2021 BMW M4 Competition Review: Smells Like Success

You don’t put much thought into the 2021 BMW M4’s divisive, elongated kidney grille schnoz from the driver’s seat.

Oh, the mind does focus on the front-end of this mean, black Bimmer as it deconstructs a series of corners—but not on the looks. “This steering feels real good” is an early leader, with “dang, turn in is sharp,” and “will these P-Zeroes ever give up?” not far behind. Then thoughts turn inward, as you quickly realize you’re now wearing your own toothy grin—one almost as big as the M4’s.

A week with the car made it all clear. This latest member of the BMW M family is a blast to drive, an indulgent sports coupe that just wants you to have all the fun, all the time.

What’s new?

You mean beyond that challenging sniffer? Quite a lot. As most cars are wont to do these days, the 4 Series has grown in all directions. BMW’s “compact” coupe now stretches 189.1 inches (4,804 mm) from snout to tuchus, making it larger than a Mustang at this point. At least the wheelbase is nearly half a foot longer than the Ford’s though (at 112.5 inches / 2,857 mm), making the back bench almost hospitable for adults.

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The extra length affords the baby 8 Series design enough room to work its magic, the graceful lines contrasting well with the added aggression of the M treatment. We’re talking four howitzers poking out from below the rear bumper, larger intakes up front to feed the engine, and slash-style air vents aft of the front wheels. Can’t forget those deliciously intricate, staggered-size alloy wheels, either: 275-width 19-inch rollers up front, and 285-width, 20-inchers out back.

Under the hood sits the latest evolution of BMW’s mighty inline-six engine, with the engine code S58. Base models produce 473 horsepower and 406 pound-feet of torque, while Competition models such as this tester boost those figures to 503 hp and 479 lb-ft. Competition models only come with a version of ZF’s eight-speed automatic transmission; regular M4s use a six-speed manual as standard equipment.

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So how does it drive?

As the figures suggest, the M4 is supremely quick. I’m not talking the white-knuckle savagery of its big brother M5 Comp, though: the M4 is smoother, more subtly muscular. I know there’s eight gears for it to choose from, but the M4 never really needs to. Stomp the throttle and the car will surge forward, even in top gear. BMW engineers deserve a toast for making this straight-six so tractable. My only complaint? It’s too polite, even in Sport Plus and with the piped-in soundtrack. A little more edge wouldn’t hurt.

SEE ALSO: BMW M5 Competition vs Porsche Panamera GTS Comparison

That all important letter may as well stand for “malleable” here. The M4 has grip for days, slicing into corners with a quickness that belies its 3,880 lb (1,760 kg) curb weight. Yet the balance is always neutral, with any additional angle only a flex of the ankle away. The steering wheel weights up consistently too, quickly building driver trust in the grip levels of those massive front Pirellis. This is in Normal, too: switch to Sport and the M4’s helm gets even more talkative, yet never tiresome. You’ll finish a road and immediately want to turn back to do it all again. If it’s just been resurfaced, you should even use Sport Plus.

Two red M buttons sit above the wheel’s spokes, allowing drivers to tailor suspension, throttle, steering, and braking settings for easy access. There’s even an available drift analyzer, which scores your skids.

The evergreen appeal of the M3 (and M4) has long been its everyday usability though—those times when you’re not wringing its neck. Ease up and the M4 blends into errand runs and city street crawls, with heightened tire noise being the only real reminder of its latent talents. It’s even pretty economical, too: I routinely saw better than its quoted 23 mpg (10.2 L/100 km) on the highway. Though my week-long average was 17.3 mpg (13.6 L/100 km). Oops.

The rest of the package

Halloween came early with this M4’s bright Kyalami Orange leather interior. If nothing else, I commend BMW for continuing to offer multiple unusual interior color schemes. It meant I never forgot my sunglasses all week, too.

The other major change from lesser 4 Series is the pair of very extra carbon-backed bucket seats. These suckers hold you in place like few other road-car seats do, fair. But most M4s probably won’t even spend 1 percent of their life on-track, so the seats seem more like theater than anything else. That, and they’re very tight: I felt at the upper limit at around 5’10 and 170 lb. And forget ever getting comfortable if you have hips (source: my partner, who was vociferous in her hatred of these high-bolstered items).

And what’s with that nub to keep your legs separated?

Everything else is pretty standard 4 Series, with an extra serving of carbon fiber. A crisp digital instrument cluster is as easy to read as it is customizable. The head-up display offers key information clearly in the driver’s direct line of vision. iDrive is as solid as ever, with fast responses and an intuitive controller in the center console. The menus do require a bit of familiarization, however. The AC was efficient on a hot week, though it highlighted the lack of ventilation on the super-serious seats.

SEE ALSO: 2021 BMW M440i xDrive Review: Baby Grand (Tourer)

BMW includes a reasonable amount of standard safety equipment in all M4s. Automated emergency braking, forward collision warning, lane departure warning, blind spot monitoring, parking sensors, and auto high beams are all included. This M4 also included a 360-degree camera, parking assistant, Laserlight headlights, and adaptive cruise control. Even without the aid of electronics, the M4 is easy to see out of and place thanks to long side windows.

Who’s the target audience?

Those folks who want an M car, really. The M4 coupe and M3 sedan both have a reputation within the compact premium segment, and for some, only M will do. Which makes it important news that the M4 is great again.

But if, for whatever reason, you’d rather look elsewhere, the first candidates are the Audi RS5 and Mercedes C 63 AMG. The Merc matches the BMW on horsepower and out-twists it for torque—but it dies this year. Its replacement will be going four-cylinder-only too, so say goodbye to that sweet, sweet V8 soundtrack.

Since they’re practically the same size now, how about a Mustang? Snobby Euro-elitists might pooh-pooh the idea, but the current Mustang is a fun, engaging steer, not simply a straight-line hero. The 480-horsepower Mach 1 is the closest parallel in the pony-car lineup, but for the price of an M4 Competition, you could step up to the 760-horsepower GT500.

In fact, this tester rings in even dearer than that monster. The M4 starts at an almost reasonable $72,795 ($87,580 CAD), including destination, and the Competition upgrade is another couple grand. From there, the options pile up, including the extreme seats, the useful head-up display, all manner of carbon fiber accoutrements, parking assistant, and more. The final tally is an estimated $92,945 US, or an as-tested $108,145 CAD. Ouch.

Verdict: 2021 BMW M4 Competition Review

In a previous life, a chef once told me “you eat with your eyes first.” It’s a good thing the 2021 BMW M4 isn’t a meal, then—otherwise I have the sneaking suspicion a lot of people would skip BMW M’s latest course. Which would be a shame.

Continuing the metaphor, the M4 Competition would be a hit at one of those trendy eat-in-complete-darkness restaurants, though. This is a return to form for BMW’s two-door performance models: quick, of course, but also shot full of personality. Those who want the ultimate in interaction will need to sacrifice the extra torque for a third pedal, yet even the Competition is a deeply desirable package. It wants to play, but never hangs the driver out to dry because of it, instead involving them in the fun.

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