Auto123 reviews the 2020 BMW M4 Cabriolet.
Great cars can do a lot of things.
Obviously, they usually drive pretty well. That’s kind of a given, especially when we’re talking sports coupes and roadsters like the BMW M4 you see here.
They can inspire feelings of nostalgia; you can see a great car’s story, its ancestry, its place in automotive history and so on. Closer to home, they can evoke that feeling you had when you first got your license and, if we’re honest, pretty much every car seemed great because they were tickets to a freedom never previously enjoyed.
They can excite, impassion, inspire and so on – there are adjectives that work on a macro level here. And on a micro level, great cars make you want to just get in and drive, because you know what they can do, because you’ve researched them throughout the years in magazines and so on, and now it’s time to enjoy them for yourself.
Then, great cars can inspire you to find the best darn driving road you can – in my case, the 100-km stretch between Whistler Village and Lillooet, BC - because cars like the M4 deserve that kind of attention.
To be clear about the M4: because it’s part of the 4 Series at BMW as opposed to the 3 Series, the car uses the previous generation of the brand’s compact luxury-car platform, and not the all-new 3 Series architecture. The same goes for the M4s four-door sibling, the M3.
So what does that mean for the M4? Well, there are the obvious exterior styling differences – slightly smaller kidney grille, different headlight shape, more squared-off profile and so forth. But that’s not really a big deal, because the M versions of these cars already looked pretty different anyway, what with their wider tracks and the wider fenders required to accommodate the big fat tires and wheels and ultra-aggressive fascias loaded with vents and big splitters for better aero and cooling.
That’s fine with me because the M4 I tested looked stunning, all finished in metallic San Marino Blue paint, and with spidery 20-inch gunmetal alloy wheels hiding the blue brake calipers that have become synonymous with BMW’s M lineup. The M4 is muscular, taut and aggressive-looking, and it still turns heads, last year’s design or no.
The M4 cabriolet I drove also pulls off the neat trick looking better with its top in place, which folds nicely into the trunk (compromising cargo space, it has to be said) so you don’t get an unsightly hump like with Porsche 911 or Nissan 370Z. So you’re looking good either way - though just a little better with the top closed.
That said, having the M4 looking like a proper coupe with the roof up has a drawback. The roof takes about 25 seconds to deploy, meaning a stoplight interval usually isn’t enough time. You can do it while moving, yes, but you have to move so slowly that I ended up pulling over on most of my attempts.
Then there’s the weight issue. All the rods, springs, hinges and so on required for the roof add weight, to the point where the M4 cab weighs a substantial 220 kg more than its coupe sibling. That’s more weight than your average Canadian male adult, and that can be a bit of a problem at this level.
Inside, you see the previous-gen car in the traditional analogue gauge cluster (the 2020 3 Series gets a digital display as standard) and older infotainment interface, the main display of which doesn’t blend quite as well into the dash as in the current 3. You do have Apple CarPlay, though, connected via Bluetooth as opposed to a cable.
Past that, though, the differences are more cursory and the M4 remains a great place to sit. Especially for the driver thanks to the ultra-supportive seat, perfectly-angled steering wheel and the fact that everything is within easy reach. BMW has seating positions down pat, and it really makes you realize how important that factor is for performance cars.
So, it was top down – you’ll see why in a minute – and time to set off, to see if all that styling and cool cockpit-ery is just window dressing or if the M4 convertible can really walk the walk.
Well, it sure as heck sounds like it can. I was genuinely surprised by just how low its exhaust report is. You expect that kind of thing from the likes of the Jaguar F-Type SVR, but Jag has always been very vocal about how important that aspect was for the SVR. BMW has never been loud about vaunting that aspect, preferring more to champion the handling and performance characteristics of the M4. So I was caught off-guard on start-up, especially considering I hadn’t even set the powertrain to either of the Sport or Sport Plus drive modes.
Power from the twin-turbo inline-6 – the M4 still gets a version of the engine fast Beemers have always been known for, just now with turbocharging – is rated at 425 hp and 406 lb-ft of torque, enough to complete the 0-100 km/h run in about 4 seconds. It’s a feat made even more hardcore by choosing the fastest of three gear-change speeds. In addition to the throttle response, you can also tweak the steering and suspension and the differences can be felt here more readily than in many cars that purport to have varying drive and handling setting.
Personally, it was almost all Sport/Sport/Sport Plus for me in the powertrain/suspension/steering departments. Why not all the way? Sport Plus modes for the first two are so hardcore they’re almost uncomfortable in day-to-day driving. I’d reserve them for the track, although I did “go full-Sport Plus” for a jaunt on that great stretch of road I alluded to earlier, just to see the returns.
Quite simply, the returns are epic. This BMW lives up to the brand’s penchant for building very fast compacts that will make most other sports cars blush. As expected, turn-in is right on the mark and doesn’t suffer nearly as much on the steering-feel front as other Beemers do. Typically I get a sensation that’s best described as having an air bubble between the wheel and front tires, but not here. This is just a laser-focused steering rack that does absolutely everything you’d expect it to, requiring only the slightest hand movement get your point across.
There are some squeaks and rattle attributed to the loss of the structural integrity provided by a fixed roof, but that matters not when you’re up and running on a flowing piece of road.
A quick note on the transmission: even on said road, I found the most extreme of the three levels you can set it to be just too much. Every shift is accompanied by an uncomfortable lurch as the shifts are rammed home, and while I like to fancy myself an all-pro race, I’m not, and I don’t need my car acting like I am.
Which brings me to the 7-speed dual-clutch auto unit found on my tester. A 6-speed manual is standard and I’ve also experienced the M4 spec-ed in this manner; as suspected, it does ensure a more involving drive. The auto is faster, though, and even in full-auto mode, it will always have you in the right gear and spends precious little time hunting for ratios. It also provides rev-matched downshifts and is properly dialed-in overall.
So while I’d still probably go the manual route, this is a good auto unit, befitting of a car of this type. Indeed, the most annoying thing I found about it is the way gear selection works; it’s an electronic shifter so instead of slotting PRND, you bump it this way and that to select the various gears. There’s a learning curve, and even after a week I still found myself fumbling with it from time to time.
Luckily, the transmission settings as well as the other three can be loaded onto to two pre-sets, accessed by buttons marked M1 and M2 on the left-side wheel spoke. This allows you to easily switch between two very different drive experiences, and I found myself reverting to them quite often throughout my drive.
I also found myself smiling quite often – well, all the time, except for one particularly slow bridge crossing – because that’s what the M4 does. It may look and sound all tough and purposeful – which it is – but that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun – and it is. It’s a great car, this M4, and while I’d still probably go with a coupe equipped with the manual transmission (for me, that set-up is just more involving and fun), I wouldn’t fault anyone for electing to go the auto-and-drop-top route.
Good tech offering
We like less
Added weight of folding hardtop
Top limits trunk space