Thorney Motorsport’s F82 M4
The M4, well, it’s an M3 really but if BMW want to ruin the whole idea of sports coupés being called M3 then I guess we are stuck with the name, so we might as well work with it. You might say I’m an M3 geek. I’ve owned 11 over the years: one E30 M3; one E36 M3; four E46 M3s; two CSLs; three E92 M3s; and now this M4, while Thorney Motorsport (TMS) has modified hundreds and built 28 race cars based on the models (most of which are still competing), so it’s fair to say we know them well. As a tuning/race preparation company we’re looking to add value and improve the car for owners wanting more focus because at the end of the day BMW makes cars for the masses which means it needs to make compromises.
The standard M4 is certainly a compromise. The first drive lets you know that immediately. It’s a big car, bigger than an E39 M5, which makes coming from an E92 quite a transition and from an E46 M3 a real eye-opener. It feels big the moment you open the door and slide into the (pretty good) seats and look about. It reminds me of the E60 M5 we had: well-thought-out and plush but ultimately quite un-sporty. Think sports saloon rather than sports car sort of look. However it works. It’s a nice place to be, helped by the expanse of carbon fibre trim our car has.
Next comes the first disappointment: hit the start button and you are met with possibly the most artificial engine and exhaust note I’ve ever heard. I was expecting it, of course. All the reports were that it sounds artificial but even knowing that, it was still a disappointment. The engine sounds pretty good (as much as a boosted engine can do) but the exhaust is rattly, tinny and, well, just fake. I’d rather have silence if I’m totally honest.
Other than the lack of noise, the first few drives were as expected: there is lots of power, a lot more torque than an E92 M3 (as you’d expect from FI), and it’s quicker as a comparison but not by as much as you’d expect. The E92 will get there at more or less the same pace but feels slower due to the fact it’s NA but rev the V8 as you should and there is not a lot in it between it and the M4. In-gear roll ons flatter the M4, of course; turbocharged power delivery will always trounce NA when it comes to in gear work but thrash the V8 model and it’s arguably quicker in some areas. However, overall the M4 is faster, there’s no denying that. Good news for the M4.
As with any new car the first thing we do after we run it in is put it on our dyno, first on 95 octane fuel (as some owners still use it for some unknown reason) and then on decent higher octane fuel. The results are interesting: 410hp peak on 95 octane and 425hp peak on Shell V Power, so pretty much as BMW state. Not bad. Usually BMW is a bit, er, ‘keen’ on its claimed figures but the M4 was spot-on (on decent fuel), so that’s good. The 95 octane run is to be expected – it beats me as to why anyone with a car like this would run cheap fuel but some do, so we test it. However, the upshot is, if you want 15hp more from your M4 just put decent (non supermarket) fuel in it.
Next up was to take a look at the handling – something we specialise in at TMS. The logical thing was to conduct a back-to-back test against the other M3s we own, so I decided to do a test run in an E46 M3, an E92 M3 and then in the M4 – all on the same day, on the same road, and all within a couple of hours of each other. Back to back like this it’s clear to see the shared DNA. The E46 was flighty and light, darting from corner to corner, reacting to fingertip control but ultimately it was the slowest of the three. The E92 was bolder and faster but required more delicate inputs into the steering and was less keen to change direction than its older brother, although the noise of the V8 seemed to make it feel faster. The M4 was faster than both of them, not by much over the E92, but still quicker. The main difference was that the process was harder work, turn-in and exiting tighter corners required a lot more control over the throttle and, ultimately, it felt less fun, less in control and was the only car I got out of with a sweat on.
Prior to getting our own car I’d had a lot of calls from customers complaining about the M4’s handling. ‘I can’t get the power down’ or ‘it’s hard work to drive’ were the common comments and, if I’m honest, I put that down to crap driving (sorry); an FI car with RWD is always going to be an exercise in throttle control – drive it like an AWD car (late braking into the turn, apex, then nail it) will just set off the traction control or put you into a hedge, but at the same time the throttle response is not as easy to enjoy as you would with an NA RWD model. With the E46/E92 you steer with the throttle and use the gas pedal to adjust the pitch of the car mid-corner. That’s really hard to do in the M4; it either lags or bites depending on where you are in the rev range. Ultimately its a tiring car to drive fast. I can see why people are selling them quickly.
Our car is DSG; we specced this as our E92 is manual as it’s now a track car whereas the M4 we’re keeping as a road-orientated car and the DSG is more suited for that. However, overall I’m disappointed. With the CSL I loved the kick in the back with each change and soon learnt to give a little lift off to smooth the gear changes; with the E92 DSG it was too smooth (we owned a Frozen black one with DSG) – it felt like an auto box and ultimately was less fun to drive as a result, so I was expecting the M4 DSG to offer an improvement to both (CSL SMG feel but E92 M3 shift speed). Unfortunately what we get is worse than both of them. There’s no doubt of the shift speed; I’m fortunate that another car we have is a McLaren MP12C, a car four times the price of the M4 and the M4 shift is faster (except in track mode) than the MP12 but the M4 is utterly rubbish in terms of feel. BMW had added an artificial ‘kick’ to the shift to make it feel like you are changing gear with the result that it just feels like an artificial kick in the kidneys just to piss you off. It really is unpleasant, like an auto box with a malfunctioning kick-down; when pressing on the result is a gear shift that makes any passenger think you’ve lost all feeling in your feet, nodding away to such an extent you feel you should offer a HANS device to keep them safe.
Of course a lot of this is music to our ears; if the car was perfect we’d be out of a job. But at the same time I can’t help but feel disappointed in the M4. It’s got a lovely engine with excellent power and offers excellent tuning potential, so that’s good. The handing is fixable with some spring and damper changes together with some geometry but ultimately it may be awkward when it comes to some of the bumpy roads we have here in the UK… time will tell. The DSG being so poor is something we will need to work on, though, but it’s early days just yet.
There are a few other niggles that owners might recognise: the ability to skip tracks on the stereo is a pain in the arse with a stupid wheel rather than a simple ‘forward’ button and the fact you can’t even lock the car if you leave it in neutral is starting to hack me off, too. At least the CSL just beeped at you disapprovingly. The M4 just says ‘no’. But whilst I’m not in love with it yet I am starting to like it more and more and it offers us a great base model to work with. I’ll keep you posted.