What Car? says...
In the movies, sequels are rarely better than the original – but with the BMW M4 Competition the opposite is true.
It took a number of revisions before the previous-generation M4 really delivered the performance car enthusiasts hankered for, stretching the phrase "good things come to those who wait" to the limit. Thankfully, this current version got off to a much, much stronger start.
The M4 Competition is based on the BMW 4 Series and is powered by a 503bhp twin-turbocharged 3.0-litre, six-cylinder petrol engine. The same engine is found under the bonnet of the ludicrously quick BMW X3 M sports SUV.
That deep well of power is routed to the rear wheels through an eight-speed automatic gearbox and managed by a 10-stage traction control system. An adaptive four-wheel-drive system – like the one you get on the BMW M5 super-saloon – is also available. Badged M xDrive, it promises extra traction for assured handling on wet and greasy roads.
The M4 also comes with adaptive suspension, M performance brakes (carbon ceramic brakes are available as an option) and an electronic limited-slip differential to make sure the M4 corners just as well as it goes.
And if you want an even more track-focused model, there's the limited run M4 CSL. Weighing around 100kg less than the standard car but with even more power, it’s agile and powerful enough to be the fastest road car BMW has ever tested on the Nurburgring, lapping the 13-mile German circuit in just 7m 16sec.
In this review, however, we will be focusing on the ‘regular’ M4 and how it compares to its closest performance car rivals, such as the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio, the Audi RS5 and the Mercedes C63 AMG S Coupé. We’ll also do a deep dive into its performance, handling, interior quality, running costs and more.
Don’t forget, even if you’re not in the market for a 180mph BMW M4, we can still save you a good few quid on your next new car if you use our free What Car? New Car Deals service. It's a good place to find the best new performance car deals.
Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
Many modern performance cars give you some control over how they’re set up, whether that's the ability to change the firmness of the suspension or tinker with the weight of the steering. The BMW M4 Competition takes that to extremes, though – there’s actually a button marked 'Setup' next to the stubby gear selector.
Pushing it brings up a screen on the infotainment system that lets you change everything from accelerator response and brake sensitivity to the speed of the gearshifts and the level of traction control intervention, all in small increments. The sheer number of potential configurations can be a little overwhelming at first, so it’s handy that BMW also includes a number of preset modes that work pretty well straight out of the box.
Once you get more familiar with all the options, you’ll appreciate being able to set everything to suit your tastes. For example, you can leave the steering in its lighter Comfort mode while having the engine at its most responsive.
With everything in Comfort mode (the most relaxed setting) the M4 makes a comfortable and refined daily companion. Its turbocharged six-cylinder engine remains hushed and flexible, its eight-speed automatic gearbox shuffles smoothly through the gears, and, with its standard adaptive suspension, it floats gently over the ups and downs of a subsiding B-road with just a little brittleness over any sharply calloused sections.
Body lean is kept well in check in Comfort mode, but if you really want to push on, the mid-way Sport or firmer Sport Plus are better for making the most of country roads. Both options help to anchor the car, as well as giving the steering a little more heft, so you can gauge your inputs more accurately without it feeling unnaturally heavy.
The steering itself responds in a more natural way than the light and hyper-alert set-up of the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio (QV) and is far more engaging than the slower, numb-feeling system in the Audi RS5. In other words, it’s a good compromise, and one that allows you to place the car on the road very precisely. And that’s handy, because when you deploy all 503 horses, the M4 fires you up the road in an almost alarming manner.
On a cold and damp day at our test track, the M4 slingshotted from 0-60mph in just 3.8 seconds – just a tenth of a second slower than a Giulia QV in dry conditions. It repeated that feat numerous times thanks to its consistently sharp eight-speed automatic gearbox.
When it comes to handling, the M4 impresses from the get-go but takes a bit of mastering to get the very best out of it. With so much front-end grip and rear-end traction, you have to chip away at the car’s limits before you feel truly confident to grab it by the scruff of the neck. Happily, once you get there, you’ll find it far more predictable than its predecessor.
When the rear wheels break traction in a corner, for example, the resulting slide is easy to manage because the differential locks up quickly and predictably. And, thanks to its clever 10-stage traction control system, you can fine-tune how much wheel-slip is allowed before the traction control cuts in. This is a big boon over the Giulia QV, in which the traction control has just two settings... On and Off.
The four-wheel-drive M xDrive model helps you deploy the M4’s power more effectively in less favourable conditions, adding an extra layer of reassurance when you’d prefer to maximise traction. Thankfully, the rear-biased system means it hasn’t neutralised the handling balance too much.
The 4WD Sport mode makes the M4 a little more playful, allowing the rear wheels to break traction when provoked and diverting less power to the front wheels. Alternatively, you can switch it to rear-wheel-drive only, although that will also turn off the stability systems. We reckon the xDrive model is worth opting for if you plan to use the M4 all year round. It gives the car a dose of the same all-weather usability that makes the four-wheel-drive RS5 appealing to some buyers.
As standard, the M4 comes with steel M Compound brakes, and carbon-ceramic brakes are available as part of the M Pro Package. We’ve sampled the standard set-up, and while they can be a little grabby around town, we found them to be progressive, consistent and very powerful during spirited driving.
Indeed, the impressive performance of the standard brakes, combined with the predictability of the M4’s handling, allowed us to lap our test track (a 0.9-mile circuit designed to simulate a fast B-road) quicker than in any other performance car we’ve tested to date. Impressive.
Perhaps the only disappointment is the soundtrack that accompanies the M4's mighty engine. Sure, it’s loud and bassy and leaves you in no doubt that lots of power is being produced, but it's not the sort of evocative sound that you’ll find yourself accelerating hard just to listen to – unlike in previous iterations of BMW’s performance coupé.
The interior layout, fit and finish
In traditional BMW M-car fashion, the BMW M4 Competition isn't much different to the regular BMW 4 Series inside – and that’s no bad thing. The 4 Series features one of the highest quality interiors in the coupé class and we reckon BMW has given the M4 enough detail tweaks to make you feel like you’re behind the wheel of something rather special.
For example, you get heavily bolstered, supportive sport seats with integrated headrests, seatbelts in the M Division’s blue, violet and red, a bright red starter button, carbon-fibre trim, a sports steering wheel with contrast stitching and a pair of red M mode buttons. Plus, there’s a multitude of leather and interior trim finishes available.
And we mean a multitude. Interior colour schemes range from traditional black on cream to bright blue on day-glow yellow. We quite like the bolder colours, but we’ll leave it to you to decide if Yas Marina Blue has any place in your performance car.
As you’d expect, the driving position is tuneable to the nth degree. Our test car came with stunning optional M carbon bucket seats (BMW predicts that more than half of buyers will opt for these). In their lowest setting, they basically place your bum on the floor of the car. That's particularly handy for taller drivers who plan to take their high-ticket coupé to track days, as they provide enough room to fit behind the wheel while wearing a crash helmet.
A head-up display is standard, placing plenty of information in your line of sight, and the 12.3in digital instrument panel can be set up in all manner of configurations.
The 10.3in centrally mounted infotainment touchscreen can also be operated by twisting and pressing a rotary controller between the front seats, which is much less distracting while you’re driving than prodding the screen. With its super-intuitive layout and responsive operating system, we much prefer it to the touchscreen-only system in the Audi RS5.
Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone mirroring, wireless phone-charging, DAB radio, sat-nav, a 16-speaker Harman Kardon sound system, a wifi hotspot and a gimmicky gesture control function all come as standard. It’s also handy that front and rear parking sensors, a rear-view camera and a parking assistant function come as standard too, because the M4’s front and rear pillars are rather chunky and can obscure your vision when parking.
Passenger & boot space
How it copes with people and clutter
Compared with the standard BMW 4 Series the only difference is its wider sports front seats. The optional M carbon bucket seats we tested give the driver and passenger more lateral support, yet still offer ample head and leg room for six-footers.
Getting into the rear seats involves squeezing through a relatively narrow gap, but that’s the same in all two-door coupés. Once you’re in, though, you’ll find there’s actually more than you get in an Audi RS5. There’s enough legroom for most passengers, but those over six feet tall will still need to cower slightly or put up with their head resting on the ceiling.
As for the boot, it’s comparable in size with the RS5’s. It benefits from being a relatively simple square shape allowing us to fit seven bags in the boot. It’s just a shame that you can’t drop the rear seats if you want to carry a longer load, as you can with the Audi. Indeed, if you want pace and practicality, you might want to check out the M3 Touring estate, which is covered in our BMW M3 review.
Buying & owning
Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is
The BMW M4 Competition looks rather expensive when compared with the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio and the Audi RS5 (in Germany, the starting price is quite a bit lower because the M4 is available in non-Competition specification with a manual gearbox). Helping to ease the impact of that price tag, the M4 is predicted to enjoy slower depreciation than the RS5 and Quadrifoglio and that should help to keep PCP finance rates competitive.
Regardless, as with all performance cars it'll be far from cheap to run. On our real-world test route, the M4 managed an average of just 26.3mpg.
Now, that fuel economy is not actually bad going by the standards of the class, but if you use the full might of the engine, you can expect it to plunge into the low teens. You’ll also need deep pockets to run an M4 as a company car. The high list price and hefty CO2 emissions places it in the top 37% band, so benefit-in-kind (BIK) tax payments will be substantial.
On the plus side (and befitting its lofty price), the M4 is marvellously well equipped. It has 19in alloy wheels up front and 20s on the back (what BMW calls a staggered set-up), a leather interior, a carbon-fibre roof and heated seats are just some of the key highlights.
That said, the options list is eye-watering, and most items are bundled into packs. For example, the Ultimate Pack gives you carbon-fibre exterior highlights, the M Carbon bucket seats, bright “Laser” headlights, keyless entry, a heated steering wheel, a more advanced parking assistant function and additional safety kit.
The M4 hasn’t been crash-tested by Euro NCAP but we suspect it would perform well. That’s because the BMW 3 Series saloon – which it has a lot in common with – scored the full five-star rating when tested in 2019. As such, it has plenty of safety kit as standard, including automatic emergency braking (AEB), a lane-departure warning system, a lane-keeping assist function, an attentiveness assistant and a warning for traffic crossing behind you.
In terms of reliability, we can tell you that BMW came a middling 16th (out of 32 manufacturers) in the brands league table of our 2022 What Car? Reliability Survey. For comparison, Audi came 21st, Mercedes in joint 23rd place and Alfa Romeo down in 29th.
For added peace of mind, every BMW comes with a three-year unlimited mileage warranty. That matches the offering that you’ll get from Alfa Romeo and Mercedes but is more generous than Audi’s offering, which lasts the same duration but limits you to 60,000-miles.
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We'd have our M4 in M xDrive configuration as it allows you to deploy its power more effectively in less favourable conditions. Standard equipment is plentiful, but we’d still option the Comfort Pack and M carbon bucket seats.
The M4’s infotainment system is called iDrive and it is one of the best systems on the market. We particularly love that you can operate it via a rotary controller on the centre console making it less distracting to use when you’re driving than touchscreen-only systems.
The M4 has a boot capacity of 440 litres, which allowed us to fit in seven carry-on suitcases.
|RRP price range||£83,810 - £106,875|
|Number of trims (see all)||2|
|Number of engines (see all)||1|
|Available fuel types (which is best for you?)||petrol|
|MPG range across all versions||28.2 - 28.8|
|Available doors options||2|
|Warranty||3 years / No mileage cap|
|Company car tax at 20% (min/max)||£6,082 / £7,740|
|Company car tax at 40% (min/max)||£12,164 / £15,481|