We drive a new M4 xDrive to find out.
BMW is one of the few luxury automakers that still offers a manual transmission on a handful of models, though that may not be the case much longer. The 2023 BMW M4 Coupe is one such car, though you're forced to buy the 'base' model if you wish to row your own gears. CarBuzz drove a manual-equipped M4 last year, and we came away thinking the car was a huge improvement over the outgoing F82 generation car.
But since we last drove the new G82 M4, BMW has made several new additions, including xDrive all-wheel-drive for the first time ever on an M4. To see if the AWD M4 is the one to get, and to sample the eight-speed automatic transmission), BMW sent us an M4 Competition xDrive Coupe to drive for a week. Here are our thoughts on the manual vs. automatic debate.
Although you can pick between RWD and AWD, BMW only offers the M4 Competition with one transmission - an eight-speed automatic. Aside from the transmission, the main difference between the 'base' M4 Coupe and the Competition variants is an increase in power and torque to 503 horsepower and 479 lb-ft, thanks to an increase in boost and a higher redline of 7,200 rpm. Everything else on the 3.0-liter twin-turbo S58 engine is mostly the same. The 0-60 mph time drops to 3.8 seconds in the Competition, though that could easily be chalked up to the automatic transmission as much as the power increase.
We were impressed by the M4's automatic transmission, which functions smoothly in traffic and transforms into a quick-shifting maniac when provoked. The outgoing dual-clutch transmission offered a slightly more motorsports feel, but the torque converter automatic is no slouch for spirited driving. Overall, the choice between the base M4 and the M4 Competition has less to do with the power increase and more to do with your transmission preferences.
M4 Competition buyers can stick with rear-wheel-drive, or they can now add xDrive for the first time ever on an M4. It's a hefty $4,100 add-on, but xDrive transforms the M4 from a fair weather experience into a competent daily driver. Rain or even a light flurry won't keep the M4 xDrive in the garage, and the performance gains are instantly noticeable. The RWD car never feels like it's struggling for grip off the line, but the addition of AWD puts the M4 into supercar territory.
BMW quotes a 3.4-second 0-60 time for the xDrive, which is 0.4 quicker than the RWD Competition, but independent tests have clocked the car at just 2.8 seconds. That's two-tenths quicker than the 617-hp M8 Competition's time. And blistering take-offs aren't the only benefit: drivers can even switch off the stability control system and switch to 2WD mode to pull big slides in rear-drive mode. It's the best of both worlds with zero compromise.
Though it's technically the 'base' M4, we find nothing basic about the driving experience with the manual transmission car. It produces 473 hp and 406 lb-ft of torque, which is less than the M4 Competition, but it's still 48 hp and 59 lb-ft more than the F82 model. That lower output and manual transmission only add three-tenths of a second to the 0-60 time (4.1 seconds quoted by BMW), which isn't readily apparent unless you've brought a stopwatch.
BMW's manual transmission hasn't evolved much in recent years, and if you've driven it in the past, this one will feel familiar. The throws are far from the crispest we've sampled with that traditional BMW rubbery feel, but it's far from sloppy. In our personal opinion, the lack of perfection adds a bit of character to the M4 experience. If you nail a perfect 1-2 shift, it feels like a greater achievement than in the Competition, where it's a foregone conclusion that every gear change will be perfect.
Positioned above the M4 Competition, BMW has finally brought back the CSL nameplate for 2023. The M4 CSL drops a whopping 240 pounds over the Competition and adds 40 hp for a total of 543. This all sounds fantastic for track performance, but it comes with an eye-watering sticker price of $139,990. That's nearly double the price of a base M4. BMW only plans to build 1,000 units total, with only around 200 to 250 slated to come to the US. Since the production numbers will be so low, you can expect to see dealer markups on the car. We'll leave this one to the wealthiest and most diehard BMW fanatics.
Though some reviewers find fault with the M4's rubbery manual transmission, we still think it's the best way to enjoy an M4. There is nothing else on the market comparable to the base M4, since the only three-pedal competitors are the Cadillac Blackwings, which have four doors.
Sticking with the RWD manual car ($74,700 MSRP) saves $8,000 over the xDrive Competition, money we'd happily spend on a BMW Individual color like the Santorini Blue on our test car. Not only will other enthusiasts marvel at your color choice, but they will also commend you for picking the rarified manual option. From there, we'd keep the options simple with the Parking Assist Package for $700 and ventilated seats (skip the aggressive carbon buckets) for just $350; total cost for the manual M4 would break $80k, including destination.
However, if you aren't a big fan of the manual, we think xDrive is a compelling option on top of the Competition model. It offers quicker acceleration and more grip with no drawbacks. Simply being able to drive the car in the rain and snow with more confidence is worth $4,100 to us. Including the custom color, our xDrive tester rang in at $94,855 before destination. That sounds like a lot for an M4, but for supercar levels of performance, we think it's fair.