Following up on excellence is always such a difficult thing to do. Pink Floyd had to follow up Dark Side of the Moon, Bruce Willis had to follow up Die Hard and Odell Beckham Jr. had to follow up on his stellar rookie season. Some people have find success, one successful venture after another, and can sustain that excellence. While some fizzle and burn away, reduced to one-hit wonders. BMW has to face such a challenge of continuing excellent with each new generation of M3.
After the first-gen, the E30 M3, BMW was a bonafide sports car god. The E30 M3 cemented the Bavarian brand into the upper echelons of the automotive world forever. So following that up was obviously a tremendously difficult task. The E36-generation followed the E30 and was bigger, faster, more capable and even more comfortable. But it lacked the same tactility of its predecessor. Still, it was a great car and an admirable successor, one that is still loved today. The E46 M3 came after that and shocked the world again. It was the perfect balance between performance, handling and comfort. It is possibly the best M3 of all time. After that came the E92 M3, with its wonderful, high-revving V8. Again, it was bigger, more powerful, faster and more comfortable than the car it replaced. But it lost a bit of its predecessor’s zing. Still, it was a superb car.
Now, we have the F80/F82 generation M3 and M4 (M4 replacing the M3 Coupe) and it’s felt like BMW’s biggest misstep with the famous model. For the first time ever, it’s turbocharged, which has upset many BMW purists. It’s also quite big and seriously lacking in the sort of feel and feedback M3 fans have known and loved for ages. The current BMW M3/M4 is probably the most heavily criticized M3 in history. So BMW has decided to try and remedy it with its new Competition Package. So to find out if it’s improved anything, BMW was kind enough to lend me a 2016 BMW M4 Competition Package for a week. They even topped off the tank for me. Sweethearts.
For $5,500, the Competition Package brings quite a suite of new upgrades to the M4. New, gorgeous 20″ wheels, a 19 hp bump to 444 hp, sport seats, a new exhaust, an entirely new suspension and tweaks to the steering and differential all come with the Comp Pack. Quite a lot of kit for your money, I’d say. But does it make a difference. In a word, yes.
For the M4’s 3.0 liter turbocharged I6, the extra 19 horsepower is probably not noticeable. BMW claims that it’s a tenth of a second faster to 60 mph and maybe that’s right, but the difference is negligible. But that’s not really a bad thing because the M4’s power delivery was never an issue.
Torque stays the same, at 406 lb-ft, and it comes on almost immediately above idle, providing ample thrust. It revs out nicely for a turbocharged engine, too. With launch control, 0-60 mph is claimed to be about 3.8 seconds and that’s entirely believable, if a bit conservative. We tested launch control on a slightly damp surface and the new Comp Packs’ diff calibration allowed it to just grip and fire out of the hole, with nary a slip. It’s seriously fast.
My tester was equipped with the seven-speed DCT and it’s just such a fantastic gearbox. To be honest, I wouldn’t want a manual in the M4. It’s just such a high-tech car that the DCT felt perfectly at home. Shifts are rapid-fire fast and even quite smooth, even in the most aggressive shift setting. Admittedly, around town in automatic mode, it can be a bit lurchy when setting off. But aside from that, it does a great job of acting like a standard automatic, with smooth shifts that are always when you want them.
Now, before you go thinking that the Competition Package turns the M4 into a fire-spitting track car like the M4 GTS, it doesn’t. But what the Comp Pack does is just sharpens everything up a bit. It trims some of the fat, makes it leaner and punchier than before. If anything, it brings out what the M4 was always capable. It’s like adding salt to a dish, it’s not necessarily the flavor it brings to the dish, but the flavor it brings out of the dish.
The steering is better, too, if not worlds better. It’s still almost completely lacking in feel, but it’s very accurate and its responses are excellent. It’s sharper than before and the front end bites harder, which we didn’t actually think was possible. In fact, the M4 Comp Pack simply refuses to understeer. It actually surprised me when I thought I went into a turn too hot on a dark windy road without street lights. It saved my ass.
Speaking of ass-saving, the newly re-calibrated rear differential is far better than the standard car’s. Now, that may seem trivial, but it makes a world of a difference. While the standard M4 is kind of scary to drive quickly, as it wags its tail like an excitable dog, the M4 Comp Pack feels buttoned down and secure. Even at silly speeds, the rear end wouldn’t step out easily. But when it did, it was progressive and neutral, allowing for easy control and correction.
The M4 Comp Pack’s new suspension is entirely different than the standard M4’s, not just a revised one. New springs and new dampers, the whole lot. And it pays off. It’s simultaneously firmer, while also being more comfortable. Bumps are felt more, but they’re dealt with better and upset the chassis less. Whereas the standard M4 can feel nervous and shaky over broken pavement, the M4 Comp Pack is a smooth criminal, dealing with bumps in one smooth motion and moving on with its business. There are no secondary vertical motions to deal with. But at the same time, it’s incredibly firm and buttoned down with frighteningly little body roll. It’s the best part of the Competition Package.
Actually, it’s second best. The best part of the Comp Pack is the new exhaust. One of the biggest complaints about the F82 BMW M4 is its noise. The 3.0 liter turbocharged I6 is a sledgehammer, delivering torque with brutal force and it’s a brilliant piece of engineering. But it sounds like a blowdryer and isn’t very exciting to listen to. The new exhaust on the Comp Pack brings the noise, in a good way. It’s loud. As in silly, wake-your-neighbors loud. I know this, because I woke my neighbors…But it actually sounds very good. It’s still not the raspy shrill of an E46 M3 that sends shivers down your spine, but it’s a massive improvement over the standard car. It’s growly and metallic in typical BMW I6 fashion. In Sport mode, it pops and burbles on downshifts and throttle lift. In Sport Plus, it cranks the pops and burbles up to 11. It sounds unrealistic, but it’s hilarious. Driving through quiet, suburban, treetop-covered roads, lifting off throttle in Sport Plus and hearing the pops and bangs echo off houses is a wonderfully childish exercise that I’m sure my neighborhood hated. But it’s good to know the fun is back.
That actually seemed to be the main theme with the Competition Package. It brings the fun back to the M4. While the standard M4 is a very serious machine, forgoing everything in the name of speed and performance, the Comp Pack brings a bit of life, a touch of humor to the M4’s seriousness. It’s louder, sharper and more willing to play.
This was especially true with my tester. Equipped in the always-lovely Yas Marina Blue and those incredible 20″ Style 666M wheels, the M4 Competition Package was as loud in appearance as it was in sound. It was also probably the best-looking M4 I’ve ever seen. It turned heads literally everywhere we went. The Yas Marina Blue received more compliments than any other color of any other car I’ve ever driven. People couldn’t take their eyes off of it. The Comp Pack also brings black badges and exhaust tips, which give off a more youthful vibe. All of that combined made my M4 Comp Pack a stunning thing to drive around in and was always exciting to look back at when getting out of it.
On the inside, the Comp Pack brings new sport seats which basically just have some holes in them where your kidneys are. This looks cool, but it also allows rear passengers to poke you in the spine mercilessly. My tester had the cloth/leather combo which was actually quite nice. The seats don’t get too hot and they hold you in well. The actual support of them is superb and really held me in tight. But if there’s a complaint with them it would be that they might be too tight. I’m only 5’9″ 155 lbs and they were seriously snug on me. A larger person might find them unbearable. Also, it has M-colored stripes on the seatbelts. I think that alone is worth the $5,500.
Objectively, the BMW M4 was always a very good car. It’s very fast, it’s very capable and it’s usable every day. It’s exactly what the M3 has always been, in theory. However, it’s lacked the sort of fizz that previous generations had in practice. This new Competition Package brings some of that fizz back to the M4. While it still isn’t perfect, it’s a helluva lot better than it was without the Comp Pack. It doesn’t turn the BMW M4 into an E46 M3 or even an E36 M3, but what it does do is transform the M4 into what it should have been all along.
So has the Competition Package allowed the M4 to become a repeat success? It’s tough to say, but if the BMW M4 is to be considered a repeat success, it’s going to need the Competition Package to do so.