Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Yes, the 2021 BMW M4 carries some unique styling notes that generate buzz on both sides of the aisle. But by laser-focusing on something so trivial, you might gloss over an important point: The M4 is really, really, really good. Better than BMW‘s bread-and-butter sports coupe has been in years, in fact, no matter what they call it.
- Punchy inline-6 power
- Brilliant handling
- Excellent manual transmission
- Tire noise
- Weird optional bucket seats
- Acquired-taste styling
Driving is the point
The 2021 BMW M4 is an absolute hoot to drive, full stop. It’s an aperitif that washes away the mediocre taste left in my mouth by its predecessor, which featured a frustrating ride quality and an engine note that wouldn’t have cleared the first round of American Idol. That’s all been ironed over and replaced with a car that only ever left me wanting to drive it more.
Under the hood, the base M4’s 3.0-liter turbocharged inline-6 delivers 473 horsepower and 406 pound-feet of torque, routed to the rear wheels through a six-speed manual transmission. While there’s a little bit of acoustic electro-trickery piped through the speakers, the straight-six sounds great, especially at higher revs. And there’ll be plenty of opportunity to take in that noise, because with peak torque arriving (and staying put) between 2,650 and 6,130 rpm, it’s easy to become addicted to plunging my right foot into the firewall. The M4 just goes and goes and goes, and it’ll keep going well beyond the upper bounds of the speed limit, signs passing by in a blur. Need to stop? Drop $8,150 on BMW’s carbon ceramic brakes and you’ll get predictable, strong stops on the regular.
BMW has one of, if not the best manual transmission on the market inside the M4. This slick six-speed evokes the feelings of the Bimmer manuals of yore, its slightly rubbery movement between well-placed gates feeling not much different than it did way back when in the E46 M3. The clutch has a well-defined pickup point, making footwork a breeze, and its standard rev-matching system generates pitch-perfect downshifts if you’re not the king of heel-toe.
Like other modern BMWs, the 2021 M4 has a litany of vehicle settings that can be adjusted individually or bundled together by way of the two bright red M buttons atop the steering wheel. Hit the Setup button on the center console and the screen fills with customizable options, letting me tailor the throttle, steering, suspension and braking. The standard mode for each is still plenty engaging, but if you’re a sucker for tight throttle or brake response, the options are available. Throwing everything into Sport eliminates whatever smidge of body roll ever existed in the first place, although I’d recommend leaving Sport Plus for the track or only the most perfect pieces of asphalt. Drop $900 on the M Drive Professional upgrade, and you are given multiple traction control modes that can let you get a little drifty before reining things in.
For as sharp as the M4 is when the going gets twisty, it’s impressively compliant in daily use. Southeast Michigan’s roads are… not ideal for sports cars, let’s say, yet the M4 is never shaken out of sorts. Bumps are dispatched with just a bit of jostling to the cabin, and even the harsher divots never result in a suspension thunk. With the M4 in its softest settings, it’s a perfectly adequate vehicle for commuting, errands and all the little daily-life stuff in-between — so long as you don’t mind the noise from its wide Michelin Pilot 4S summer tires.
Is it efficient? Not really. The EPA slaps the 2021 M4 with a rating of 16 mpg city and 23 mpg highway. In my experience, city mileage is about there, but staying out of the boost and keeping the overall speed appropriate (since there’s only six forward gears) can push the highway economy closer to 25 or 26, if not a smidge above that.
Shut up about the sun! Shut up about the sun!
Most conversations about the latest iteration of M4 will always go back to one thing: That cursed nose. Frankly, I don’t mind it all that much. Maybe that has to do with how it looks on my Portimao Blue tester, the dark grille devoid of chrome feeling way less flashy than on other 4 Series variants. Maybe it’s because, once you see the bumper bar crossing the divide, your eyes can visually separate the grilles into upper and lower components. Maybe I just don’t care that much. Is it my preferred design? Goodness, no. But is it some affront before man and God? Hardly.
The rest of the M4, inside and out, looks pretty solid. Its long, low silhouette is basically a miniaturized 8 Series at this point, with most of the aggressive bits reserved for the front and rear bumpers. The tailpipes may look proportional to the rest of the body in pictures, but in real life, I can assure you that they look like cannons hanging out of a galleon.
Inside, the general layout is pretty much bone standard 4 Series, with an inoffensive dashboard layout that, in M4 guise, is wrapped in some seriously smooth leather. For $950, you can shellack about half the surfaces with carbon fiber, but I feel like that trend is pretty played out already. What isn’t overdone, though, is the absolutely batshit blue-and-yellow color combination playing out across the seats and door panels. While it wouldn’t be my first choice, I appreciate the ability to rock some expressive colors that aren’t derivatives of the usual blacks, whites and tans.
And then there’s the seats themselves. These $3,800 M carbon bucket seats are immensely supportive, with high bolstering for torsos and thighs. That said, they’ll be a tough sell for folks who aren’t skinny minis, since they are tight. There’s also the manner of the large protrusion toward the front of the seat cushion; I’m sure there’s some reason for that in motorsport, but in daily use, it feels unnatural and largely just annoying.
iDrive still good, maybe not great
BMW’s iDrive hasn’t undergone any major revisions recently, so what’s here in the 2021 M4 is the same ol’ bit of telematics that we Roadshow editors have been using for the last couple years. I wouldn’t take it over Mercedes’ MBUX, but in a vacuum it’s more than sufficient, with plenty of responsiveness and a home screen that does a great job of delivering all the right info with minimal distraction. Don’t want to use the touchscreen? No worries, friend, because there’s a dial on the center console. USB charging comes by way of a USB-A port by the cup holders and a USB-C port under the armrest. Wireless, and embedded navigation are all standard. The M4 also has a digital gauge display that is basically the same one you get on nearly every other BMW these days, and it’s fine.
Unlike many other dedicated performance cars, BMW still equips the M4 with plenty of active and passive standard safety features. No matter the spec, your M4 will roll off the factory line with parking sensors, forward-collision warning, automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, lane-departure warning and automatic high beams. None of the systems are very intrusive, and the settings menu lets me dial them back a little further if needed, so most of the time I can’t even tell they’re there. Best of all, you don’t need to shell out additional simoleons for any of it; it’s all standard from the get-go.
Down to brass tacks
It should come as no surprise that the 2021 BMW M4 is expensive, but man, this expensive? The starting price of $72,795 (including $995 for destination) is innocuous enough, but my tester gloms on the options. The paint is $550, the wild interior is another $2,550, the wheels are $1,300 and the bucket seats ask for another $3,800. The upgraded brakes yeet another $8,150 out of your wallet, and if you’re feeling particularly spendy, you can drop $2,500 on the M Driver’s Package that does nothing but bump the speed limiter and offer a one-day class at a local BMW Performance Center. In case your eyes have glossed over at the sight of all these addons, I’ll do the final math for you: This BMW costs $93,795. Lord have mercy. And this isn’t even the freaking Competition variant!
Yet, at the same time, the BMW M4 possesses so much character for a performance coupe that it’s hard to even look at anything else. Competitors like the Mercedes-AMG C63 and Audi RS5 are a little long in the tooth and due for replacements, while the Alfa Romeo Giulia QV is only available as a sedan, and it’s a little harsh for daily use. That puts the M4 in quite the sweet spot, offering incredible performance without forgetting that day-to-day life shouldn’t be a punishment. You’ll get used to the front end, I promise.