PCOTY 7th - BMW M4

So, seventh place for the heir to one of the world’s most iconic driver’s-car heritages.

Dispatched by a VW hatchback, a French front-driver and a Japanese device a third its price. Ouch. No other PCOTY entrant copped as much mid- and post-match discussion as BMW’s M4, here in rare-as-hen’s-teeth conventional manual form.

All the judges agreed the M4 is lacking, despite the across-the-board, on-paper ‘improvements’ that suggest it should raise the M-car game to a new plateau.

One theory is that in engineering a faster machine, the lab coats in Munich forgot to give the new-gen, mid-sized M coupe a soul. Or perhaps they failed to ensure it retained the driver interaction its legendary (and, in E46 form, PCOTY-winning) forebears had as a sort of core brief.

Whatever the case, the stinger is that the judging collective conceded they’d prefer driving either of the two previous (M3) generations. In fact, everyone felt that, regardless of how quick it was in present company, the M4 was actually stumbling over its own lofty legacy.

Thing is, the M4 was certainly fast. But it was conditionally fast. How so? In the hands of the surgically clean Luffy it pulled a 1:36.1sec blinder around Winton, second-quickest outright.

That’s despite the fact the Bimmer was only sixth-quickest in the sprint to 100km/h (4.82sec) and 400m (12.83sec) and plying what was, at 317kW and 550Nm, much less output than the 911 Turbo, Jag, GTS Maloo and RS7.

The M4 certainly has formidable chassis talent then, but in the hands of more moderate driving talent and thrown onto a twisty country road or asked to shimmy its rump a little, the coupe gets very taily and loses corner exit drive with little right-foot provocation. It’s a snappy chassis, a little spooky even, and constantly keeping lines tidy is more a chore than actual enjoyment.

The engine drew much criticism. Yes, there’s more torque than old the V8, but its vibe is weird and, without the advantage of the DCT’s mid-corner twin-clutch gear-shifting, it’s easily caught off the boil.

“Weird harmonics,” Morley said of the 3.0-litre’s character, or lack thereof. There was once a time when an M car’s (very-special-issue) engine was its soul. And it’s soul, beyond anything, that the M4 lacks.

Then there’s BMW overreliance on finding the suitable drive mode for any task at hand: a boring and laborious process that forced Luffy to abort his hot lap until the car was reprogrammed in pit lane.

On road, once you cracked the suitable drive mode Da Vinci code, its body control is a touch soft-edged, its steering a little doughy and its front-end isn’t as crystal clear as, well, an M car should be.

All of which explains why the second-fastest track machine manages just seventh outright. Its real enemy wasn’t sharing the PCOTY pit lane. Instead, it was the enemy within.

January issue, out now

For the complete Performance Car of the Year story, including full performance data, check out MOTOR’s January issue, on sale now on newsstands or iPad.




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