2017 BMW M4 Competition LCI review

$133,760 $159,060 Dealer
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Life Cycle Impulse. Any idea what that means? It's BMW speak for mid-life update, and the mean M4 Competition has just been LCI'd. Paul Maric jumps behind the wheel for a fang.

The 2017 BMW M4 range has been updated, not that you'd ever be able to tell. It falls under the category of Life Cycle Impulse (LCI), BMW-speak for mid-life update.

If you look closely, you'll spot changes like LED headlights and tail-lights, new wheel options, plus a revised version of iDrive.

I'm sure you can understand it didn't take much convincing to get me back behind the wheel of an old favourite – despite this update only being minor.

If you've never driven an M3 or M4, I'll run you through what makes this car so special and enjoyable to drive.

The M4 range kicks off with the M4 Pure, which can be yours for a pretty impressive $139,900 (plus on-road costs) with a six-speed manual and the same engine configuration and power output as the beefy M4 Competition. You can option the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox at no extra cost.

Open up your wallet a little further and you step up to the M4, which starts at $151,600 (plus on-road costs). Like the M4 Pure, both the manual and automatic cost the same and like the M4 Pure, both are equipped with the same 3.0-litre twin-turbocharged six-cylinder engine, but curiously, it's the standard M4 that produces a lower 317kW of power and 550Nm of torque.

If you really want to impress your mates, it'll be the M4 Competition that straddles the line between daily driver and back shunter. It's priced from $156,710 (plus on-road costs) and like the other two M4 models, it can be had with a six-speed manual or seven-speed dual-clutch automatic for the same price.

Unlike the other two, though, you do get some extra poke from the engine. It's the same 3.0-litre twin-turbocharged six-cylinder, but power increases from 317kW of power to 331kW, while torque remains the same.

Where it'll take you 4.1 seconds to move from standstill to 100km/h in the M4, the M4 Pure and M4 Competition will sort that out in 4.0 seconds dead. The M4 Competition also get black badges, unique wheels and sweet looking seat cut outs in comparison to the M4.

You can also buy an M4 convertible in standard M4 and M4 Competition guises ($163,910 and $168,010 plus on-road costs respectively), but you wouldn't be seen dead in one if you were serious about your Bavarian missiles.

From the outside, you won't be missed in traffic with pumped guards at the front and rear, along with awesome looking wheels that make this thing pop from any distance. There's also a set of quad exhaust pipes at the rear that cement this as a traffic light warrior.

If you look closely, you'll also catch the wing mirrors, which have an aerodynamic cut at the top to help streamline air flowing around the wing mirror casing. Plus, there's a power bump on the bonnet.

Open the engine bay and your eyes will instantly melt. It's lathered in carbon-fibre and myriad parts that will send your inner engineer into a spin.

The carbon-fibre wrapping the body frame around the front of the car is designed to prevent body flex and keep the vehicle dead flat through corners.

If you think the M3 and M4 engines are shared with BMW's other TwinPower six-cylinders, think again. To cater for the beastly power outputs and intense cooling requirements, the S55 engine runs a totally different architecture with a unique aluminium block and internals. If you're easily bored by engineering, skip the next five paragraphs.

Direct injection teams with variable valve timing on both intake and exhaust camshafts, along with the use of BMW's Valvetronic system. Part of the reason (and we'll talk about this soon) it feels like it doesn't have any turbocharger lag is partly due to BMW's variable valve-lift technology. Valvetronic removes the need for a throttle plate, which cuts pumping losses, which in turn increases engine responsiveness.

The giant box on top of the engine is the intercooler. The intercooler works to reduce the temperature of air before it's forced into the engine and mixed with fuel. The cooler the air, the more effective the combustion process.

The advantage of using water as a heat transfer medium is that it can quickly transfer heat from air due to offering a higher specific heat capacity, but the disadvantage is it becomes ineffective when the medium overheats, plus there's extra weight involved with storing water.

To put it into context – if you have hot air travelling through a medium, it takes around 4.1 Joules of energy to increase the temperature of water (at 20 degrees Celsius) by 1 degree Celsius. The same hot air travelling through a medium cooled by air needs around 1 Joule of energy to increase the temperature of that air by 1 degree Celsius.

That means it's four times harder to increase the temperature of water, meaning it's more efficient at then pushing cool air into the engine. Anyway, the engine bay really is a work of art.

Step into the cabin and that element of style and sophistication continues. The M4's interior is quite clinical with all the core elements within reach.

The steering wheel sits perfectly in the hand, while the steering wheel-mounted paddle-shifters are easy to reach and activate. Two 'M' buttons on the steering wheel allow for custom drive configuration.

Unlike other 4 Series vehicles, the stubby shifter in the M4 only offers movement between neutral, drive, reverse and manual gear selection. There's no park button, which means when you get out, a second press of the start button is required to lock it into park to prevent it from rolling away.

The M4 also sticks with a traditional lever handbrake, just in case you ever feel the need to rip handbrake turns.

Part of the LCI update is a new iDrive revision. We always rave about iDrive because it's easy to use and packed full of useful features.

But, this latest revision has taken a step back. Instead of a vertical stack of horizontal menu items, the new system uses vertical columns and some functions are buried within sub-menus, making them a bit tricky to find.

It's a case of fiddling with something that didn't need fiddling with. Thankfully though, there's enough processing power to whip through menus and rapidly zoom in and out of satellite navigation menus.

And, the voice recognition system is second to none. You can literally blurt out an entire address, or a foreign sounding name, like Trent Nikolic, without needing to anglicise the 'ic' component.

Like the engine bay, the seats are a work of art. The sculpted seats wrap around the driver with perforations to dissipate heat, along with an M4 upper badge on each seat that's backlit and a BMW 'M' seat belt for driver and front passenger.

As you'd expect, there's barely any leg- or headroom in the rear. It's strictly an occasional use seating area, or a designated kids' zone.

Being a six-cylinder, it has a very different exhaust note to something like the burbling V8 idle of a Mercedes-AMG C63 S, for example. It's a gruff idle, not as deep and it has a hint of tinny hollow to it.

Before you set off, the driver can switch between several engine, suspension, steering and gearbox modes. They all vary the intensity of each component and in the most aggressive setting, the ride is firm, steering heavy, gearbox fast and engine loud.

While at the opposite end of the spectrum with everything in comfort, it's a livable daily cruiser. It's still firm in comfort, but there's not other way to have it with 20-inch wheels all round, sitting on 285mm treads at the rear, 265mm at the front and 30 profile tyres all round.

This review focusses more on the road element, with a track review coming in the future.

With that in mind, we lined up a set of mountain roads to stretch the M4's legs in an environment most owners are going to experience on a weekend thrash.

My preferred setting for the custom M1 steering wheel mode is engine in Sport Plus, gearbox in its second shift setting, suspension in Sport, steering in Sport and stability control in MDM mode.

The stability control system operates in three modes – full on, MDM mode and full off. The MDM mode is meant to give you flexibility to step the rear end out while still being fully active.

The lack of freedom in MDM mode has always been our complaint with BMW's M cars, because it comes in quite early and can kill torque delivery if it thinks you're going a little too sideways.

As we started getting stuck into some country roads, the M4 really opened up. Throttle response is ridiculously sharp with only a minor stab required in Sport Plus to have the engine smashing your back with 550Nm of torque.

To get the most out of the M4 we found feeding on the throttle as opposed to aggressive stabs was the best solution. Hitting it too hard, too early would cause the stability control to kick in and kill torque momentarily, which would interrupt momentum.

The reason it's so aggressive is because of how quickly the M4 will chew you up and spit you out if you make a mistake. It's not like other high-performance rear-wheel drive cars like the Mercedes-AMG C63 S or high-powered HSV models where side steps of the rear are predictable.

The M4 really requires an incredible amount of attention and experience to extract the most out of it. I'm no race driver and I found it to be a little unpredictable at times, which is why I'd never consider driving it with everything off to overcome the aggressive stability control intervention, outside of the confines of a race track.

With that said, it only requires an adjustment of driving style to keep it within comfortable boundaries. Once you're in that zone, it's a lot of fun to drive.

Braking is taken care of by virtue of cross-drilled rotors all round. They measure in at 380mm up front with four-piston calipers, while the rear is serviced by 370mm rotors and two-piston calipers. Drivers a bit more serious about their driving can opt for carbon ceramic brakes, which cost an additional $15,000.

The steering is incredibly direct and offers an accurate amount of communication, despite some reviews claiming it lacks feel.

Despite a V8 sports car featuring an exhaust note that everybody knows and loves – the M4 experience is different all together. The turbochargers spool with a menacing howl, while the exhaust spits out a sound that's both mechanical and loud and can't be mistaken for anything other than an M4.

I came away from our blat through the hills with a smile ear to ear. I couldn't stop smashing the throttle and continuously attacking corners.

Once you're done stuffing about, you'll spend your time tootling around the city. At low speeds the dual-clutch gearbox isn't quite as fussy as some Volkswagen Group products that can be stunted and feel elastic when moving from a standing start (where a slow movement suddenly jerks to a quicker one with no driver intervention).

A cool feature you may occasionally want to use (well, two of them) is the burnout mode and launch control.

If you slip the car into Sport Plus and switch off stability control, kicking the throttle and hitting the kickdown selector suddenly causes the revs to rise and for the clutch to engage, resulting in a smoky, epic burnout.

Likewise, hitting that magic 4.0 second 0-100km/h run comes courtesy of launch control. It's engaged by setting the car into its fastest and most aggressive gearbox and engine modes, holding the gear lever across to the right until a flag appears and then holding the brake and throttle at the same time.

Pre-LCI the M4 would literally perform the biggest burnout you've ever seen, grab the next gear and try and send you off the road. BMW has tweaked the launch control system to limit wheel slip in first gear before opening up second gear. It still makes it a fairly sketchy launch because all the driver aids are off — unlike the Mercedes-AMG C63 S, which allows slip during launch control but leaves the nannies on in the background.

For a novice driver like me, the M4 provides so much driving pleasure, it's hard to imagine enjoying the road in anything else.

For some, the intrusive driver aids will be annoying and the noise won't meet their expectations. But as an engineer, this type of car sits midway between an engineering masterpiece and a work of art.

Our next drive of this car will be on the race track, where we will get the chance to push it a little harder and see whether it feels any different closer to its limits. And, I can't wait.

If there's anything you'd like to know about driving the M4 Competition, ask in the comments below. Click on the Photos tab to see more images by Tom Fraser and Paul Maric.