M Phwoar!

With 500hp, a reworked chassis, water injection and a 306kmh top speed, the new M4 GTS is an M4 we can get genuinely excited about

by JETHRO BOVINGDON
PHOTOGRAPHY by ASTON PARROTT

h how we scoffed when the M3 GTS was revealed back in 2009. We could get on board with the Jägermeister-orange look, but the pretty pathetic little rear wing, an extra 362cc for the normally aspirated V8 bringing a small 30bhp hike in power, and a sprinkling of carbonfibre, Perspex and titanium saving 75kg? It didn’t seem a huge return for an asking price of £117,630. To put it into context, that was more than twice the price of an E92 M3 Competition Package, which was £55,365 at the time. You could only reason that you’d have to be mad to buy the GTS. Then we drove one and realised it was pretty special. Then we drove one again – this time extensively, on great roads, at the Nürburgring and anywhere else we could get our hands on it. The price suddenly seemed a lot less important. The car was sensational.

So today I’m going to try to put my cynicism to one side and remember just how magical the M3 GTS felt, particularly during one amazing lap of the Ring that will stay with me for a very long time. Even in the company of a 997 GT3 RS 4.0 (evo 171), its balance, feel and performance were pretty much perfect. Can the new M4 GTS match that magic and in so doing blow away our doubts about the M4’s rather dull turbocharged engine and spiky, slightly numb chassis? I really hope so.

Before we find out, let’s collectively scoff – just a bit. After all, the M4 GTS is £120,500 and doesn’t bump the 3-litre straight-six’s capacity by a single cc. The turbochargers are unchanged, there are no trick new forged internals. It is more powerful than a standard M4, though. Power is up to 493bhp (from 425bhp) at 6250rpm and torque to 442lb ft (from 406lb ft) at 4000-5500rpm thanks to a new water injection system, which cools the intake temperature, feeds the combustion chamber with denser air and allows a boost increase from 2.2 to 2.5bar. It works under full load above 5500rpm, and during track use the 5-litre water tank located in the boot will need a refill with distilled water at the same time the fuel tank needs a fill-up.

‘The GTS is so far removed from an M4.
It feels every bit as hardcore as I’d hoped’

The GTS also features all the lightweight savings you’d expect: no rear seats, a carbonfibre bonnet, carbon-ceramic brakes and a full titanium exhaust system. You can even order ‘M Carbon Compound’ wheels (carbon rim, alloy centres). But add in the roll-cage and the plumbing for the water tank and you get up to 1510kg, just 30kg less than the standard car with the same DCT gearbox (the GTS isn’t available with a manual ’box). Disappointing. However, with the new extendable front splitter and adjustable rear wing, there are sizeable aerodynamic gains, with up to 28kg of downforce at the front and 93kg at the rear at 186mph (or 12kg front, 40kg rear at 124mph). The GTS also features KW adjustable dampers that allow you to tailor the ride height, low- and high-speed compression damping and the rebound settings, too. BMW provides a recommended road setup and a track setup, but of course you’re free to click and experiment as you like.

It’s 9pm when I collect the GTS from BMW UK’s headquarters in Farnborough. It’s parked in a puddle of orange light and looks, to my eyes, utterly bewitching. Sure, it lacks the razor-edged modernity of an Audi R8 or the evocatively distended drama of a 911 Turbo or GT3 RS, but the satin effect Frozen Dark Grey finish beautifully picks out its slim muscularity. There’s a selfish race-car functionality to the M4 GTS that many people just won’t ‘get’ but that hits each and every one of my buttons. Already I can imagine it streaked in brake dust and traces of spent rubber, tick-tick-ticking in a pitlane after a hard workout. Just 700 of these cars will be produced and I hope they all find their way onto racetracks regularly.
 
I’ve got a long motorway slog ahead of me and can’t spend too long daydreaming, so I stumble into the low-set Recaros, press the starter button and wince as a dry, harsh, resonant note pours out of the titanium exhaust. It disappears as quickly as it arrived, but dialling up the drivetrain setting to Sport or Sport+ re-ignites the soundtrack. It is ferociously loud. I settle for Sport for the drivetrain (I can’t bring myself to drive this thing in ‘Efficient’) and Comfort for the steering and get on my way.

By the time I leave the car park, the GTS feels so far removed from an M4. The low-speed ride is tough, the steering is heavy and gives the impression the front tyres are running lots of negative camber and the whole vibe is one of grumpy impatience. Out on the arterial roads I quickly discover that on cold Michelin Pilot Cup 2 tyres about 1mm of throttle equates to a spike of wheelspin and I’m berated by the traction control system. Yikes. It feels every bit as hardcore as I’d hoped. Maybe more so. On the motorway there’s an almost laughable level of tyre roar but the ride actually settles down nicely. It never morphs back into a standard M4, though. Every twitch of the steering wheel provokes a big reaction, every degree of extra throttle about another 10dB. I think I need a very good night’s sleep before really exploring this car’s character and capabilities. 

You can only sleep so well in a service station hotel and I haven’t got the time for a strong cup of coffee this morning, but the GTS is a pretty good way to shake off any remnants of tiredness, even on another short motorway hike. The road that peels off the three-laner runs for 36.1 miles before reaching the point where I’ll find photographer Aston Parrot eating a full English breakfast. You can tell how good this piece of road is by the satnav’s estimate that it’ll take me one hour and five minutes to make that distance despite only the lightest sprinkling of villages. I hit it at around 7.45am and it’s blissfully empty save for the odd tractor (dragging deeply treacherous mud). For the most part the surface is dry but very cold, but with already-warm Michelins that’s not so much of an issue and immediately I decide that Sport for the drivetrain, Sport+ for the steering (the added weight for once connects you more fully to the front tyres) and a quick prod of the DSC button to select the more lenient MDM mode is the perfect setup. 

Some time less than an hour and five minutes later I roll up to the hotel. The GTS has scared me two or three times thanks to unexpected-claggy-mud-meets-2.5bar-of-boost moments, deafened several birds, cows and sheep, and sucked half a tank of fuel and a good glug of distilled water from its trick injection system. It’s filthy, hot and, I decide, completely magnificent. ‘What’s it like?’ asks Aston. We can’t really print my reply but it ends with ‘mega’ and starts with the letter F. I had a suspicion that today might be fun but it’s shaping up to be completely idyllic. Sorry for the lack of suspense, but I adore the M4 GTS.

‘The whole car just zings with feedback.
And it’s telling you that you’re just scratching the surface’

After initial exposure to a car you really love, it’s often hard to understand quite why you love it. Instead you just drive with a bit more commitment, little-by-little, until you feel absolutely connected. Buzzing across the landscape in a bubble of excitement, just immersed in it all. So you grab at words here and there that might go some way towards summing it up. With the GTS I’d probably go for ‘extreme’ and ‘agile’ to start with, but really what shines out is ‘balance’. Beneath the fury, the noise, the moments of terror when the torque gets ahold of the rear wheels over a crest or on a damp patch and fizzes them up in a heartbeat, there’s an innate and extraordinary balance that gives an underlying confidence that you can deal with whatever comes next. It really is exquisite and for a car with such enormous potential, extremely accessible. Over the course of the day more detail floods in to add colour and texture to the picture but the overriding impression remains the same. The M4 GTS is big, big fun.

We climb up from a village and the GTS stares out across another challenge. It looks forbidding: a long squiggle of bumpy, weather-beaten tarmac that streams through the moor. Not the usual destination for a hardcore, track-focussed machine. The only relief is that the claustrophobic tunnel of hedgerows is gone so I should be able to lean on the front tyres on corner entry and see how the chassis copes. With a bit more room to explore I can wring the engine out, too. That wicked exhaust note is erring towards the absurd but it does give the engine some much-needed character and upgrades it from an impressive, business-like power unit to an engine you want to provoke and exploit. It hits really hard in the low and mid range but then gathers pace towards maximum power. Throttle response is sharp and although the delivery doesn’t sparkle at the top end there is a newfound energy. I’d say Sport+ creates a throttle that’s a little too binary but in Sport it feels responsive and intuitive. 

The GTS howls and crackles across the moor, the M DCT ’box snapping through changes almost imperceptibly. In the old M3 GTS the gearchanges felt more mechanical and more satisfying as there was no slack at all in the tight, normally aspirated drivetrain. Here as in, say, the 488 GTB, the precision of the gearchanges seems slightly softer-edged beneath the turbocharged delivery. We’re talking degrees here, but it’s worth noting nevertheless. I guess the truth is that despite the astonishing soundtrack the engine hasn’t magically morphed into one of the true greats. 

Little niggles creep in at times. The ceramics aren’t quite as feelsome as those of a GT3 RS and the pedal isn’t so heroically consistent as those hardcore Porsches’. I think I might tinker with the front suspension settings to tighten up response still further – or maybe extending the front splitter (it has 60mm of adjustment and is fully retracted today) would do the trick. The MDM mode for the traction control still feels a bit too restrictive to me, too. The steering wheel also has a ridiculously thick rim. And that engine… Much as I love the pops and bangs and crackles and howls, it’s just not inspirational like the old M3 GTS engine nor quite as ferocious as something like a GT-R or 911 Turbo unit. 

Yet even as I write this stuff I can’t help smiling. My heart thumps when I remember the rear wheels spinning-up over sharp bumps, I can still feel that easy, effortless balance through one cresting corner in particular that ended every time with a fast-paced lick of oversteer. On that day, on that road, I enjoyed every second. There are plenty of hard questions for the M4 GTS to answer, though. Perhaps the most pressing is how can Porsche (them again) re-engineer a Cayman from front to back and price it just £9000 above the model below, yet BMW has to double the price of an M4 for that water injection system, a bit of carbonfibre, a tweak to the M Diff, some new suspenson components and some lovely dampers? Given that, I’m sure plenty of you can’t see the appeal of the M4 GTS in a world of GT3s, R8s and the 570S. You might be right. But if you measure the value a car offers by the smiles it creates and the memories it sears, then the M4 GTS is worth every penny. Just remember to warm up the tyres.

‘You feel absolutely connected. Buzzing across the landscape in a bubble of excitement, just immersed in it all’

Water injection system

The inherent problem with turbocharging is that by compressing the air in the intake chamber you also significantly increase its temperature. Hot air is less dense, less oxygen means less fuel can be ignited. The M4 is already fitted with an air-to-water intercooler to help cool the intake temperature, but the GTS goes further with its water injection system. 

It works by injecting a fine mist of water directly into the air chamber of the intake system. This water significantly cools the intake temperature and hence more fuel can be ignited, allowing the point of ignition to be advanced to improve power and efficiency. The temperatures of the pistons, exhaust valves and the turbochargers themselves are also reduced, as the exhausts gases are cooler.

As a result, boost pressure is increased from 2.2bar to 2.5bar. The lower temperatures are also said to reduce the formation of harmful emissions, particularly NOx. The system also means there is less over-fuelling for cooling purposes and BMW claims that the M4 GTS is about ten per cent more fuel efficient in hard track use thanks to its water injection system.

On track

Separate from our UK road drive, we also got to sample the M4 GTS on the F1 track in Barcelona during the car’s international press launch. We were permitted just six laps and we were also told that there was to be no drifting. About ten times. 

The cars were running the recommended track setup – much lower, stiffer and with the front splitter pulled right out and the rear wing running at its steepest angle. The car felt transformed again, with even more weight for the steering, plus a chassis with the authentic reactions of a race car. It was busy on the brakes and thumped over bumpier sections, but the way it floated through the turns teetering on the edge remained.

There was a physicality to the M4 GTS. It felt low, wide and created big forces, but there remained a progression to it that’s rare and deeply addictive. Just six laps wasn’t enough, but it was enough to know that the M Division has done a proper job with this car.

‘My heart thumps when I remember the rear wheels spinning-up. I can still feel that easy, effortless balance’

Engine In-line, 6-cyl, 2979cc CO2 199g/km
Power 493bhp @ 6250rpm
Torque 442lb ft @ 4000-5500rpm
Transmission Seven-speed dual-clutch, rear-wheel drive, limited-slip differential
Front suspension MacPherson struts, coil springs, adjustable dampers, anti-roll bar
Rear suspension Multi-link, coil springs, adjustable dampers, anti-roll bar
Brakes Carbon-ceramic discs, 400mm front, 380mm rear, ABS, EBD
Wheels 19in front, 20in rear
Tyres 265/35 R19 front, 285/30 R20 rear
Weight 1510kg
Power-to-weight 332bhp/ton 0-62mph 3.8sec (claimed)
Top speed 190mph (limited)
Basic price £120,500
On sale Now

BMW M4 GTS

BMW M3 GTS (E92)

Engine V8, 4361cc
Power 444bhp @ 8300rpm
Torque 324lb ft @ 3750rpm Transmission Seven-speed dual-clutch, rear-drive, limited-slip diff
Weight 1530kg
Power-to-weight 295bhp/ton 0-62mph 4.3sec (claimed)
Top speed 190mph (claimed)
On sale 2010-2011 (150 built)

BMW M3 CSL (E46)

Engine In-line 6-cyl, 3246cc
Power 355bhp @ 7900rpm   
Torque 273lb ft @ 4900rpm  
Transmission Six-speed SMG, rear-wheel drive, limited-slip diff
Weight 1385kg
Power-to-weight 260bhp/ton
0-62mph 4.9sec (claimed) 
Top speed 155mph (limited)
On sale 2003-2004 (1383 built) 

BMW M3 GT (E36)

Engine In-line 6-cyl, 2990cc
Power 291bhp @ 7000rpm   
Torque 238lb ft @ 3900rpm  
Transmission Six-speed manual, rear-wheel drive, limited-slip diff
Weight 1460kg
Power-to-weight 203bhp/ton
0-62mph 5.9sec (claimed) 
Top speed 155mph (limited)
On sale 1995 (350 built)

BMW M3 Sport Evolution (E30)

Engine In-line 4-cyl, 2467cc
Power 235bhp @ 7000rpm   
Torque 177lb ft @ 4750rpm  
Transmission Five-speed manual, rear-wheel drive, limited-slip diff
Weight 1200kg
Power-to-weight 199bhp/ton
0-62mph 6.5sec (claimed) 
Top speed 154mph (claimed)
On sale 1989-1990 (600 built) 

Earlier Extreme M3s

Against the Clock

by HENRY CATCHPOLE

‘If it’s slightly damp or even just cold it won’t be worth trying to get figures,’ said Jethro when I picked the M4 GTS up from him. He was right. When I arrived at Bruntingthorpe in the morning it was initially impossible to even get enough traction for the in-gear times for second and third gears. However, as the morning progressed, the sun came out and heated things up to a balmy 9 degrees C. The GTS still needed its Cup 2 tyres warming to get a decent launch, and if you aborted a run then the transmission required some time to recover before you could have another go. With the engine set to Sport+, DSC off and the gearbox in its fastest setting, you simply put your left foot on the brake and floor the throttle. The revs then stabilise at just under 3000rpm with the message Launch Control Active. But it wasn’t quite as simple as side-stepping the brake pedal, because if you kept the throttle buried then you simply lit up the rear tyres with far too much wheelspin. However, a very slight feathering of the throttle just tempered the wheelspin through first gear (1.7sec to 30mph is pretty impressive for a front-engined, rear-drive car), after which you could return the pedal to the bulkhead and just enjoy the ride with the ’box shifting itself.BMW claims 0-62mph in 3.8sec (0.3sec quicker than a regular M4 equipped with DCT). Here’s what we recorded.

There are plenty of other ingredients of sky-high quality, though. The steering is so precise, and because the suspension is so aggressive in its damping and geometry, the whole car just zings with feedback. (It helps that you’re locked into those lovely Recaros, of course.) What’s it telling you? Mainly that you’re just scratching the surface. Body control is excellent in the recommended road setting (ride height 624mm front, 631mm rear; rebound set at 6 clicks front and 7 rear, low-speed compression at 3 clicks front and 2 rear, high-speed compression at 6 front and 7 rear – just so you know). It’s not so low and stiff that it’s scraping body parts on the surface, nor is it being flung around by the bumps, but it does feel light, agile and also supremely controlled. Yes, it’ll hunt a bit for cambers under braking and the solidly mounted rear axle might occasionally thump over a series of rapid-fire bumps, but for the most part it just eats up direction changes, dances over rough roads and feels remarkably light on its feet. It might be just 30kg lighter than a standard M4 but it feels more like 300kg.

As mentioned, this control and connection is underscored by simply delicious balance. On clear-sighted corners you can roll the GTS into the apex and feel the front tyres start to slip wide, but as they do so the rear moves to match and then just overtake their angle, creating a sensation of amazing accuracy and fluidity. Gun the throttle and you’ll get a spike of oversteer to remind you that this is not some sort of playful giant MX-5 – but that only adds to the thrill. You’re in control of a car with biting performance and high lateral limits and yet you’re on top of it, making it move to your beat. The odd reminder that this car has sharp edges if you make a mistake or misjudge the surface… well, that’s where the satisfaction comes from.