BMW M4 GTS (2016) First Drive

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South Africa has been allocated only 25 units (out of a production run of 700) of the BMW M4 GTS... They've all been sold and deliveries of the R2.1-million 368 kW track-focused machine will commence in September 2016. So what's the ultimate M4 like to drive, then? UK correspondent Kyle Fortune unleashed the GTS on Barcelona's F1 circuit to find out 

By Kyle Fortune

We’re at the Circuit de Catalunya in Spain, which motorsport aficionados will recognise as the home of the Spanish F1 Grand Prix (since 1991) and the sport’s most well-known test circuit. The track is 4.7 kilometres long, comprises 16 turns and has a hugely long and fast straight.

Before I get to grips with the M4 GTS on the storied Barcelonan asphalt, BMW M boss Frank van Meel talks me around the BMW M4 GTS as it awaits me in the pitlane. The GTS’ suspension is bespoke: to the lightweight aluminum control arms, wheel carriers and axle subframes of the standard M4, BMW has added ball-joint and elastomer bearings, along with a coil-over setup (that’s adjustable in 3 ways). One of the engineers that developed the GTS' adjustable suspension says its got 16 clicks for rebound and 14 clicks for high-speed compression, with a further 6 for low-speed compression. The ride height is adjustable too, while the anti-roll bars are thicker. It’s all been tuned to accommodate the GTS’ lower weight, greater performance and sharper focus.


A track-day thoroughbred, the M4 GTS offers myriad levels of adjustment to suit driver preferences and track conditions.

Highly adjustable for on-track performance

This really is a car that BMW expects its owners to take to race tracks, and fiddle with each and every of those settings to get the very best from the GTS. The aerodynamics are adjustable, too, the front splitter going from mild to wild in its most extreme setting, jutting out front with all the subtlety of a Japanese Bosozuko-style apron in maximum attack mode. The rear wing is a little bit more subtle – but only just!

The GTS isn’t shy then, and continuing the theme are the busy looking alloy wheels, shod with Michelin Pilot Sport Cup tyres and partly painted in Acid Orange lacquer. If you do (somehow!) manage to miss the sight of the car, then you’ll certainly hear it. A standard M4 is hardly a quiet machine, but the GTS has the measure of it. Titanium exhausts not only shed a few useful kilograms from the GTS’ kerb weight (1 585 kg), but also give the über M4's engine a harder, edgier note. There are more options, of course: you can drop the unsprung mass by another 7 kg by opting for carbon-fibre rimmed wheels and then there’s the Clubsport package, which includes a cage and super lightweight carbon-fibre front seats equipped with 6-point racing harnesses.


If the Acid Orange alloys don't distinguish the M4 GTS enough, its protruding rear spoiler certainly will.

Speaking of the Clubsport package, those brilliant seats and harnesses are undoubtedly cool... until you realise you’ve done them up and not closed the door. Loosening them again to do so and reaching forward you have to pull some basic web straps, fitted to simpler door panels, which do without fripperies like oddment-stowage pockets. That, the cage behind you (and the lack of seats that it brings with it) adds to the specialist, racing feel.

Thumbing the starter button only adds to the excitement, as the highly-tuned 3.0-litre 6-cylinder motor of the GTS fires with a gloriously indulgent flare; blipping the throttle prompts the sort of crackling, exotic metallic shriek that’s fitting given the Circuit de Catalunya pit lane setting.

Added water injection system

Ostensibly it’s the same 3.0-litre turbocharged six-cylinder engine as that in any other M4, but BMW’s M division has added a water injection system. There’s some clever science behind it: water and combustion are not usually friendly partners, but if mixed right, and by right here I mean before the bang, wasser has its uses. A fine mist is injected into the intake plenum chamber, its evaporation reducing intake temperature enough to improve combustion, while reducing the likelihood of engine knock and unburnt fuel. All of which allows the GTS’ motor to feature higher boost pressure and earlier spark timing.


The highly tuned 3.0-litre biturbopetrol engine is cradled by a carbon-fibre brace and features water-injection technology.

Peak power is quoted as 368 kW (up from the 317 kW of the standard M4) and that new peak is developed at 6 250 rpm. Torque improves to 600 N.m at 4 000 to 5 000 rpm, allowing the M4 GTS to reach 100 kph from standstill in a claimed time of just 3.8 seconds. The top speed is limited to 305 kph, though despite the additional performance BMW claims it’s just as efficient (8.3 L/100 km). Something for nothing then, or at least something for a 5.0-litre tank of distilled water in the boot where the spare wheel would usually sit. The difference, says BMW, is in the upper end of the 3.0-litre engine’s performance, the water injection system is only really effective at 5 000 rpm and above, right up to the 7 600 rpm redline.

The reality is different. Despite an engine, which internally, is unchanged, it feels quite removed from its regular M4 relation. There’s more immediacy, regardless of revs, less obvious lag, the 3.0-litre’s muscularity more apparent everywhere, to the obvious advantage of speed.

There’s no real particular element that stands out as defining the GTS. Sure, the engine’s stronger, more eager and, thanks to that freer-breathing titanium exhaust, so much sweeter sounding, but it’s combined with a suspension setup that, thanks to the revisions, allows you to make the most of the car's performance/handling potential. The weight savings over the standard car are nominal (especially when you consider the bulk added back in by the cage), but the package feels like there’s less mass, creating less inertia and the sensations that are transferred to the driver are upped significantly as a result.


Ironically, the steering system – not a standard M4's best trait – is the GTS fanciest party trick.

The difference is the steering

The standard M4's steering is merely average, but the GTS’ elevates it past good and into the sphere of great. There’s an immediate connection: the steering wheel tells you everything that’s going on at the front wheels. That’s direction, grip and surface detail, so that the unique settings that the M4 GTS offers have a massive impact on steering feel. There’s no slack, so the turn-in is immediate, removing the numbness that’s apparent in the standard car.

That’s on a track, of course, but the people who tarmac Spanish roads in such a way that they’re glass smooth didn’t get the memo when doing the Circuit de Catalunya. It’s bumpy, the topography more road-like than those that access it, which, as Van Meel admits, was a tough challenge to set the car up for. If the steering works here, it’ll work on the road, being communicative and rich in detail, rather than busy and overbearing.  

On this track, the BMW M division representatives suggest they might have liked to soften the GTS a smidge. That much is obvious following turn one, the rear bumping and squirming as it copes with big compressions mid-bend. Thing is, there’s no drama in it, the GTS translating what’s going on to you with a clarity that would be impressive in something weighing half as much again. It is a detailed, interesting and hugely engaging drive.


The BMW M4 GTS excels at relaying its interaction with the track surface to the driver in a constant dialogue.

And a hilarious drive, too, the chassis allows a humungous amount of yaw from those rear wheels; the GTS flatters its driver, so it's easy to adopt a fast in, slide out approach to cornering, powering out with as much lock on the steering as you like. The brakes are mighty, the carbon ceramic discs shrugging off the repeated high-speed stops down the main straight while retaining good feel and not going long in the pedal.

If there’s a weak link in the GTS’ setup it’s the newcomer's transmission, however: the paddle-shifted M DCT dual-clutch automatic feels like it’s playing catch-up, so it’s good rather than great, lacking the intimate immediacy that everything else offers up.

Summary

To put it as simply as I can: the BMW M4 GTS is a driver’s car in the league of the very best. If you don’t take my word for it, consider that it’s been around another track, yes, the Nurburgring, in 7 minutes 28 seconds. That’s Porsche Carrera GT fast, or if you want a slightly more contemporary reference, as quick as the Ferrari 458 Italia. It's exotica-like performance from an M car... all of which kind of makes the premium that BMW demands for the GTS seem, well, reasonable. "It's the car the M4 should have been from the outset", hardcore enthusiasts might say. Whether you agree or not, more please BMW...

Watch the M4 GTS as it merrily smokes up a racetrack: 

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