REVIEW: 2021 BMW M4 – Good Driving Car, But Can You Look Past The Grille?

While the design is subjective, the driving experience is not. And the new M4 doesn't disappoint.

Launching a new BMW M3, and now the second M4, is a big event for BMW. If not for the entire car world. The two and four door sportscar have often been regarded as the benchmark in the segment, and every premium automaker has their sights on them. So after spending months endlessly talking about its design – more on that soon – I was excited to get behind the wheel. While track time was off limits for now, I had to resume to some driving through the flat areas surrounding Palm Beach.

But I still wanted to learn more about its track capabilities, so I joined BMW Pro Driver and Racing Champion Bill Auberlen for a quick chat inside the new M4. You can catch that video here where Bill talks about its track performance and capabilities. Our tester for the day was a 2021 BMW M4, the non-Competition model with rear-wheel drive, and to my surprise and happiness, a six-speed manual.

While I’m not a huge manual-kinda guy anymore – simply cause of the stop-and-go traffic in Chicago – I still love the purity of a clutch pedal and a manual gear knob. On top of this, a rear-wheel drive, manual sportscar is a unicorn these days and I’m certainly happy that BMW still caters to its community. It also makes up for the controversial kidney grille.

The Elephant In The Room

So before I jump head first into this review, let’s address the elephant in the room. This was my first time seeing the new M3 and/or M4 in real life and while it has a better “presence” from upclose, it’s still quite quirky. One thing is certain though: it works best on the M3/M4 than on the 4 Series. Furthermore, I still think darker colors are the way to go on this new generation since they blend in with the blacked outer rim of the grille. There was no front plate on those press cars, but that’s another story for some other time.

In a nutshell, I’m not a huge fan of the grille, but nor I strongly dislike it. For many years, I criticized BMW (shockingly my team and I still do that from time to time) for its safe design language, or better put: the same sausage, different length approach. While I loved the Fx generation of cars, there wasn’t enough distinction between them to stand out on their own. So I get it: BMW took a play from the Bangle’s playbook and went with a revolutionary design.

REVIEW: 2021 BMW M4 – Good Driving Car, But Can You Look Past The Grille?
A Controversial Front-End

Was that the right choice? Impossible for anyone to tell at the moment. The true test will emerge sometimes in Spring 2022 after a full year of production and sales. Yet, there was one question that I kept asking our followers on social media or on Youtube: Will you overlook the grille if the ride is spectacular?

And that was exactly my mindset as I jump behind the wheel of a Sao Paulo Yellow M4 with the beautiful carbon fiber seats. The M3 next to me had the standard sport seats and while they’re comfy and good looking, they won’t wow you like the carbon fiber bucket seats do.

A Wider Gap Between Driving Modes

REVIEW: 2021 BMW M4 – Good Driving Car, But Can You Look Past The Grille?
The Unicorn - Manual Transmission

One of my favorite things to do with any new BMW is to quickly test out the different driving modes. In this case, from Comfort to Sport and even Track Mode. Compared to the F80/F82 generation, the Comfort mode is now more…comfortable. So there is a lot more cushion built into that mode, mainly because that’s what customers want in 2021. Certainly you can’t ignore the purists and enthusiasts, so the M wizards in Munich went all out with the sportier modes.

While unfortunately the track was not on the menu today, I asked Bill Auberlen about the differences in modes while tracking this new M4. As you’d expect from a racing driver, “comfort” is not something that he feels comfortable with it – pun intended. His mindset is always Sport. So we both concluded that the Sport and Track modes are quite spirited and definitely a step up from the previous generation.

The moment you flip that switch into Sport, Sport Individual or Track, the beast awakens. The steering is extremely sharp and accurate. The inputs are effortless and there is a bit of weight in it. No, it’s not your typical mechanical steering rack, but with every new generation of M cars, BMW’s steering gets better and better. The M engineers told me in a recent call that there was a lot of work done behind the scenes with the G80/G82 steering, from mechanical differences with the F80/F82 generations, to a different type of software setup.

Granted, my steering inputs were mostly on flat surfaces and through some unexciting corners – tough to find a damn good driving road near Palm Beach. But it was enough to convince me of its potential. A full track day is in planning already, so will certainly share with you a more comprehensive story on the steering.

An Improved Chassis

If there is one area where BMW takes pride in, aside from the steering, is the chassis. The new M3/M4 feels extremely planted on the road and even in those few corners around Palm Beach, it was marvelous. Stable, little body roll and quite playful in the rear. The new models just feel stiffer than ever before and Auberlen concurred. And I trust his word, firstly because he’s a great race driver, and secondly, he’s not the type to sugarcoat things.

I can only imagine how the all-wheel drive and higher power output will make this car fly through corners and apexes.

A Heavy Sportscar, But The Engine Makes Up For It

REVIEW: 2021 BMW M4 – Good Driving Car, But Can You Look Past The Grille?
Your Weekend Track Weapon

There is no way around it: this is a heavy sportscar. Based on our own research, since BMW is not yet ready to comment on the weight differences, the M3/M4 six-speed, rear-wheel drive is around 1780 kilograms, a whooping 185 kilos heavier than the manual F80. Of course, you won’ feel that extra heft during regular commutes, but on track, you will notice it.

Now to mitigate that extra weight, BMW gave a bit more power to the new generation M3/M4. The S58 3.0 liter in the non-Competition models makes 473 horsepower. Peak torque of 406 lb-ft is served up from 2650 to 6130 rpm on the regular model. It will be fast for most people, even without the 503 ponies in the Competition models, but there is a little bit of a turbo lag. Not a deal breaker since I’ve experienced that in most recent M cars, but enough to make me point it out.

Granted, the engine can output way more power and I expect the all-wheel drive Competition models to be the benchmark. And the obvious faster models. The six-speed manual is carried over from the previous generation and is just as I remembered it: precise, easy to row and fun. As much as I disliked the rev matching in the M2, I truly enjoyed it in this higher-powered M car. I don’t need to heel-toe anymore (not that’s easy with my size 13 shoes) and the car does all the work for me, matching the gear exactly, even when I don’t properly shift.

If you’re on the hate boat, don’t fret. BMW now lets you turn off the rev-matching without fully disabling the traction control nannies. A safer and smarter approach by BMW. Kudos!

REVIEW: 2021 BMW M4 – Good Driving Car, But Can You Look Past The Grille?
M Drift Analyzer

Speaking of gimmicks, BMW included a Drift Mode and M Drift Analyzer in the G80/G82. I haven’t tested it out, but according to Auberlen, it’s a lot of fun and makes you think you’re a better driver than you might be. Auberlen pulled 144 yards of drift at 13.6 degrees. And he was just getting started.

Since I wasn’t tracking the car, the ceramic brakes on it were a bit useless. So can’t really comment much on their performance in relation to the new M3/M4. I know they’re good from other M cars, but a proper test is needed to put a verdict on it.

Should I Buy One?

While the design is subjective, the driving experience is not. It is absolutely a more capable and rounded car than its predecessor. And you don’t need a race track to prove that. In a way, it feels that the new car doesn’t fight you at all. With the F80 or F82, I often needed to be on my toes to domesticate the beast. It has been always a mischief who needed special handling.

The G80/G82 generation of M cars is more refined and composed, and certainly more eager to respond to your inputs. We will have more chances to drive the car in the months ahead, so we’ll make sure to report our daily experience with the car. And of course, some track feedback as well.

Now the question is whether you can look behind its quirky front-end and get behind the wheel. If you’re comfortable doing that, you might find yourself with a smile on your face.