Pulling out of the parking lot of Road America and onto SR-67 towards Elkhart Lake was a strange sensation.
Having spent the entire morning driving an M4 at a pace of nothing less than as fast as I could manage, creeping through the parking lot felt as if I was almost stuck in reverse. I had to reacclimate my right foot to not want to lie flat on the carpet and it was clearly going to take me a bit – not unlike a deep sea diver’s body having to re-acclimate to the surface after sitting on the ocean floor.
I took it easy with the first mile or so, sticking to well under the speed limit as I was driving without the influence of adrenaline. Looking around the cabin and seeing a handful of M tri-color logos I was reminded that, in fact, I was in a 2015 BMW M4 Coupe. Outstretched before me an Austin Yellow Metallic power dome that felt as though it went on forever.
But why didn’t I feel like I was driving a BMW M car?
That’s mostly due to the exceptional road manners of the new M4. Dawdling along at a routine pace and with the suspension, throttle and steering set to Comfort you wouldn’t be out of line in thinking you’re at the wheel of a more pedestrian 435i. The suspension, while slightly more abrasive than the admittedly cushy 4 Series, brushes aside changes in the road surface with the utmost manners. The steering feel is lighter to receive inputs and with DCT set to choose its own gears, the exhaust note is rather mute at low rpms. I wafting along in relative comfort – even the M Sport seats, while a bit narrow for me at the hips, had wonderfully broad wings by which to cup my shoulders. It was as though a Bavarian speed god was cupping his hands around my back as I crept into the edge of the sedate Elkhart Lake.
A handful of us were in the process of discovering the old Road America circuit that once traversed downtown Elkhart Lake. Looking ahead I could see a cross section of Sakhir Orange, Austin Yellow and Yas Marina Blue cutting across the streets of what looks like Main Street America – each slowly finding its way through the city leaving a light, burbly grumble in it’s wake.
Feeling somewhat more obnoxious, I prodded the adaptable settings moving everything to Sport+ mode and with the flick of a finger brought the gearbox into manual mode. Yeah, I was that guy who was purposefully driving around in first or second gear constantly. Why? I wanted to hear the freshly minted straight six engine note. Critical of it or not, I found myself enjoying the Active Sound in the M4. Juxtaposed to the M5, BMW have simply amplified the existing induction noise of the S55 motor versus the use of artificially created sound piped in via the sound system. True – this isn’t the most authentic sound you’ll hear from a sports car but after a few minutes of being rev-happy, that detail quickly slipping to the back of my mind.
After a few breaks for photos and catching an emasculated glance from an Audi S5 driver sulking by, climbing back into the M4 I pointed flared nose towards back towards the track on the outskirts of the city. In the process I may or may not have been traveling in second gear at approximately 5,000rpm – along the way impressing only a kid who seemed to be headed to a summer camp at the local country club.
Moving to the county roads, the M4 was as revealing as it was on the track in that it specializes in outright speed. Gone is the need to wind up the S65 V8 motor and in place of two cylinders are two single-scroll turbos that make power on demand. Threading across the countryside, the M4 reminds that 55MPH speed limits a more than a little restrictive with 425 HP on tap. Thanks to the grippy Michelin Pilot Super Sports and a healthy dose of traction control the M4 never manages to set a tire wrong.
Driving around the rolling hills that surround Road America, mercifully, relatively free of traffic and void of the inclimate weather that plagued other waves of journalists, the M4’s chassis proves why M GmbH isn’t just a maker of fast cars in a straight line. Overall, with it a torsional rigidity approaching that of the 2001 ALMS championship-winning M3 GT and a MacPherson front struts, multi-link rear suspension, there is minimal body roll and strong sense of communication between the driver and road surface. Harping on my earlier statements about the Servotronic steering system while on the track and the necessity to adapt to the system putting faith that hand eye coordination will carry you through the turn, I was still finding the same experience on the road. Again, thanks to the voluble nature of the chassis and mechanical grip of the car and, in part thanks to the artificial weighting in the wheel, it makes for easy work of hustling around the M4 under the deep green canopy of mid-Wisconsin.
While the I wasn’t able to take advantage of a ZF-derived six speed manual gearbox, I wasn’t entirely disappointed by that fact. The DCT gearbox is an excellent choice and, likely, will be the lion’s share of how M3/4’s are specced by even the enthusiast contingent. The 7-speed double clutch ‘box makes easy work of adapting to the desire of the driver depending upon if you want to dial up or down the volume on the M car’s performance.
On the point of technology, the M4 feels like a modern M car that allows for technology to aid in the process of driver enjoyment rather than deter from it. I certainly would prefer something more informative from the steering system though the stability control, transmission and adaptable suspension work in a harmony that wasn’t as balanced in previous M cars. A bi-product of this same harmony is an ease by which the the driver can access the potential of the M4 at it’s limits. Even with M Dynamic Mode activated, the M4 requires gross neglect by the driver before it would find itself at an untenable angle.
It’s again this same harmony that leads me to the idea that the M3/4 combination is the best available on the market at this moment and will undoubtedly meet the challenge of its forthcoming Audi and Mercedes-Benz rivals head-on.