The BMW M4 has been a staple of automotive Internet controversy since it's reveal in
Phoenix Austin Yellow. Lately that controversy has surrounded its name and its sound (following the demise of the legendary S65 V8), but after I experienced and filmed the ride above at this year's Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix, I realized how mind-blowing the M4 - and indeed any modern sports car - actually is.
If you get the chance to go attend PVGP, you'll find there one of the most impressive and diverse concours and race events one can attend in the northeastern USA. The variety is incredible, the quality is stunning, and the racing is, well, real; held on the streets around Schenley Park in the city, it's one of the few historic races on otherwise public roads. But a big part of my experience there this year was the M4.
And the experience I had with that car was not one of mechanical yearning, or a want for a different engine. It was instead one of intense appreciation for the work that goes into the engineering of thousands of carefully-built components designed to work in perfect harmony at full speed - and to continue to work in perfect harmony through dozens more hot laps, and then again on the return drive, and onward into years of use. It was a feeling of confidence in the M4 and its now-turbocharged engine, and most of all in the piloting skills of BMW Performance Driving School instructor Mike Renner.
The PVGP course is a brilliant, if shocking, place for a racing event. The course is tight, narrow, and unforgiving, with no runoff area to speak of and - at one point - a bridge over one of the city's numerous gorges. Yet as this course turned into a blur in Renner's excellent stewardship of the M4, reaching 120mph on the straight over the blind crest and sliding gracefully jut feet from spectators and drop-offs, I realized two things.
The first was that these cars are publicly available. Someone can and will walk into a BMW dealership and request this twin-turbocharged supercomputer of a car based on journalist reviews and pure lust (both admittedly worthy persuasions), and be handed the keys without truly experiencing its capabilities (for any potential owner, I would non-solicitingly recommend the BMW Performance Driving School, or at least a hot lap in one of these at an event). And that's a shame, because no road experience in speed and performance could ever compare to feeling the sturdiness of this car with a professional driver at the wheel.
The second realization was that other people will walk into a dealer lacking the same knowledge about this car's mind-blowing speed and grip capacity, and want to make it faster.
Like it or not, the M4 - and indeed almost any modern performance car - is not the same mechanical creation it was in even five years ago. While the S65 V8 of the E9x series was certainly advanced, it did have the benefit of displacement to aid it. The 3.0-liter twin-turbo in the M4 has no such luxury, and relies instead on being just one part of a finely-tuned creation to produce a confident, sturdy experience. For this reason, I have trouble imagining an M4 with a manual. But its also the first time I've realized that sometimes a car should remain stock.
I myself am a fan of classic vehicles, and have a vow of sorts not to drive anything built after 2005 for want of minimizing computerized involvement. I own three manual vehicles, one of which is an E24 BMW, and I enjoy making select alterations to my cars to create the mechanical driving experience I enjoy.
But the M4 cannot be treated with the same tuning abandon as sports cars of ten or fifteen years ago, at least outside of the professional realm. The car should be treated with respect to its capability, and most importantly to the harmony created in all its components. Sports car have changed, and its time we pause and appreciate that. The speed this car can achieve even on the bump-laden public roads of PVGP is something to be respected, and to claim that the car lacks something in performance is ridiculous.
The feeling of complete mechanical and electronic harmony may not be for everyone, but in no way is the M4s nature as a modern sports car a shortcoming. Rather, it's a testament to both the passage of time, and the eternal human quest for speed. We've reached a point where stock street cars manage to be mind-numbingly fast and consistent, and perhaps its best to take a moment not to think about improving the product, but to pause and appreciate exactly what performance street cars can do.