The all new 2022 BMW M4 exists in a world far different than the E30 M3 was born into. In a world that has been upended by performance hardly imaginable 35 years ago, the 2022 BMW M4 has to be a very different kind of M car. Gone is the manual (in Competition spec) and rear wheel drive. Gone too is the naturally aspirated engine BMW had perfected over decades. This is not the analogue M car that the first M3 was or even the 1M from ten years ago. Instead BMW M has chose to write a new chapter for the classic fast coupe. One that is about unrelenting performance enabled by technology outside of the historical BMW M norms.
It also has the most awful seats in the history of the brand. But we’ll get to that shortly.
As a name the M4 has little history in BMW context. Invented as a way to position the two door M3 upward from the four door version, that extra number gets you nothing in the way of mechanical superiority from it’s four door brother. Instead it gets you less practicality and more presence. We’d also argue a car that doesn’t look much like a classic BMW coupe. Almost gone is the Hofmeister kink and strong shoulder line that’s dominated BMWs for 60 years. In its place is a car that flows from point to point in a way that many modern performance cars do.
However change might be a good thing. During our week with the car we had more people stop to take photos and ask about it than any other BMW in recent memory. And all of them called out the styling as the most impressive part of the car.
The Nissan GTR Effect
It’s not just styling of the competition that BMW has been studying as M engineers have clearly been benchmarking the competition – likely starting years ago with the Nissan R35 GTR. When that car hit the market 12 years ago it scrambled brains with its outright pace and unimaginable grip. Instantly most sports cars looked antiquated in the face of such brutal yet effortless performance. BMW and Mercedes in particular had no answers for the equation of all wheel drive, twin turbo performance that made the R35 GTR such a weapon.
Even when the F80 and F82 M3 and M4 hit the market in 2013 with turbocharged inline sixes, there was a notable performance gap. The reaction from BMW was to play-up the other attributes of the cars – tactile feedback and a driver oriented experience that connected you in ways the GTR never could. But for sheer bragging rights the M3 and M4 couldn’t compete. And there was another problem.
The F82 M4 was the first M car in recent memory that felt a bit unpolished. While it eventually was refined into a great car, that initial non-Comp M4 was twitchy on the limit and lacked a finesse that we so often expect from M cars.
Clearly a lot was riding on this new M4. But add in one more twist – this was to be the last pure petrol M3 and M4 before the hybrid and then electric drivetrains takeover in 10-15 years time.
While that’s daunting for any brand, M also had it’s history of being a old-school driver’s car to contend with. So how could BMW possible go all in on performance without losing the rear wheel drive and manual transmission so beloved by some enthusiasts? The answer was simple – create two M4s.
For outright speed there’s the 503 hp and 479 lb-ft 2022 BMW M4 Competition only available in xDrive and automatic. And for classic M car engagement there’s the 473 hp 406 lb-ft standard BMW M4. Why the difference? The six speed manual Getrag that BMW has been refining for years can only handle 406 lb-ft of torque without sacrificing longevity. In many ways you can thank the GTR and the revolution that followed it for those two prong approach.
Over 1,000 miles we tested a top-spec Isle and Man Green BMW M4 Competition in an effort to better understand both the car and the philosophy that powers it. What we found is a car that doesn’t compete with the GTR. It crushes it and others that have adopted that formula. Simply put we have never driven a BMW with more accessible high performance. Even the track day special M4 CS aren’t close to what the 2021 BMW M4 Competition can deliver (as evidence by ‘Ring time 8 seconds faster).
Key to this of course is more power but just as important are the new xDrive and 8 speed ZF combo along with some electronic wizardry.
On paper the torque converter automatic seems like a big step down from the previous 7 speed dual clutch. In our testing we found shifts to be crisp when you wanted them to be and comfortable when you needed them to be. The real downgrade is the reaction to inputs compared to the previous DCT. Could the difference simply be that there’s more processing happening in this car given the new found complexity? Either way the difference is rarely noticed and likely only by those who’ve driven the previous M3/M4 extensively.
What is added by the ZF is likely what this market wants – the ability pile on torque. The previous DCT wasn’t capable of handling much more torque than the previous M4 CS. Given the economic pressure of electrification (among other things) BMW decided to modify the already well known ZF 8 speed auto rather than develop a new DCT. Hence we now have torque converters in all M cars moving forward.
Add to this xDrive, an overall longer length and width and you have a car that simply feels like a different kind M4 than ever before. In many ways this feels more like what an M6 Competition should be. An immensely fast grand tourer with a chip on its shoulder.
We’ve established that the M4 is murderously fast but not all is perfection. Let’s start with the medieval torture device between your legs on the optional carbon buckets. The seats are generally excellent and remind us of Porsche’s carbon ceramics that first debuts on the 918. But like those, these seats require a bit of acrobatics to get into. Not a problem but that giant chunk of carbon in the center makes it even more awkward and at times painful. There’s no function driving this design other than styling – a choice that you’ll see BMW designer have made all over the M4. From the giant kidney grille to the fussy (and faux) rear defuser, there are plenty of design choices driven by form and not function.
This is in contrast to generations of BMWs and the current crop of cars from Porsche’s GT division which has a honed ethos of function driving form at every turn. For those who treasure this type of aesthetic, this new styling direction can be challenging. Luckily there’s a great way to forget about it. Mash on the accelerator and watch the horizon suddenly get closer.
The Most Capable M Car Ever?
We’ve established it’s fast – even faster than the previous M4 CS. But how it delivers and handles that power is what makes this M4 so special. It’s accessible, forgivable and utterly enjoyable. That last bit might seem a bit at odds with the typical narrative with a car that demands all wheel drive and an automatic for its fastest trim level. But the magic here is that M engineers have infused this car with control and feedback that straddle the line between organic and electronic. No it doesn’t have the feedback of an analogue car like the 1M or the E46 M3 but this new M4 is balanced, predictable, livable and genuinely enjoyable.
At $99,200 for our loaded test car (which included $8,150 carbon ceramics brakes), it’s also incredibly expensive given where this car was only 10 years ago. But the immense capabilities of the car combined with day to day comfort give this new M4 more usability than any before it. While a pair of extra doors would help even further (and make the car look more like a BMW to our eyes) this 2022 M4 delivers an extraordinary amount for that $99k.
BMW has finally gone all in on performance with this new M4 Competition. Gone is the manual and rear wheel drive. In this new world they simply aren’t compatible with the engineering needed to do endless three second 0-60 sprints. Yet despite this the all new 2022 BMW M4 remains a true drivers car that bridges the analog world we love and the new world of digitally enabled performance. If this is the last of the pure petrol powered M3s and M4s, it’s one hell of a way to go out. Just don’t mind the design details.