By far the most interesting way to specify a new BMW M3 sedan or M4 coupe is with rear-wheel drive and a manual transmission. Just do it
On road and track we’ve been impressed with the latest, G80-chassis BMW M3 sedan (from $150,500), M4 coupe (from $155,500) and M4 convertible ($182,500). The atrocious ride quality of the previous-gen F80 has been binned, replaced with an E46-evoking suppleness combined with punchy drivetrains – and two truly great gearboxes.
Most buyers will opt for their M4 or M3 with an automatic, and indeed, if you want the most power (the 375kW Competition) or if you need AWD (which is mandatory on the cabrio and incoming M3 Touring wagon), you can only have the new eight-speed performance-grade ZF torque converter automatic.
Thankfully, the auto is competent, quick-witted, and really smooth compared to the old M-DCT automated manual used in the old M3 and M4. But unless max-power bragging rights, a convertible, a wagon, or AWD are truly necessary – we strongly recommend you opt for the six-speed manual.
At this point it’s clear we kinda-like virtually any M3 or M4 we get into: these are muscular, brawny, usable cars done right – leaving aside the issue of the bizarre front-end styling that is a truly polarising feature. We won’t dwell on it.
But while they’re all very good, by far the most fun we’ve had behind the wheel of a new-gen G80 BMW is in the standard-output, rear-wheel drive M4 coupe with the manual transmission, which after a few years of relatively dull BMW stick-shifts, is an unexpectedly great match for the S58 3.0-litre twin-turbo inline-six.
No M3 or M4 is a cheap car per se, but it’s handy that the best M3s and M4s – being the manuals – are actually $11,000 cheaper than their RWD/automatic counterparts, partially because they have slightly lower specification and are 22kW/100Nm down compared to the ‘Competition’ grade autos.
In the real world, the slight power and moderate torque disadvantages are meaningless, partially because ‘facts’, and partially because you feel much more like you are part of the overall machine when you’re rowing your own – the world seems to be coming at you faster.
The M4 manual has a claimed 0-100km/h time of 4.2sec while the M4 Competition auto with RWD says it’ll put down the same run in 3.9sec – three tenths, or seven percent, quicker. Not really chalk and cheese. All G80s are portly but the manual is also 25kg lighter, at 1700kg.
The autos are point-and-shoot; many will prefer this, but the Audi RS5 does a better job of the laser-guided weapon thing. The M3 and M4 have always been about their supple chassis, ignoring a few aberrations along the way. The G82 M4 returns to this fold, so why not choose the feelsome manual that leans into the rest of this car’s talkative, friendly, quite-sensual demeanour?
Besides, with a short shift and a rather forgiving 550Nm underfoot from 2650-6130rpm (look at that wave!) – not to mention auto-blip downshifting – even manual transmission beginners will find this car pretty easy to drive. It’s hard to stall the thing or even shift roughly.
We’ve driven a few BMW manuals in recent years that failed to inspire – such as the briefly-optional six-speed on the current-gen Z4 convertible. Even if this transmission shares bits and bobs with that one, it’s clear plenty of work has been done on feel – from clutch to shifter.
Partially, it’s down to the enlightened partnership between the new-to-M4 S58 3.0-litre inline six-cylinder engine with twin mono-scroll turbos. The surprisingly linear torque delivery suits the six-ratio manual, with enough low-end torque to forgive high-gear corner exits but enough of the 353kW peak power nestled at 6250rpm that you want to rev the S58 out.
And you’re rewarded for doing so. This engine, particulate-filtered as all modern European petrol motors must be, sounds just OK with the slick eight-speed auto but something has been liberated here when paired with the manual. Other road testers have noticed it too. Whether it’s a technical quirk or a small gift to the dwindling set of smart buyers who know this transmission is the one to buy, we’re not sure.
We opted to leave the trick auto-blip downshift tech engaged for most of our drive – the pedals are decently spaced for old-school heel-toeing and there is a place for that, but when you’re storming along Austrian and Bavarian back-roads, headed for Munich in fading summer light, it’s nice when the experience just comes together perfectly.
And it really seems to. There’s a beautiful consistency in the M4 manual’s control surfaces: mid-weighted clutch with just enough pressure feeding back to remind you of the engine’s beef; short-ish but reasssuringly heavy throw; pleasant but clear take-up from the engine as you let out the clutch.
We wouldn’t exactly call a BMW M4 a momentum car, but it’s a car that makes maintaining momentum easy and rewards you for doing so. Keen drivers who realise they pair well with a given car know the fizzy, warm feeling from discovering their motor strings corners together in a way that feels natural, and organic – we had that with the G82 M4 manual.
The steering isn’t up to the high-highs from the hydraulic power steering days of the E46 and E92, but feel is creeping back in as BMW gets better at electric racks. There’s an element of being held at a distance from the tiller by the sheer thickness of it: M Division seems to think an absurdly beefy rim means ‘sporty’ but the best-of-breed M cars of days gone by didn’t need this.
Still, the M4 isn’t afraid to show its well-balanced, rear-drive demeanour via throttle steer, with nips of oversteer possible with all nannies on – though it’s when you switch into M Dynamic Mode, which allows a really nice but safe level of steering correction from the rear axle that you find a great groove with this two-door.
But it’s the gearbox that elevates the package to a seriously memorable vehicle – the sort you want to buy, drive and keep for a long time. The supple suspension that delivers excellent ride quality for a performance coupe only seals the deal, making this car a genuinely usable daily.
The M4 manual has, perhaps fittingly, manual cruise control – not the adaptive, radar-guided sort that maintains a distance from the car in front. It does have active lane keeping assist, though, which is well-tuned, and blind spot monitoring.
BMW critics often reference the similarity between cabins from the Bavarian brand. Simply put, we don’t care: give us a high-quality, handsome and functional interior and we’re happy. If the 1 Series hatch gets it too, that doesn’t diminish the M4 if the materials, tech and build quality are all up to scratch.
And they are up to scratch: BMW’s hard-earned reputation for building the most intuitive cabin tech in the game is honoured here with hardware and software that complements the driver rather than intruding on the rewarding driving experience.
Uncomplicated twin digital screens present clear information – especially the centre touchscreen, backed up with an iDrive rotary knob, simple menus and wireless Apple CarPlay mirroring. Available Harman-Kardon sound is standard in Australia but even the base stereo, fitted to our tester in Germany, was fine.
Note: our test car had comfort seats, rather than the carbon buckets seen in the file image above.
We sometimes rue BMW’s move away from handsome analogue instrumentation, especially because the M4’s digital instrument cluster doesn’t really present any info that old watchface dials with a centred digital speedo didn’t. You can put a map in there but it is generic and unlabelled, totally unlike the Audi RS5’s immersive Google Earth view of the world.
We liked that our tester was fitted with the M4’s standard seats, rather than the oppressively tight carbon buckets that are the halo option for the G82 car. The carbon seats look cool but their bolstering is incredibly tall and there’s a rather awkward crotch-located carbon piece we don’t love. Go the ‘comfort’ seats, in fine merino leather – they’re already sporty enough, as well as being heated and electrically-adjustable in 16 ways. Seat cooling is $1800 well-spent.
The driving position is appropriately low and ergonomics are a strong point, with all key controls falling right to hand. We’re still unsure as to why M prefers such a beefy steering wheel rim, though; great old M3s of old didn’t seem to have such engorged-handed pilots.
Storage and practicality are all good with a smattering of covered and uncovered bins, plus wireless phone charging and room for bottles in the doors.
As you’d expect for a large-ish coupe – more like a two-door sedan – the M4’s back seats are inherently usable if inconvenient to access. Family buyers will prefer the M3 sedan (available with manual) or the incoming, 2023 M3 Touring (AWD, auto only).
Build quality is high, with zero rattles or creaks elicited across a week of hard driving.
Brighter interior colours are available – like this!
Tap right into the M4’s 353kW of performance and preference the lower gears and you’ll consume plenty of 98-octane petrol – when you’re hard and on it, expect something like 13-15L/100km and you are in the ballpark.
Thankfully, sixth gear is reasonably tall (for Australian speeds at least – even at 230km/h the engine is only hitting 5000rpm) and reasonable economy can be achieved on long, steady, 110km/h runs. Under 10L/100km is manageable.
There is little doubt future generations of M3 and M4 will include at least some hybridisation – perhaps an adaptation of the next M5’s plug-in hybrid donk. This will almost certainly knock out manual-transmission compatibility.
Servicing plans can be purchased for the M4, though BMW does not reveal pricing relating to M models for its ‘Service Inclusive’ deal that lasts five years and 80,000km. It wouldn’t be cheap, but at least you don’t have to open your wallet every year – which is luxurious.
BMW Australia maintains a short vehicle warranty compared to other luxury brands. At three years/unlimited kilometres, the M4’s warranty falls short of AMG’s C63 and the Audi RS5 – both of which have five years of coverage.
The G82 BMW M4 is a very good car – a return to form for BMW’s mainstay two-door performance car.
But a G82 BMW M4 with the six-speed manual transmission is a great car.
We’ve been saying it for a number of years now – cars like this will not last much longer. If you want to buy a brand-new manual BMW M car with great power, modern technology, and a warranty, you’ll need to get your skates on.
Manual take rates are already very low, sadly. We know BMW will bring the new M2 to Australia with a manual and that will be even more of a collector’s item – but as a larger, more comfortable, supple cruise missile, the M4 coupe manual makes plenty of sense too. You can even get one with back doors with the M3.
Given AMG and Audi closed the door on manual transmissions years ago, it’s really BMW out here alone in this space with even the option of shifting your own gears. If that’s something that interests you, don’t miss the opportunity.
Key specs (as tested)
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