UNITED STATES—Every few times a year, the Motor Press Guild holds an event in which it challenges automakers to send forth their best examples, vehicles that epitomize their respective brands. One such event: Droptops & Dirt. It is at this event that carmakers have the opportunity to present their best off-road vehicles and/or their best convertible/retractable roof models. Once the Motor Press Guild throws down the gauntlet, it is up to these manufacturers to decide if they are brave enough to pit their products against competitors in an unbiased, unadulterated environment where Motor Press Guild journalists put vehicles through the paces to determine if each product is as advertised.
BMW, not one to back down from a challenge, arrived with its latest M4 convertible. Will it live up to BMW’s long-used moniker, “The ultimate driving machine”? Some brand enthusiasts have concerns about the automaker’s latest move to electric power steering in its midsize 3-series sports sedan. However, the system does feature multiple settings. Could it possibly be just a matter of finding the right setting for a given situation? Or, do BMW purists have a reason to bemoan the brand once known for its refusal to compromise in matters of performance. Public enemy #1, Jeremy Clarkson of Top Gear fame came to the conclusion that “Comfort” mode was the perfect setting for any situation, even a racetrack.
In our test, “Comfort Mode” proved to be just right for the back roads of Malibu, not too heavy, yet not sloppy. Unfortunately, drivers are just going to have to accept, in this day and age, that hydraulic power steering is going the way of the Dodo. The “feedback” provided by varying hydraulic pressure that most driving enthusiasts long for is soon to be nothing more than a memory. So, as electric power steering systems go, is the adjustable system on the M4 going to detract from the driving experience enough to make the M4 less than the “ultimate driving machine”? Not likely. Its “gold standard” engine is more than enough to make most driving fanatics forget about a few missing hydraulic lines.
How about that engine? Lets start with the pros: There are 406 ft-lb.s of torque from as low as 1,850 rpm and up to 5,500 rpm. All 425 horses are available from 5,500 rpm all the way up to 7,300 rpm. This is an extremely flexible power plant. It pulls hard from as low as 2,500 rpm for effortless acceleration. And when you want to wring its neck, you’ll find that this is a fast car, a very fast car. Furthermore, as inline sixes are naturally balanced (no balanced shafts required), this three-liter twin turbo is silky smooth all the way to its 7,600-rpm redline.
Now for the cons: With the new twin turbo I-6, there is less to distinguish the M4’s character from that of a standard 435i. Its exhaust note is essentially the same. Its “boosty” power delivery is similar. The only real difference comes in at near redline where the twin-turbo engine reaches up past 7,500 rpm. With the E93 M3’s V-8, there was much to distinguish it from the standard 335i coupe. Induction roar, exhaust note, & power delivery were decidedly more NASCAR than European sports sedan. M badges were almost unnecessary as every detail screamed, “I’m not your average 3-series!”
Let’s not forget about gear selection. Although a 6-speed manual transmission is available, in keeping with the theme of electronics taking over the cockpit, our tester came with the 7-Speed M Double Clutch Automatic Transmission. However, not wanting to wrest complete control away from the driver, BMW designed the unit to include a host of driver-programmable parameters. It can be manually shifted or fully automatic. Throttle mapping, shift points, shift engagement, etc. are all customizable. And, for those who want the best possible 0-60 times, launch control is there to help.
As if the M4 driving experience wasn’t already adjustable enough, we haven’t even discussed the suspension yet. As with, what seems like everything else, damping can be set to Comfort, Sport, or Sport +. When combined with the chassis’ near 50/50 weight distribution, there really isn’t a scenario in which this convertible feels out of place.
So, who should buy an M4 convertible? Anyone looking for a high-performance convertible that is big enough to seat four in comfort, but still nimble enough to challenge vehicles in the sports car class such as the Porsche 911 and Corvette Stingray should consider the M4. Anyone looking for a vehicle with multiple personalities (one that can be programmed for a track day or for a relaxing Sunday drive) should consider the M4. At a minimum base price of $72,500, there are certainly less expensive domestic alternatives. A Mustang GT convertible starts at just a tick under $43,000. A Chevy Camaro ZL1 convertible will start just over $60K but also offers a 155 horsepower advantage over the Bimmer. That said, neither domestic option offers the same overall package of luxury and sports car handling.
Experiencing every nuance of the BMW M4 Convertible would take weeks at least. Driving it at nine tenths on a professional circuit would likely unlock a whole new personality and performance envelope. As Droptops & Dirt takes place over one day, this review serves as a first impression and nothing to be taken as the last word on the subject. For example, our tester was fitted with BMW’s Active M Differential. This feature is all but transparent during spirited driving. It would certainly take track testing and a lot of number crunching to discover its full benefit. The full track test will likely take place in late October when the Motor Press Guild holds its annual “Track Day”. Until then, please click the video below for a “virtual” road test. If reading in print, please visit The Steering Column on Youtube (https://goo.gl/DQlU1E). Please leave questions and comments below or email Kyle at firstname.lastname@example.org.