Insane in the tamest way possible |
In the past, the convertible versions of performance coupés were typically horrible.
Here at DoubleClutch.ca, we adore the new BMW M3 and M4. So much so that we gave the M3 sedan our overall favourite award for 2014. With the models being all new for 2015, it’s only inevitable for us to sample each and every iteration that we have the opportunity to drive. Fresh upon my return home from the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, this 2015 BMW M4 Cabriolet was waiting for me for a glorious test week.
The M4 is pure performance, and the Cabriolet’s convertible body style only helps make for an invigorating and refreshing driving experience no matter what the season. It’s a stunning car too; the unmistakable lines of its predecessor have evolved gracefully; the muscular bulge on the hood is definite and clearly BMW. The retractable hardtop opens up in 20 seconds, and can be operated at parking lot speeds as well. It’s a full metal roof, so insulation during the winter is excellent. My test week consisted of -20 degree temperatures, so I didn’t really make much use of the top, but I will say that I noticed no cool drafts or any more interior noise than the coupé.
The outgoing M3 Cabriolet was powered by the infamous V8, which the purist inside me does miss a little bit. The noise it made was just impeccable, and the twin-turbo 3.0L inline 6-cylinder doesn’t quite compare in that regard. However, the 420 horsepower and 406 lb-ft of torque help this sexy convertible take off like a bat out of hell no matter how cold it is outside. The power delivery is just insane, and the M4 wants to dance all day long. I set up the M-Drive system to my liking with two extremes. M1 mode had all assists off with steering, suspension, transmission, and all settings in Sport Plus. M2 was “fuel saving” mode, with all assists on and everything in Comfort. However, the sound of this car is noticeably different on the inside than on the outside. BMW does pipe some “fake” sound into the car, and this is especially obvious when hearing the car take off from outside – it sounds completely different.
This past summer, I experienced the 6-speed manual transmission on the M4. This is my first go with a dual-clutch transmission model, a 7-speed unit. The box shifts quickly and without any fuss; it has seriously good manners. I’ve previously put the Audi S-tronic dual-clutch on a pedestal, liking it significantly more than any of the other units I’ve played with. However, the unit in this BMW is just as good as the S-tronic, if not slightly better. It makes wonderful noises on downshifts as well as flawless upshifts. Driving the car in M1 mode unleashes the beast within. On acceleration, the M4 flattens your back against the Merino leather seat and rockets into motion. The massive brakes halt the big German in what seems like no time at all.
Power is power, because everything in this car’s category has some. What makes cars bearing the legendary “M” badge so special is how they handle. As I said before, the 2015 M4 Cabriolet makes for one special salsa partner. The electric steering lacks the heavy feedback of the hydraulic units in older BMWs, but the car is instantly responsive and goes where you point it. A quick tap on the accelerator can easily induce oversteer, so it’s recommended to leave the electronic nannies on if you’re not 100% confident with your ability to handle the car. I will say though that one of the most surprising things about this car is that even on winter rubber (Continental ContiWinterContact, to be specific), the M4 was impeccably agreeable and not scary in the slightest.
I did a considerable amount of driving with the gorgeous two-door from BMW’s M division. I remember that I couldn’t best 15.8L/100km on the E92-chassis M3 Coupe. On a 70/30 mix between highway and city driving, the M4 returned 10.9L/100km. In frigid temperatures and thoroughly enjoying the car with every passing kilometer, I don’t really think I could ask for more. The car performs noticeably better on 94-octane fuel, but I would imagine most buyers will feed their M4s 91-octane, which it will happily accept.
As in any other $100,000 BMW product, the feature list on my M4 Cabriolet is plentiful. My car came painted in a beautiful Mineral White with stunning Sakhir Orange Merino Leather seats. The seats also have “M” badges on them that actually light up. Sounds tacky, but looks slick in the flesh. Things like bi-xenon headlights with LED Angel Eyes, iDrive infotainment, full BMW Connected Drive software, Comfort Access, and everything else one would expect on a car of this caliber are all on board, along with heated seats, a heated steering wheel, and remote convertible top operation. The Adaptive M Suspension, included in the $4500 Premium Package (that also includes the heads-up display, rear-view camera, Park Distance Control, and satellite radio) is also a nice touch. At an as-tested price of $98,750 for my specific model, the M4 Cab is surprisingly good value.
I’ve said this in previous BMW editorials, but my opinion only seems to become more and more concrete each time I drive another BMW. The iDrive infotainment system started out in 2002 as a buggy gimmick, and has morphed into easily one of the best entertainment and navigation setups in the industry. Graphics are good and high-resolution, the split-screen setup is easy to customize and work with, and browsing playlists and contacts over Bluetooth-paired phones is extremely user-friendly.
As with any car, I do have my gripes. The M4’s ride, even with the suspension in “Comfort” setting, is unnecessarily harsh. It’s firm to a point of jarring. For a weekend toy, which is what an M4 in my garage would be, I’m willing to forgive. Additionally, The convertible top refused to operate at all in temperatures below freezing. This was particularly annoying, as the car’s heated seats, steering wheel, and additional headrest-mounted neck warmers would make for a particularly comfortable drive on chilly evenings. After allowing the car to thaw out in my condominium’s underground garage, I did drop the top just to carefully observe how the system worked. However, in temperatures around 5 degrees Celsius, it was a bit creaky and hesitant to operate.
In the past, the convertible versions of performance coupés were typically horrible. Structural rigidity was compromised, and even retractable metal hardtops were sketchy at best (anyone remember the first-generation Mercedes-Benz SLK?). However, things have come a long way. The 2015 BMW M4 Cabriolet is a great car that drives just as well as it looks, but it’s a little bit less sharp than the coupé. Personally, as a driving enthusiast first and foremost, I would opt for the fixed roof. Don’t get me wrong – I love open-top motoring in my classic 1990 Mazda MX-5 as much as the next guy, but for me, convertibles are for cruising. This is why cars like BMW’s own 428i Cabriolet make more sense than this droptop M4; serene cruisers with a bit of bite to go with their bark. If I’m buying an M4, I’m taking it to the track on weekend lapping days, and I’m not compromising a single crumb of that experience.