Executive wheels: BMW fail


There are plenty of people out there who would love the BMW M4, I am sure – indeed, I saw and talked with many of them during my test-drive week. Most of them were teen-age boys (I have a son in high school, so I run into many teen-age boys) and men in their early 20s who all would have to wait several years (if ever) before they could afford a BMW M4.

I pretty much detested the BMW M4 and was glad when they came and picked it up.

Let’s be clear: it is one of the coolest-looking cars on the street. It is sleek, low and in the Austin Yellow Metallic paint job they provided on my evaluation model (a sort of weird, highly noticeable green really), this car stands out. The side mirrors are especially noticeable – they are very aerodynamic, of course, but they have these odd off-shoots that look like the Imperial storm troopers in Star Wars or the evil aliens in the movie Independence Day. There’s definitely an out-of-this-world vibe to this car.  

The M4 looks as if it’s going 85 mph when it’s standing still. And when you drive it, well, let us just say that 85 mph is at the low end of what it is capable of. It likes to be driven fast, and it is very easy – easy – to get it over 85 mph without thinking. It accomplishes this via its 3.0-liter turbocharged I6 engine, which pours out an amazing 425-hp.

But oddly – and this goes a long way to why I didn’t like the car – operating it in the city at normal driving speeds is very unexciting. The car sits low, doesn’t take bumps very well – you have to be careful about bottoming out at even the slightest dips – and while the driving on the highway at speed is tight and responsive,  on city streets it comes across as herky-jerky.

Plus, the automatic transmission is odd. All BMWs of late have this rather pretentious fancy gear shift in automatic, with push-button “Park” and a sort of manual-like shift into gear, but in the M4 they have made it even more pretentious: There is no “Park” until you hit the push-button “off” switch. And the car always feels like it is a manual – at stoplights or signs on a slant, the car rolls back like a manual with the clutch in as if it is out of gear (this is called, on the sticker, M Double-Clutch Transmission). It just feels weird, and I thought I would get used to it, but I didn’t.

I have said many times that I am not a great BMW fan – my basic instinct is that they drive well but are way, way over engineered and too technical for their own good. I realize, however, that many people like this, so take it for what’s it’s worth. So within BMW I also have a bias: I prefer the less sophisticated models – I like the 3 more than the 5 and the 5 more than the 7, etc., and I am not a fan at all of these “M” high performance models.

For the record, the M4 had great seats – quite comfortable in the stiff European keep-you-awake sort of way – and the seats included a lighted “M” logo in the back of the seat, a very cool addition (as I said earlier, this is a very cool-looking car). This is a coupe (also not my favorite kind of car) and so the back seat is quite small, and getting in and out of there is quite challenging. Also, there is very little storage in the M4 – e.g. small glove box, small compartments in the doors – and the console storage bin, such as it is, is pretty much taken up with the hookups for the hands-free phone.

Another thing – and this is a BMW oddity – the radio/sound system stays on for many minutes after you turn the car off, and you have to lock the car with the key fob to get the music to stop – in most cars the music stops when you open the door.

The biggest problem with this car is the price. The base price for the M4 Coupe is $64,200 (there is a convertible M4 available for a base of $72,500). While it includes some nice stuff standard – brake and stability control, xenon adaptiv4 headlamps, power seats, a nice base audio, etc. – they have added on packages here with lighting (automatic high beams), the $2,900 M double-clutch transmission (which I didn’t like), M carbon ceramic brakes ($8,150) and much other stuff – that brings the bottom line to $86,200.  

Really? Nearly $90,000 for a souped-up coupe BMW? There are people who would appreciate this car, I am sure – but I’m not one of them.