First drive: BMW M4

BMW M4 Coupe

Once it was merely the M3 coupe, but for the fifth installment of its definitive compact saloon, BMW has elected to give the two-door version it's own designation in line with its new model strategy. However, while it may now be called M4, there is still the weight of expectation that this new car not only lives up to its iconic and celebrated forbears, but also moves the performance car game on.

To find out if BMW has pulled off this daunting task, AOL Cars headed to the Austrian Alps to put it through its paces.
What is it?

Forget the tedious commuting hell that its name might conjure up, the M4 is BMWs rich Motorsport pedigree brought to the road. The recipe always used to be very simple: powerful, naturally aspirated engine; manual gearbox; rear-wheel drive. The new car has proved somewhat controversial amongst fans of the range, as it introduces turbocharging for the first time and will sell in huge numbers equipped with a seven speed dual clutch automatic gearbox over the standard-fit manual. Don't think of it as BMW selling out, though, more moving with the times as it aims to improve the model's green credentials and everyday usability.

What's under the bonnet?

BMW simply couldn't get away with offering a new car with the decadent naturally aspirated 4.0-litre V8 of the outgoing M3 Coupe in the current climate of unstable petrol prices and CO2 based vehicle taxation. Instead the M4 is fitted with a turbocharged 3.0-litre six cylinder unit. Far from being a backwards step, the new engine develops 425bhp (11 more than before), making it faster not only in the benchmark 0-62mph sprint - now 4.1 seconds with the automatic gearbox, 4.3 seconds without - but also in real world driving conditions, thanks to the extra torque served up by the twin blowers. The turbos have also usefully improved fuel consumption, with over 30mpg now a realistic proposition in everyday driving.

What's the spec like?

There are no trim levels to choose from in this flagship model; instead you get a very well specified cabin, which is largely a verbatim copy of the high quality interior of the regular 4 Series Coupe. The large flat screen display, sculpted dashboard and ergonomic controls are all present and correct, but everything has been given an extra flourish to make it feel more special. Racy carbon fibre replaces the normal piano black dash trim, there are figure hugging sports seats in place of the regular front chairs and the conventional steering wheel and dials have also been changed for more dynamic looking numbers. The standard kit list is generous too, and includes everything you'd expect to find on a compact executive saloon, inducing Bluetooth connectivity, front and rear parking sensors, heated seats and BMW's top level sat nav and audio system. Those looking to really splash the cash can choose from some high end options, such as an excellent head-up display and LED headlamps, which are not only brighter and use less energy than conventional bulbs, but should also last for the life of the car.

Any rivals?

In terms of direct rivals, there are two to choose from, both of which offer something slightly different to the highly focused M4. Buyers wanting the extra stability and wet weather security of four wheel drive should look to the Audi RS5 Coupe. It doesn't have quite the same lithe, light-footed feel as the BMW but counters with an extremely high quality cabin and a large, tuneful V8 engine. However, if a good soundtrack is high on your list of priorities, the sonorous Mercedes C63 AMG Coupe should also be on your short list. Again, it's not quite as sharp as the BMW, but makes for a more comfortable and relaxed companion when you're not attacking your favourite road. Both models offer similar power as the M4 but neither can hope to compete with either its turn of speed or impressive CO2 emissions and fuel consumption.

New BMW M4
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First drive: BMW M4

What's it like to drive?

Quite simply - and not wanting to gush - it's incredible. BMW has pulled off a master stoke, not only in making the M4 both cleaner and meaner than its forebear, but in creating a car that shares it's basic underpinnings with a rather humdrum diesel saloon, but can rival purpose built sports cars from the likes of Porsche and Lotus in terms of driver engagement. Driven on a day to day basis, the M4 is no more taxing than any other BMW; the slick shifting gearbox is quick and smooth in both its automatic and paddle shift operated settings, while the cabin is cosseting enough to tackle the longest of road trips with only the roar from the tyres at speed disturbing the peace. Thumb the adjustable engine, steering and suspension settings out of their default comfort mode and into sport and the M4's whole attitude changes. It becomes a hard-charging beast, but one that suffers fools gladly. We've yet to come across a car that is this precise and devastating, but that is also so easy to drive quickly. Get it on a good road and you'll feel like a hero, no matter what your ability behind the wheel.

The AOL Cars verdict

The M3 coupe had long been the benchmark drivers car in its class, and we're delighted to report that the new M4 upholds its honour. While it has been criticised for moving away from its core driver focused roots with its new turbo engine, BMW has used the technology to great effect, subtly enhancing every aspect of the car's performance and creating a more rounded daily proposition. That it offers seating for four and a large boot is just the icing on the cake, and a fact that makes the impracticality of a conventional sports car look laughably unnecessary. For many, the M4 will be all the car they could ever wish for.

The knowledge

Model: BMW M4 Coupe
Price: £56,650
Engine: 3.0-litre, six-cylinder, twin turbo
Power: 425bhp, 550Nm
Max speed: 155mph
0-62mph: 4.3 seconds
MPG: 32.1 (combined)
Emissions: 204g/km CO2
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