The Competition Pack throws a bunch of upgrades at the M4 Coupe – but is it what the M4 should have been from the start?
This is what it is like to be the Coyote, strapped to some ACME rocket in pursuit of the venerable Road Runner, I thought to myself – mid corner, at speed, gaining angle and skirting that grey area between traction and oops, in the 2016 BMW M4 Competition.
This car is like buying a pet and choosing a Velociraptor. Even if you fancy yourself as a Chris Pratt from Jurassic World type monster-wrangler – and quite frankly, who doesn’t – the upgraded M4 is not for the faint of heart.
BMW’s not-quite-iconic-yet M4 (#m3forever) sits right on the Vicky Mendoza Diagonal of the Fast/Scary scale. Approach with caution and you’ll love every last minute.
The Competition is essentially a $5000 option bundle for a ‘normal’ M4, and a complete model variant in its own right. The combination of extras, though, results in a product that is greater than the sum of its parts and creates what should arguably have been the standard M4 all-along.
A new set of shoes is the most obvious hint to the hotter M-Car.
Listed in the BMW catalogue as ‘Style 666’, the 20-inch ‘Devil’s wheels’ fill the M4’s guards perfectly, giving the car a wider track (34mm at front, 9mm at the rear) and a much more aggressive stance.
Outwardly, badges and trim get the shadowline blackout treatment, but that’s about it. Remember that the mid-life LCI 4 Series hasn’t even be fully revealed yet, so we weren’t expecting a whole lot of change.
Interior upgrades are more noticeable, and include great new seats with ‘tickle hole’ cutouts near your ribs to help save weight. They are comfortable, supportive and very stylish, pipped only by the cool M-Sport tricolour stripe in the seat belts.
The standard 4 Series interior is nice and well laid out, but is dating in comparison to the newer and flashier Mercedes-AMG C63 S. The car needs the LCI update (due next year) to help it keep up. There’s no high-end driver assistance tech, which shouldn’t really matter for a car like this, but it is getting to the point where this is expected at this price point.
You do get keyless entry, digital radio, head-up display, heated seats and the Connected Drive concierge and connectivity functions though.
Underneath, the Competition sees new springs, dampers and anti-roll bars as well as a recalibrated ride and traction settings from the suspension and active differential respectively.
Power from the 3.0-litre twin-turbo inline six is a thoroughly irresponsible 331kW (up 14kW on the standard car), backed up by a solid concrete, 550Nm wall of torque available from 1850 to 5500rpm – which is fancy science speak for ‘always’.
And here is where the M4 needs perhaps a little bit of taming. Running in the most aggressive M Performance mode (it’s an M4, as if you keep it in Comfort), you basically have a digital throttle. All or nothing.
Squeeze lightly and the car builds speed in a soft and slightly spongy manner, stamp harder and the back of the car tries to get to where you were thinking of but before your brain has had time to process the thought. You explode or you sizzle, there is no in between.
Don’t get me wrong, this is what you want when you sign up for the M4. It's just so brutally fast in its response that you spend just as much time wondering "what just happened" as you do savouring the moment.
All of this results in a claimed 0-100km/h sprint time of just four seconds. We tried to match that but struggled for traction every time. We’ve no doubt that given the face-melting performance of the car it could be achieved, but the conditions would have to be perfect and we’re positive BMW didn’t use a portly 40-year old dad as their test driver.
Worth all $5k of the upgrade though is the M-Sport exhaust which changes the M4’s signature tune from a Dyson with something caught in the tube to a proper snarling angry wasp’s nest. Sports cars are supposed to sound sporty and finally the M4 does.
Peak power is available at 7000rpm and the exhaust teases you to shoot for it. The pitch rises and the snarl becomes a loud warble as the revs climb, and you are treated to a demonic gurgle on the overrun. It’s not a sweet purr of a V6 nor is it a symphonic beat of a V8; it’s a deliciously addictive evil grumble.
All the new goodies add 3kg to the weight of the M4 (1502kg), which is akin to putting three one-litre water bottles in the 445-litre boot. In other words, unnoticeable.
Given the Saturn-5 rocket level performance, we were impressed to see sub-12L/100km consumption of 98 RON over about 400km of rrraaAAAARRRRRing about. BMW claims 8.8L/100km which in theory, could be done, but if you search Google for “hypermiling BMW M4” you’ll see just how many people care about that.
Our car is finished in the optional ($1840) Austin Yellow Metallic paint, one of 15-colours available. Fun fact, all M-Specific colours are named after famous racetracks. Austin is in reference to the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas. Our own Albert Park Formula One circuit is represented as Melbourne Red.
Austin Yellow is a bit of a love-it or hate-it hue, though.
I can see it now, an M4 owner on the phone arranging a dinner date… “Pick me up at eight, great! What colour is your car”? “Baby vomit yellow, but metallic,” you would say.
And yet, the ‘looks better in the metal’ Austin Yellow on the fat flanks of the coupe really works on the M4. The contrast of dark trim and carbon fibre roof really make the colour stand out, in a surprisingly good way.
Would I buy it? Nope. Yas Marina Blue on an M3 for me – but the Austin Yellow M4 is a great colour for someone else to own, and I’ll leave it at that.
Enough about paint though, let’s go back to that mid-corner moment to discuss the elephant in the room, the M4’s steering.
First up, BMW knows how to make a lovely steering wheel. The width, weight and feel is pretty close to perfect and it helps reinforce the ‘ultimate driving machine’ feeling.
The steering actually works best in Comfort regardless of the rest of your settings, as the lighter wheel helps manage the workout that the car insists on when the suburbs are left behind and you let the 'raptor out of the cage.
As this is where you need to be all the Chris Pratt you can be, because regardless of how much mutual respect you and the M4 have for each other, in this environment, you get the feeling it wants to kill you.
The issue in the M4 is the electro-mechanical rack, which can also have weighting adjusted via the M-Mode settings, seems to try and out-smart and out-feel the driver.
You come into a bend, balancing the car’s entry angle with throttle input and aim for the apex so as to get back on the gas. What happens though, is the car adjusts the weight of the wheel so as to maintain the angle you need to make minor adjustments while in that bullet-time cornering moment.
There is a part of your brain that asks the question, am I driving or am I a passenger? The DSC light flickers like a yellow strobe, causing you unconsciously to repeat "don't F it up, don't F it up...".
Given the sensitivity of the throttle too, every input by hands or feet needs adjustment either way. It’s just not a natural feeling, which is a surprise given BMW’s heritage and known ability for being able to create a properly communicative car.
Bottom line, you have to be on your game. Anyone who thinks they have mastered and isn’t just a little bit scared of the M4, is either a BMW driving instructor or just not pushing hard enough.
The upside though, is that you look to others like a very talented steerer as the car steps off-center and even hints at a whiff of smoke from the rear as the car corrects and you shoot out the other side. Pulse and speed going toe-to-toe to see who’s going to get higher first.
It’s not just high-speed cornering that gets the heart going in the M4 either.
The Michelin Pilot Cup Super Sport tyres are now 10mm wider (265mm front, 285mm rear) but need some temperature in them to actually work – at all.
Run the M4 on a cold wet road, and get ready to hang on as the rear wiggles and struggles for grip even under moderate throttle. White lines on the road are your mortal enemy and you’ll see the DCT light flash more often than the indicator. This is a BMW after all.
Things change with warmer tyres on warmer roads, but in general, traction is the M4’s kryptonite.
Get it working though, and the high-rev changes using the seven-speed M-Steptronic gearbox is fast and sharp and everything you want from a car with the tricolor badge.
We’ve noted before that this gearbox is excellent when going forwards with purpose and a bit of a pest in every other situation. You’ve got to take the good with the bad, and my advice is to just suck up the reverse parking clumsiness and accidental ‘tap to neutral’ incidents at low speeds for the sheer thrill of that punch in the kidneys that a 6500rpm up-shift supplies.
Part of the suspension retune, includes a configuration change in the M-Performance presets. These still don’t really work for the Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde life the M4 needs to perform. The mild-mannered Doctor still feels like he needs to pop a Valium to really encompass the word ‘Comfort’ as being a sports car aside, the M4 still needs to be a competent every-day runner as well. Mr Hyde is now an MA 15+ villain, up from the M version in the standard car, but short of the R-rating we all crave.
It’s a hard ask, to try and be both characters, so we do give the M4 a bit of leniency, but prospective buyers need to work out if they need one or other extreme, or are happy with the BMW’s transformative state.
Case in point, the big 20-inch wheels still jar over sharp edges when pottering around town in the car’s most comfort oriented setting. A not unexpected feeling given the 30-profile tyres, but not exactly representative of the Comfort setting name. The ride actually improves at speed though – officer.
As an upgrade, the Competition undeniably improves the 2016 BMW M4. From that awesome stance, and ridiculous noise to the great seats and funky belts, it’s a step forward but perhaps a step to what the M4 should have been all along.
It’s a wickedly fast car, and a wickedly capable car – but it’s not something you can explore the limit in without superhuman skill and an empty racetrack. That’s okay though, as like Chris Pratt, if you treat your M4 with Velociraptor-like reverence, you’ll form a strong bond and likely come back to star in an even more successful sequel.
Click on the Photos tab for more images by James Ward and Tom Fraser.