Once a generation, BMW sets out to make a car that pushes the definition of "road-legal race car" to its limit. Preceded by legendary machines such as the M3 CSL and (E92) M3 GTS, this super-rare M4 has astonishing performance potential and laser-sharp focus, but does its collector's item status cancel out its viability as a track car?
We like: It’s appreciably faster and handles much better than a standard M4.
We don’t like: As a road car, it's compromised and, because only 23 were allocated to SA, it's effectively priceless
- A less compromised option: Mercedes-AMG GT S is a well-sorted powerhouse that works both on the road and on the track. Not as driver-focused as the M4 GTS on the circuit, but arguably more composed on a public road
- For series-produced sportscar: Porsche 911 GTS will be here soon. Not far off the power of the M4 GTS and possesses a chassis bred for supreme performance
- More head-turning action: Jaguar F-Type SVR. More powerful than the Bimmer and with AWD. It’s slightly easier to tame than the GTS and achingly good-looking too.
What is it?
To put it simply: the most hardcore racecar-inspired machine that BMW has produced since the legendary M1 supercar of the late '70s. The M4 GTS feels raw and unfiltered: when the engine starts from cold, the Frozen Dark Grey machine's straight 6 lump splutters and heaves like it’s just been stabbed; not that it's particularly wounded, it's just... peeved. In all seriousness, when you finger the start button and the Bimmer's motor snaps to life, people and animals run for cover in fear. That’s because there’s a new power-enhancing titanium exhaust system installed in the M4 GTS – when the exhaust gases are forcefully persuaded to evacuate the combustion chamber, it sounds like a shotgun being fired down a metal drainpipe!
The M4 GTS has been designed and tuned to work on track and then adapted to deal with everyday road conditions. Only 23 units were allocated to South Africa and all were pre-sold before they landed. We’ve driven it on track, and were pleased with its capabilities, especially on the Barcelona circuit, which it was specifically set up for. Today, however, we’re on the road, where traffic and speed bumps abound; so, is it any good here?
M4 GTS takes over the GTS nameplate from the previous M3 GTS that never made it to South Africa
How does it fare in terms of…
Getting the pulse racing?
The M4's rear bench has been discarded in favour of an orangey gold roll cage and the front seats are positioned low and crafted from carbon fibre. You know from the moment you step inside the cockpit that this car takes itself very seriously. Power is up significantly (from 317 kW to 368 kW) and the torque has been stepped up too (from 550 Nm to 600 Nm). Kerb weight has been reduced to 1 510 kg, which equates to a 30 kg saving over the standard car. A water cooling system is installed to reduce air intake temperature meaning BMW can turn up the turbo boost for the M4 GTS.
Huge rear wing and conspicuous orange wheels might not be to everyone's taste
Those and a plethora of other mechanical changes all drain from memory the instant you fire up the Bimmer, however. The second your digits curl around the rim of the M4 GTS' Alcantara-clad steering wheel, the act of driving transforms into an analogue engagement between man and machine; the Bimmer is best savoured on a smooth open road that allows its pilot to tap into the visceral machine's sizeable power vat.
When driving enthusiastically, but not at the very limit, the coupe feels better planted than a standard M4 – a fact that can be appreciated by novices and experts alike. This GTS leeches to the tarmac as if its Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres have been coated with super glue. It's a step up in grip levels compared to the standard car. When you apply the throttle in wanton risk of life and limb in the standard car, the rear end feels a tad floaty, especially when the car's tasked to accelerate at full tilt. Here, on the M4 GTS, it just sits and catapults you forward without any loss of traction.
With this extra confidence in the grip levels, you can get a bit carried away and not realise how much extra corner speed you can actually carry. The flickering of the stability control warning light is the first warning, a slight twitch of the tail is next, but such predictable reactions are exactly the cues that driving enthusiasts enjoy. Suffice to say the M4 GTS is utterly rewarding to drive in extremis... if you're brave and skilled in equal measures.
The steering is another tangible change on the GTS, it’s been tuned for more immediate response. All you have to do is think about nudging the steering wheel by a smidge and the front end starts hunting down an apex. It’s very quick and more responsive than the standard car; you can really feel what the front is doing through the steering wheel. With fast steering, body roll needs to be reduced to a minimum, otherwise a car can become clumsy and slow to react to opposite direction changes. To that end... The GTS' specifically tuned suspension features thicker anti-roll bars and, should you take to track to reel off a series of white-knuckled laps, the front and rear spoilers are fully adjustable for optimal aerodynamic grip...
Apart from the matte paint finish, the test unit was adorned with acid orange wheels and that huge rear wing. It’s an unmissable machine, but you can’t hide the fact that it looks more "after-market tuner" than "factory fresh". It’s competing with supercars that look like supermodels, such as the F-Type SVR, AMG GT S or R and the Porsche 911 GTS. By comparison, the M4 GTS looks more like a beefy bodybuilder that skipped leg day.
Roll Cage in the back replaces the rear seats
Still, there is no denying the fact that people are magnetically drawn to the vicinity of the M4 GTS... Perhaps not in the way you want them to be, but in a "what have they done to that M4?" kind of way. An aesthetic critique is entirely subjective, of course, and this Bimmer is ultimately a landmark product in the Bavarian company's history, but perhaps a lighter matte hue would have been easier on the eye?
If all else fails, fire off a few rounds from the shotgun 3.0-litre straight-six turbo, get the race start sequence spot on and in 3.8 seconds you’ll be doing 100 kph – now that is a head turning figure for a product that was essentially developed from the platform of a family sedan (the F30).
The M4 GTS is billed as a track day special for the road, but what about when you’re not at the track, or on the way there? For what it claims to be, the BMW deals with road use reluctantly. The ride quality is very firm and the carbon seats, which adjust fore/aft only, don’t offer much padding when it comes to compressing bumps. When you see an unavoidable crevice or large cat eye in the M4's path, you instinctively brace for impact. There’s a solid thud that protrudes into the cabin, but the M4 GTS shakes it off quickly. Should you inadvertently traverse a very poor road; be prepared to have your fillings checked after the excursion.
Suede adorned interior gets the racing blood pumping
The Bimmer cruises along the freeway just fine (again, provided the road surface is fair), with its exhaust barking away restlessly behind you. Apart from a bit of numb bum, it’s not hard to see yourself driving a couple of hundred kilometres in one sitting on a freeway. But remember, to find desolated roads that would allow you to stretch the M4 GTS' legs a bit, you'd probably need to venture pretty far out of town anyway...
The front splitter also protrudes quite far in front of the GTS and is prone to scraping on driveways, inclines and kerbs – even in the highest setting. Be ultra vigilant with ramps, as after a while the expensive apron could look like the smashed shell of a hard-boiled egg just before you peel it.
The BMW M4 GTS cost R2 203 900 out of the box. It is now worth substantially more: anything that an avid collector is willing to pay for it...
We were extremely excited when we heard the M4 GTS was coming to South Africa, the previous M3 Frozen Edition was not compensation enough for missing out on the E92 M3 GTS. The track-optimised M4 impressed us on track in Barcelona and we couldn’t wait to try it at home. Unfortunately, our time with the GTS was too short to do any track work with it at Cape Town's Killarney circuit so we made do with a substantial number of mountain passes. As expected, prolonged exposure to the car in everyday conditions highlighted a few drawbacks. Firstly, the GTS isn’t quite as composed as some of its competitors on the road, especially when it comes to comfort. Secondly, it’s not quite the "supermodel" that the others are.
In search of the smallest weight gains, even the door handles were replaced in favour of these straps
Such is the rarity of the M4 GTS that you'd arguably be foolish to drive it where it could get in harm's way (which is practically everywhere) and, even then, only in short, sharp bursts. As 1 of 23 cars coming into the country, this BMW is extremely collectable. That means if you want to do a track day, for which the car is custom made, you run the risk of a) running out of driving talent and damaging or totalling the car or b) some punter in their modified monstrosity careering into your "priceless" Bimmer in one of those so-called "racing incidents". Even on specific track days for supercars, it’s unlikely you’ll get to open it up as these tend to be more like parades around circuits than hot-lapping sessions. They are also few and far between.
At the risk of sounding obtuse, the M4 GTS is what it is: an enthralling track car that is immensely quick and capable. There is a price to pay for BMW making this derivative so track-focused and that is a less than satisfying on-road experience. But, for the specific buyer the car is made for: a performance car/BMW aficionado for who money is no object, that will matter little. The GTS will take pride of place in their collection, will probably be driven only very occasionally and be mollycoddled to protect its future value. Suffice to say the M4 GTS is a watershed product for BMW's M Division... we feel privileged to have reviewed it and can't help but wonder what visceral performance product Bimmer will come up with next!
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