OMG, that grille! Why is it so big? That's how most people probably want us to begin this review of the 2021 BMW M4. But to focus so much on the car's admittedly large snout would be to do a disservice to an otherwise special creation. By learning from advancements made on special models like the GTS, DTM, and CS, the second generation of BMW's M4 performance coupe rectifies many of the issues from the first-gen F82 model, including uncommunicative steering, a lackluster exhaust note, and a chassis easily overwhelmed by the engine.
BMW supplies the new M4 with a 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged S58 inline-six engine producing 473 horsepower in base form or 503 hp in the Competition model. The M4 is the last in this segment to offer a six-speed manual transmission, which is a huge selling point for enthusiasts who have otherwise overlooked the Mercedes-AMG C63 Coupe and Audi RS5 Coupe. All base M4 models receive the six-speed manual while all Competition models get an eight-speed automatic, replacing the dual-clutch offered in the previous M4 in lieu of the new car's greatest change: an available M xDrive all-wheel-drive system. BMW dropped off a base M4 with the stick and RWD for us to enjoy for a few days and one thing became apparent: M has its mojo back.
The second-generation BMW M4 has big shoes to fill and it does that by bringing more power and a larger body to the table. It looks dramatically different due to an elongated kidney grille, aggressive LED headlights, and a body that is 4.6 inches longer and 0.7 inches wider than the model it replaces.
The latest 3.0-liter S58 inline-six turbocharged engine is more powerful than before, producing 473 horsepower (a 48-hp increase) as standard and 503 hp (59-hp more) in Competition guise. This year, the Competition model is limited to the eight-speed automatic gearbox, but the base M4 still uses a six-speed manual. For the first time, an M xDrive all-wheel-drive system will be offered for the Competition model, increasing the number of configurations that will be available. A wider front track (by 1.5 inches) improves traction compared to the outgoing M4.
Inside, an all-new interior shares much with the latest 4 Series. However, BMW has made available some audacious color combinations and options like M Carbon bucket seats. A new 10.25-inch touchscreen interface and a 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster are now standard.
See trim levels and configurations:
Many enthusiasts maligned the previous-generation BMW M4 because it lacked the driver connectivity provided by classic M3 models. Though this new M4 is far from a modern-day E30, it feels like a return to form for the M Division. We were shocked by how light BMW has made the M Servotronic steering in its comfort setting. BMW steering, especially in the M cars, tends to be quite heavy, but the new M4 feels far less cumbersome. In sport mode, the steering gets considerably heavier, though we found it to always deliver a direct response regardless of setting. Some diehard enthusiasts may yearn for more feedback through the wheel, but the M4 feels more communicative than the Mercedes C63 or Audi RS5.
The Adaptive M suspension provided a similar surprise by offering a softer ride than we remembered in the previous M4. We wouldn't call it cushy, but the M4 is soft enough to be a daily driver. As with the steering, the suspension offers multiple modes, including Sport and Sport Plus for greater rigidity. Sport Plus is pretty firm for daily driving, but keeps the M4 stuck like glue to the road. Grippy Michelin PS4S tires add to the M4's planted feel, meaning you can go hog wild with the throttle before the rear wheels finally lose traction. Should you wish to go sideways, the M4 includes a nifty M Drive Analyzer that gives a score out of five based on several factors, including drift angle and distance. We didn't have the chance to try it out on public roads, but if you have access to a track, it could be fun aiming for a five-star drift (though BMW says it's notoriously difficult). Though this car offers savage performance when asked, its party trick is the ability to remain quiet and livable most of the time, with a well-insulated cabin. Once you've set the car up how you like it, you can save those settings to the M1 and M2 buttons on the steering wheel for quick access.
Though the Competition model is quicker with the eight-speed automatic, we urge buyers to consider the base M4 with its six-speed manual transmission. The M4 is one of the few performance coupes left on the market with a manual option, and it's a pretty great one. BMW has perfectly positioned the pedals for heel-toe downshifts, which are made even easier with some computer assistance. The clutch feels easy to modulate in traffic, and doesn't need to be ridden in first gear to maximize smoothness. If we had one complaint, BMW's placement of reverse to the left of 1st gear can yield a missed shift from 3rd to 2nd or 1st to 2nd, but more time in the car should alleviate this issue. This manual transmission is a unicorn in today's market, and we recommend getting it before it inevitably goes away.
NHTSA safety ratings are not available at this time.
Some buyers may miss out on the 2021 BMW M4 because they can't get over the size of the grille. That's a shame. Those who look past the nose (which is functional for cooling, by the way) will get to enjoy one of the most complete sports coupes on the market today, and one of the only ones to offer a row-it-yourself manual. With the number of manual sports cars quickly dwindling, the new M4 stands out as a bullseye for enthusiasts. It offers more comfort than before, outstanding cabin technology, and an experience that connects the driver to what's happening around them. An M2 Competition feels a bit more ragged at the limit, but the M4's civility makes it the better daily driver of the two.
If we were in the market for a luxury performance coupe, the M4 might shoot to the top of our list with the manual transmission. The Audi RS5 and Mercedes-AMG C63 do not offer this feature, making the M4 stand out as a unicorn. Even with the eight-speed automatic, we think the M Division has answered any leftover question from the previous M4, creating a car that enthusiasts can lust over. Adding all-wheel-drive later in the year will broaden the M4's appeal, and open it up to sales in colder climates. For the first time in a long time, BMW's M Division is back to producing the ultimate driving machine.
If you need more practicality, the 2021 BMW M3 will be happy to oblige. It offers almost an inch of extra rear legroom, a substantial two inches more rear headroom, and 3.6 inches more shoulder room at the back that enables the M3 to carry an extra passenger. Plus, the trunk is 13 cubic feet in size, beating the M4's trunk by one cube. There are no compromises in terms of performance, though, as both the M3 and M3 Competition will keep up with the equivalent M4 in a straight line. Over the last few years, the M3 sedan was the more subtle option for buyers not wanting to flaunt the performance potential of their BMW to the same extent as the M4. However, both the M3 and M4 now have the same polarizing front-end, so the M3 is just as in-your-face. At $69,900, the base model M3 is slightly cheaper, but at this price point, the difference doesn't really matter. If you don't need the extra space, go for the M4.
The Audi RS5 differs from the M4 in a couple of key areas. It doesn't offer a manual gearbox or RWD, so is actually slightly faster to 60 mph - 3.7 seconds compared to the M4 Competition's 3.8 seconds. However, the Audi's 2.9-liter turbocharged six-cylinder is more effective than truly exciting. As has often been the case, the M4 feels more chuckable and agile, despite the fact that it has grown in size. The upcoming AWD M4 could very well prove to be quicker than the RS5 with its added traction. Both vehicles are generously specified with features like booming sound systems and digital driver's displays, but the M4 is now more accommodating for rear-seat passengers, and has a bigger trunk. The base M4 is also a couple of grand cheaper despite being the newer vehicle. The RS5 is more universally appealing, but the M4 excites us more, has a lower base price, and as these are high-performance cars, we've got to side with the BMW.
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