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Auto review: BMW M4 has big grille, big power -- and big identity crisis

Henry Payne, The Detroit News on

Published in Automotive News

Say hello to the 2021 BMW M4 coupe. B stands for “big”: big kidney grille, big proportions, big power, big sticker price.

Big ambition.

Most of it works, but the big news is that M4 is no longer the brand’s premier track rat. That title belongs to the smaller, apex-slicing M2 coupe — a rocket with the same proportions as the 2000 E46 M3 that established M as the handling standard for performance coupes. Twenty years later, M badge proliferates throughout the BMW lineup, from the M2, M5 and M8 to even M versions of its X3 and X5 SUVs.

And as the M4 (now the coupe’s badge, M3 is a sedan) has grown, it has shed some of its athletic identity to the nimbler M2. If today’s M2 is a scalpel, then the M4 is, well ... having a bit of an identity crisis.

It’s a tweener between the M2 and the 600-horsepower M5 hammer. Like a 6’8” NBA player who wants to play guard. Or an electric guitar player who prefers Beethoven concertos. In M4’s case it wants ... Ford Focus RS-like drift mode.

That’s right, drift mode.

 

On M1 Concourse’s Champion Speedway track, the M4 felt confused. Exploding out of the Turn 6 hairpin onto the back straight, the 473-horsepower, twin-turbo, 3.0-liter mill soared. I ripped off quick manual shifts — long live the manual! — as BMW’s inline-6 cylinder’s endless torque curve lit up the digital RPM instrument display. Thanks to M-mode, that display can be projected on the windscreen in my direct line of sight so I could upshift before the torque wave slammed into the 7,200-RPM redline.

But as I entered Champion’s long Turn 7, M4 suddenly wanted to be a Fast and Furious drifter — its rear stepping out — rather than firmly planted like Ms of old. The rubbery manual shifter doesn’t help, making it hard to find gears under heavy g-loads. The smooth engine and ragged handling clash.

Blame M’s confusion on three traction modes — Stability control ON, Stability Control OFF and the M Drift Analyzer (aka, drift mode) with its 10 settings. On M1’s skid pad afterward, I rotated around pylons like I was a steel horse negotiating rodeo barrels. The Drift Analyzer is a fun challenge to harness — though by the time you figure it out, your expensive Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tires may be reduced to dust.

It all felt like too much. How do you say “Jump the shark” in German?

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