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Published: 01/20/2015 - by Jason Kavanagh, Engineering Editor
The 2015 BMW M4 is the high-performance variant of the 4 Series, which is the two-door version of the 3 Series.
Trading two doors for one additional digit in its model name, the M4 is simply the two-door version of the M3 sedan, which, too, was redesigned this year. The M4 is thus a four-passenger rear-wheel-drive coupe that's available with a traditional six-speed manual gearbox or an optional seven-speed dual-clutch transmission.
Being largely the same car as the current M3, the M4 eschews normal aspiration in favor of a heavily worked-over version of the corporate twin-turbo 3.0-liter inline-six cylinder engine. The boosted six develops 425 horsepower from 5,500 to 7,300 rpm while its maximum 406 pound-feet of torque is on tap from 1,850 to 5,500 rpm.
What Was Our Test Car's Configuration?
We tested a manual transmission-equipped M4 ($65,150 starting price with destination) equipped with just a few options. One option in particular stands out for its knee-weakening price — the $8,150 carbon-ceramic brakes, which require the optional 19-inch wheels that tack on an additional $1,200.
Our test car was additionally equipped with the $1,900 Lighting package, a $550 paint hue and $500 for enhanced Bluetooth integration, bringing its grand total to $77,450.
It's a well-equipped package even in standard form, with full leather sport seating, a multifunction leather steering wheel, navigation, dual-zone climate control, electric seat adjustment and a 60/40-split fold in the rear. There's even a carbon-fiber roof.
What's the New Engine Like?
This is a surprisingly willing and tractable engine, even when trundling around with the revs barely above idle speed. It's sharp at part throttle, and feels unstressed no matter where the tach needle points. Out in the wild, full boost seamlessly arrives a bit past 2,000 rpm, giving it robust thrust that would make the outgoing normally aspirated V8 blush.
It's this midrange torque that makes this engine so intoxicating. Yet it loves revs, too, encouraging the driver to oblige. This is a terrific engine, artificially piped-in engine note or not.
Three modes — Efficiency, Sport, Sport Plus — provide varying degrees of throttle sensitivity. A rev-matching function is enabled in the first two modes giving DIYers the freedom to heel and toe themselves in Sport Plus. Even so, the rev-matching works quite well, dialing in the revs more responsively than the system found in, say, the C7 Corvette.
How's the Drive?
The M4 has refinement in spades, not simply of the creature-comfort variety but in how thoroughly its control interfaces have been honed. For example, the base dampers on our test car are nonadjustable, and they strike an enviable balance between control and comfort. It's a firm ride, no question, but the M4 manages to be supple on crummy pavement while delivering outstanding control. This car is one of those cases where the standard dampers are simply spot-on, challenging the notion that optional adaptive dampers are superior or even necessary.
Likewise the manual gearbox. The gearchange lever moves through its gates with slick, astonishing speed, devoid of the rubberiness often associated with BMW manuals. Abetted by a progressive, light-effort clutch and razor-sharp throttle response, gearchanges can be executed as quickly as you can flick your wrist. This gearbox paired to the standout engine form one beaut of a combination. Dual-clutch gearbox? Why bother, when the manual is this good?
At 3,508 pounds on our scales, this is still a substantial car despite the weight reduction compared to the outgoing M3. Yet it feels more planted and inspires more confidence than the outgoing car. Its agility is amplified by steering that is well weighted, quick and precise, though feel could be better — those subtle variations in steering effort as grip ebbs and flows at the front tires are smothered.
On a hard drive the M4 is nimble and alert without being punishing. It rewards a driver that pays attention to managing the weight transfer on corner entry, else you'll find that the grip prematurely relents at the front end and the nose doesn't exactly suck itself down to the apex. All the same, the M4 is a fast, capable handler that still manages to shrink around its driver a bit at speed. For a hot-rodded version of an ostensibly "lesser" car, the M4 exhibits enviable cohesiveness.
What About the Brakes?
The M4's carbon-ceramic brakes are good examples of the type, delivering the expected fade-free performance with unexpectedly good modulation. A hint of brake groan can be heard when in stop-and-go traffic, a characteristic of this type of brake system. We do wonder if the smaller standard brakes are up to the task of repeatedly slowing a hard-charging M4 — we've yet to encounter a press-fleet M4 equipped with the base brakes — but that doesn't make the near-$9,400 entry fee for the carbon ceramics any easier to swallow.
In our testing the M4 reached a halt from 60 mph in 106 feet, an outstanding result that's attributable in part to its optional 19-inch 255/35 front and 275/35 rear Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires.
Is It Fast?
In a straight line, we clocked the M4 to 60 mph in 4.4 seconds (4.1 seconds with one foot of rollout like on a drag strip) and through the quarter-mile in 12.4 seconds at 116 mph. The speed is accessible, too, with the engine's no-waiting power delivery and broad, flexible torque curve.
The M4 circled our skid pad at 0.98g and shot through the slalom cones at 72.9 mph, both of which are very stout performances.
How Is the Cabin?
There's little in the cabin that sets the M4 apart from its lesser brethren aside from a smattering of "M" badges. Splashes of matte silver add some liveliness to the otherwise businesslike black interior without sending dazzling reflections.
The cloth and leather seats deserve special mention for being at once freakishly comfortable and supportive without resorting to overly aggressive bolsters. Neat trick. Our sunroof-free (hooray!) test car has headroom for days, too. Overall, the M4's cabin offers the right stuff for demolishing back roads without forcing any packaging or visibility compromises in day-to-day use.
What Kind of Fuel Economy Does It Get?
On the sticker the M4 achieves 20 mpg combined (17 city/26 highway). Our M4 tester delivered 19.3 mpg over the 1,000 miles we spent with it in mixed conditions, a surprisingly good result considering how this car goads its driver into using the throttle.
What Are Its Closest Competitors?
With Audi's RS 5 reaching for a pension, it leaves the closest rival as perhaps the 2015 Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG. The coupe is carried over intact for 2015, armed with a stonking 451-hp normally aspirated V8.
You could still consider the Audi RS 5, if for no other reason than its Coke-bottle waistline is aging remarkably well, but don't expect it to run with an M4 in winding country even if it does have all-wheel drive.
There's the Cadillac CTS-V Coupe, which is heading into its final year of the current body style. In terms of power it's more than a match, but it doesn't outshine the M4's livelier handling. If anything, the M4's abilities bring it into the range of cars like the Jaguar F-Type Coupe and Porsche Cayman S.
Why Should You Consider This Car?
It's a standout drive in nearly all conditions, with handling accuracy and sheer speed that force you to consider just how much faster you could want a car to be, regardless of how much money you had to spend.
It's also capable of behaving like a relaxed tourer at low speeds before switching into its more frenetic character, and it performs both roles skillfully. Its engine is a combination of sheer muscle and V8 tones at low revs and screaming urgency above 5,000 rpm, while its handling is entertaining, forgiving and just plain fast.
Coupled to that, it's luxurious and practical, with day-to-day usefulness built in.
Why Should You Think Twice About This Car?
If you're looking at sheer performance alone, there are other two-doors at this price point that are faster and more focused — but not by much. There are also more luxurious and comfortable coupes for the price as well, so the M4 is best if you're looking for a compromise between the two.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.