At times, we go through life wondering how we will react in certain situations. Will we step up and be strong, will we cope, are we ready?
There’s a much larger discussion to all of this, but there are at least two car-based things I’ve been fastidiously training for all my life, mentally and physically.
One, is someone saying "follow that car!", the other is the chance to be the first person to drive something very special. You might think that last one is a stretch, as no one really waits all their life for that call… but if you know me, you’ll know it is true.
And so, when the opportunity to pilot the first of just 25 of the 2017 BMW M4 GTS in Australia came up... I was ready.
Only 700 examples of the hardcore, track-focused M4 are being built, which places it in the middle of the ‘rareness’ scale between the 2004 BMW E46 M3 CSL (1400 units) and 2009 BMW E92 M3 GTS (135 units).
Australia nabbed just 27 of the iconic CSLs, but the E92 GTS was never imported here. Worth noting, too, that the UK is only allocated 30 M4 GTS cars, making our smaller population (by about a third) pretty lucky to score a pony-load of the monster M.
Having recently driven the 331kW/550Nm 2016 BMW M4 Competition, I was keen to see just how much more ‘fast’ BMW could add to the F82 coupe.
The 3.0-litre twin-turbo inline six-cylinder engine under the very light and aggressively vented carbon fibre bonnet is largely the same, but the GTS features a water injection system that allows BMW to extract an extra 37kW over the Competition, and 51kW more than a ‘standard’ M4, for a mean 368kW at 6250rpm. Torque is up too, to a massive 600Nm across 4000-5500rpm.
So how does water give the M more M? It’s actually quite straightforward.
The spray is injected to the manifold prior to combustion, where it evaporates and lowers the intake air temperature. This then allows a much more regulated environment for combustion and reduces the risk of knocking (the fuel/air mixture igniting due to temperature or pressure, rather than the spark), which means you can up-the boost pressure of the turbos while maintaining engine reliability.
And as we know, more boost means more power. Science!
There’s a pump and reservoir tank for the water spray system under the floor in the boot, that amusingly sounds like your dentist’s fish tank when priming itself. Drivers note, you need to top this up every third or fourth fuel fill too.
Even with all this extra plumbing, the GTS weighs less than a standard M4, 27 kilograms to be precise (1472kg plays 1499kg).
That may not sound like much, but a bit here (carbon bonnet) and a bit there (titanium quad-tip exhaust) all adds up.
There’s a basic air-conditioning system to replace the dual-zone climate control. Carbon-fibre, fixed-back race seats with manual adjustment swap out the leather and alcantara electric items. Even the back seat is thrown in the skip, in its place are a gold-painted half-cage, six-point race harnesses and fire suppression system (part of a no-cost optional club-sport package).
Fun fact, 23 of the 25 Australian GTS's have the club-sport pack fitted. Faith in humanity restored.
Even cool touches we are used to on CS and RS Porsches, fabric pull-straps on unadorned door cards, are present. Of course treated, as they should be, with BMW M tri-colour stitching.
Stopping all the fun is a set of giant 410mm (16-inch) carbon-ceramic brake rotors and six-piston callipers up front. Remember a vinyl LP is just 12 inches in diameter (confused? Ask your parents) and a V8 Supercar ‘only’ runs 395mm rotors. Lightweights.
Buyers of the GTS aren’t expected to live like animals, though, as the car features a standard iDrive infotainment system, satellite navigation with traffic flow and even rain-sensing windscreen wipers.
With heart rate suitably elevated, we arrived at BMW HQ early in the morning only to be told the car needed a very specific running-in service and check.
Every M4 GTS needs to undergo this procedure at the 2000km mark, before it can be driven beyond half-throttle and over 4500rpm. That means, the professional BMW driving team who had put much of the 1998km on the car so far, had done so by just puttering around.
Yours truly had the honour of giving the GTS its first real run. If the service has a secondary motive of increasing the level of excitement, then consider the KPI met.
While on the hoist we were able to get a better look at the fully adjustable coilover suspension package, that sees the standard ‘adaptive damping mode’ button deleted from within the cabin.
This is old-school race suspension. You set it up, dial it in for your driving conditions, and live with the result. There’s a really nice adjustment toolkit in the boot too, for those spur of the moment damping tweaks.
Ride control can be modified by way of compression and rebound settings on each of the four wheels. You can set the height for either road or track, and the primary geometry is essentially pre-configured for both. BMW say these factory settings have been optimised for the odd casual lap around the Nurburgring. Should be fine for Wellington Road then.
About 90 minutes, three coffees and countless questions of the very patient BMW technicians later, our Frozen Dark Grey M4 GTS was ready to go.
If my adrenalin levels weren’t already high, hearing the sharp bark from the S55 and titanium pipes when starting the GTS, was enough to send this old man’s pulse to a long-time peak.
We didn’t have long with the car, so made a beeline for some quiet and more entertaining tarmac out near Emerald in the Dandenong Ranges.
Worth noting, too, that aside from looking like a teenager’s dream design for the perfect car, what with matte paint, orange M-Star (style 666) wheels and a giant carbon fibre wing on the boot, the M4 GTS is surprisingly livable in traffic.
You can leave the M-Steptronic gearbox in an automatic ‘drive’ setting, and aside from the vastly increased cabin noise, the GTS feels just like a particularly ‘racy’ BMW.
Those fixed-back seats are really, really comfortable. The alcantara wheel is a pure delight to hold, and all the regular ‘4-Series’ switchgear is just where you know it will be.
Speaking of aero, we left our three-point adjustable rear wing in its least aggressive ‘street’ setting, and retracted the front splitter almost entirely to protect it from Melbourne’s less-than-perfect road surfaces. Mostly sub-100km/h speeds don’t really require a huge amount of downforce anyway.
As multi-lane dual carriageway and commuter traffic made way for winding, tree-lined asphalt, we turned the adaptive gearbox, steering and driveline settings to their most ‘M’ level and let the GTS off the leash.
First time at full throttle. First time above 5000rpm. Life goal met.
The omnipresent rumble, that incidentally the owner's manual specifically warns you about, changes to a metallic rasp followed by an infectious gurgle as you back off the throttle. What’s more, there is a wicked ‘crack’ on up shift, that is guaranteed to scare little old ladies at least two suburbs away.
What a car!
The road opens up, right foot flat, the three litre now passing 6000rpm and the coloured tachometer in the head-up display blinking to warn you that a gear change would be handy any time now.
That rasp from the exhaust is now accentuated with a crisp wail. In a way the sound is similar to the ‘chainsaw’ buzz from the E46 CSL, if that chainsaw was turbocharged and made of titanium.
It echos off the armco, the trees, any surface available. Loud, violent… rrraaaAAARRRR – garblegarblegarble.
Power delivery is very different to a normal M4. Where we are used to that solid wall of torque below 2000rpm, the GTS needs to be high in the rev range to rapidly gather pace. It’s no slug off the line mind you (BMW claim 3.8-seconds to 100km/h), it just feels much more linear below 4500rpm. Still quick, but without that all-or-nothing feeling of the regular car.
It responds to throttle inputs in a much more measured way, and I’d go as far as to say a less ‘scary’ way than the normal M4. But that doesn’t stop that response from being fast and thoroughly entertaining.
To get the most out of the GTS, you must keep it above 5000rpm. And you don’t need to be asked twice.
It’s a sensory experience, the physical feeling of acceleration heightened by the devilish cry from the hot titanium pipes, and the sweet smell of fuel vapour, that must be a byproduct of the water injection device.
Strangely, though, we found it reasonably economical. Our few hours of ‘entertaining’ driving in what I might stress, was not an economical fashion, saw an average consumption of just 12.6L/100km. That’s the same as a Toyota HiAce!
Not that it is specifically relevant for Australian buyers, but the F82 GTS is the ‘fastest’ BMW ever, having a top speed of 305km/h. Most other models, including M cars, are electronically limited to 255km/h.
But that is by the by. Even at Australian B-Road speeds, the GTS feels deliciously quick.
Running through the ratios in the seven speed DCT gearbox, shifting with the steering wheel-mounted paddles, is fast and aggressive enough. It’s not quite the same ‘punch in the kidney’ feeling as you get from some more exotic marques, but it works just fine here.
I could say something about this gearbox being a pain for parallel parking around town, but in the context of this car, no one cares.
We have previously criticized the M4 for lacking accurate feel through the steering wheel, and although the GTS shares the same electro-mechanical rack, it feels so much more precise and composed.
You can turn in and hold a line, balancing the car with the throttle rather than having to make constant adjustments to the steering angle. The coilover suspension providing a firm but hugely manageable and controllable ride. It’s stiff but not so rigid that you bounce around over mid-corner bumps.
For your CarAdvice top tip, we’d suggest leaving the steering weighting set in Sport rather than Sport-Plus, as the slightly lighter feel works well with the balance of the car. You don’t feel as though you need herculean forearms to wrestle with the GTS, just a good grip on the alcantara wheel and a judicious sense for when, not if, you next mash the throttle.
Those big brakes wash off speed deceptively well, and it was only when reviewing the video footage I noticed the ESS (emergency stop signal) flashing from the really cool OLED tail lights, signifying a more abrupt than normal rate of deceleration.
If you’re following an M4 GTS at any stage, get used to seeing it!
The grip from the Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres (265mm front, 285mm rear) is nothing short of superhuman.
Approach a corner, turn and aim for the apex, get on the gas again and the car just responds. There’s a hint of a wiggle, particularly in second-gear, but nothing like the step-and-slide kinematics you get from a regular M4. The GTS just hooks up and sticks.
Sure, punching the throttle off the line can induce a bit of spin, but it's quickly dealt with and grip becomes your closest ally as you can push faster and faster through the bends. We’ve had experience with these tyres before, both on the skidpan with Alborz’s Aston Martin, and also as the optional equipment wheel package on the Ford Focus RS.
In each case we’ve seen sensational grip, until you run out and there all of a sudden isn’t any. Not a progressive walk or slip, just on - then off. The fastest way to experience this, is in the wet.
Being Melbourne means we always run the risk of precipitation, so when the requisite shower hit (quite heavily I might add), our g-force load through corners went pretty swiftly from all, to none.
Even light throttle in a straight line was enough to light up Bibendum’s best at the rear, meaning a far more ginger approach to our return run to BMW headquarters.
This however, allowed the time for a bit of reflection and heart rate reduction from what was a sensational on-road driving experience.
The M4 GTS is a very special car. From the trim to the components, the look of the bulging bonnet and fat arches under the matte finish paint (of the 25 cars, 17 are Frozen Dark Grey, 4 Alpine White, 3 Mineral Grey and one is Sapphire Black), to that carbon splitter with its orange tongue, those wheels and that rear wing.
It’s undeniably cool. The ultimate driving machine of the ultimate driving machines.
It is expensive though. You’ll pay over $300,000 to get one on the road, and for that money you could afford a regular M4 (or an M3) and a lovely example of an E46 M3 CSL to tick that future investment box, plus if you shop well, an E36 M3 set up for track work for all that spare time you must have if deciding which way to spend $300k on a BMW is today’s biggest problem.
But I say that from the realm of someone who doesn’t have the means to buy a GTS, as for those that do, the price clearly wasn’t a problem as every single one of the 24 remaining customer cars (this one will stay with BMW Australia) was pre-ordered and pre-sold.
So, cost aside, does the 2017 BMW M4 GTS deserve its place beside the E46 CSL and other ‘special’ BMWs of times gone by?
In a word, yes.
The GTS shows that the F82 M4 platform has what it takes to be a properly capable driver’s car, and in the right racetrack environment could certainly mix it up with some of the best road-and-track specials that Zuffenhausen has to offer.
As for being the first to properly experience this fantastic machine on Australian roads? I’m glad that all that waiting and preparation paid off as the experience was as exhilarating as I imagined. Now I just need to be asked to ‘follow that car’, and my car-goal life is complete...
Click on the Photos tab for more images by Tom Fraser.