldn’t be driving it at its fullest capability on public roads.
Despite all the power and speed, the M4 sees a jump in its fuel economy compared with the previous V-8 versions. The M4 gets an EPA-estimated 17/26/20 mpg city/highway/combined with the manual transmission and 17/24/19 mpg with the automatic. That’s up from 14/20/16 mpg with either the manual or automatic transmissions with the V-8.
Note, too, that those EPA mileage figures are the same whether you opt for the M4 coupe or convertible.
As far as its competitors go, the M4 edges ahead of the RS 5’s 18 mpg (combined), and both cars see significant gains over the CTS-V’s 14 mpg and the C63 AMG’s 15 mpg combined ratings.
BMW doesn’t let you forget you’re driving one of its performance-tuned M automobiles. There are badges in the front seatbacks that light up when you enter the car, which look cool. In addition to the sprinkling of M badges and controls, we also had the carbon fiber trim.
There is a nit to pick, though: It looks great, but the trim by the gearshift reflected a nasty glare into my eye in direct sunlight — and under every passing streetlight at night. Some form of matte finish would be better there.
The M4’s seats are suitably bolstered to hold you in place during aggressive driving, and there was enough adjustment for me to be comfortable. I’m 6-foot 2-inches tall and weigh more than 200 pounds, and I fit great in all dimensions. It’s refreshing that someone still makes a sporty car for the big-and-tall crowd. However, I never felt like I had great visibility out the front of the car in the city. The A-pillar is a bit chunky, and the rearview mirror was in just the right place to obscure my view. Also, it felt like the M4 didn’t have a large windshield from top to bottom. I didn’t exactly feel like I was looking out a mail slot, but I would have loved to have more glass in front of me.
I took the car for several long drives and emerged feeling really fresh with no standout complaints. For my money, the best-laid interiors are ones you don’t really think about. They’re just sort of there. So it goes with the M4.
Lastly, there’s a nice, fat dead pedal. Having a large, somewhat grippy place to put your left foot is a nice thing.
It’s not super easy to climb into the back of the M4, but no worse than any other sport coupe — just fold the front seat forward and plop in. However, since the M4 front seats have fixed headrests, when it comes time to fold the backrest, the headrest will catch on the windshield and not fold back unless you first run the front seat toward the rear of the car. Is that the end of the world? No, but it’s odd.
When it comes to the multimedia/navigation electronics, I’m lukewarm overall. The systems did everything I asked of them, and I didn’t need to resort to the owner’s manual. On the other hand, the systems weren’t that intuitive. And some things — such as the knob that you spin to zoom in and out on the navigation system — are just backward.
I suspect if I owned the car, familiarity would breed contentment. So while I don’t love BMW’s electronics, I can’t condemn them too strongly.
The M4 had a reasonably large trunk for the segment, but it narrows significantly as you go forward. Split-folding rear seats are standard. It’s also worth noting that there is basically no room in the center armrest for storage. I found it was best reserved for a smartphone, keys and maybe a spare thought … but not much else.
Finally, as far as trunk space, the cargo room is roughly the same in the M4 as you’ll find in the RS 5, CTS-V and C63 AMG.
The 2015 BMW M4 has not been crash-tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety or the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. You can check its full complement of safety features here.
Safety options include Active Driving Assistant, which encompasses lane departure warning that vibrates the steering wheel when you stray outside of lane lines; frontal collision warning that can brake the car at speeds under 10 mph and pre-load the brakes at higher speeds; and pedestrian warning that uses audible and visual warnings to alert the driver of pedestrians and pre-loads the brakes.
Choosing the Executive Package adds many features, including a backup camera and a head-up display. Unlike some cars, the M4’s head-up display vanishes when viewed with polarized sunglasses.
Our test car was not cheap, at $86,200, and more than $20,000 of that was options.
But this class is more about performance than trying to save every last penny. (Though I’m still unimpressed by the $550 extra cost of almost any paint color, as well as the $1,000 for the adaptive suspension that BMW can, and should, include in the price of the car.)
Still, in the area of value, I think the BMW M4 is ahead of the competition because it does everything. The RS 5, CTS-V and C65 AMG all come close to what the M4 offers in terms of options, but none offers the full suite.
For example, like the M4, the CTS-V offers a choice between a manual or automatic transmission, and though its adaptive suspension is standard, the CTS-V does not offer carbon-ceramic brakes. Likewise, the Mercedes and Audi offer neither the adaptive suspension nor the choice of a manual transmission like the M4 does.
So, really, you can sit in front of a computer all night, but even then, you can’t really be sure until you hop in one and drive. Even when you factor in the high price of the options, it’d be hard to fathom there’s something else out there that blends ferocity and drivability as well as the M4.