Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: September 13, 2019
The BMW M4 enters the 2020 model year without any significant changes, bridging the gap and satisfying blue roundel enthusiasts until a brand new M4 hopefully surfaces by next year. We’re still expecting manual transmissions but with some hybrid technology in the mix. In the meantime, we have the M4 that has been around since 2014, and it has aged incredibly well, still looking fresh with a new paint palette covering up the wrinkles and dark spots. It seems you can slap San Marino Blue onto any aging vehicle and call it youthful - call it the La Mer of automotive paint.
The model we drove is in fact the heaviest way you can spec your M4: topless and with a dual-clutch transmission. In all, it adds 245 kg over the base M4 Coupe with a manual. Ours was also spec’d with the Competition package, raising the engine’s output from 425 hp to 444 hp (torque remains unchanged), amounting to a faster 0-100 km/h sprint by one-tenths of a second. It further adds an adaptive suspension, a re-tuned stability control system, upgraded suspension with new anti-roll bars, springs, and dampers, a louder titanium exhaust, and fancy-spoked 20-inch wheels wrapped in Michelin Pilot Super Sport rubber.
While we have no idea what the next-generation BMW M4 Cabriolet will bring, our bets are on a soft-top variant, much like the familial Z4’s transition from a hardtop as well. Still, the current M4 Cabriolet’s hardtop carries a few advantages, mainly being better cabin insulation, sexier and more cohesive Coupe-like styling without B-pillars getting in the way, and sturdier interior security should things go flipside. However, the dynamic penalties aren’t few and far in between. The hardtop adds significantly more weight, raises the center of gravity, and reduces the amount of trunk space to a bare minimum - you can barely fit a backpack in there when the roof is stowed.
Good thing then, that the M4 Competition is a riot on the road, allowing you to forget about its inherent ergonomic demerits. That twin-turbo S55 engine is a sweetheart, delivering smooth, effortless power right down low in the powerband, to the point that maximum thrust always feels accessible. Despite the stiffer setup, the M4 Competition rides comfortably and rather buttoned down on its most absorbent damper settings, but is clearly not as livid or as polished as the coupe over uneven surfaces. Still, if you’re looking for a car with this kind of power but with even better chassis control and inherent balance, check out the M2 Competition, one of our favourite cars that we tested this year. The M4 is larger, porkier, and beefier in comparison.
Good thing that they revised the stability control system as well because the M4 always struggled with traction off the line. There was just so much power readily available so early in the rev range, that the chassis never felt like it could keep up. It’s a bit like trying to corral a pitbull, that’s twice your size. While still drift-happy, the M4 Competition feels slightly more poised and clawed down, translating power into grip slightly better than the base model. The 7-speed DCT is a darling of a gearbox as well, firing off lightning quick shifts that comes at the price of low-speed smoothness, a signature sacrifice of most effective dual-clutches. It’s a shame BMW has yet to sort out that epileptic first gear lugging during low-speed throttle application, a complaint I’ve had since the M4 was first launched five years ago. It’s almost guaranteed when you’re accelerating from first gear in Sport Plus mode. In fact, the only way to remedy this is by driving fast and aggressively, not exactly applicable in all traffic situations.
That said, the M4 is smoother, surprisingly restrained, and more subdued when using the most economical ‘Efficient’ driving mode, effectively tranquilizing the pitbull. It’s nice to have so many ways to customize the powertrain, with dedicated buttons to adjust the powertrain, steering, suspension, and stability control, all located next to the teardrop-shaped gear lever. The lack of a dedicated exhaust button like on the M5 is unfortunate, as the only way to fully open the M4’s vocal cords is to be in that choppy, fast-lane-only Sport Plus mode, where the powertrain eggs you on like the devil on your shoulder muttering “faster, faster, FASTER”.
The driving position is excellent: not too low but not so high that you feel like you’re piloting an SUV. The steering wheel is thickly padded, and has a wide telescoping range to fit any driver’s preference. Visibility is a given plus with the roof retracted but even when it’s up, there are no B-pillars getting in the way of blind spots, adding to the cabin’s open and welcoming atmosphere. It’s hard to argue against that drool worthy Silverstone Merino leather either. But you will want to keep that roof down. The biggest advantage with a convertible is receiving unfiltered exhaust sound waves, unmarred by the metallic, leather, and glass sound filters that come with a fixed roof. You see, the standard M4 sounds brilliant by itself: tinny, mechanical, raspy, and high-pitched. But with the Competition’s new titanium exhaust, its vocals have reached the stratosphere, wailing to 7,500 rpm in a siren song of pops, bangs, and banshee-screeches. And without a roof getting in the way, you have front row seats to one of the most spectacular BMW symphonies around. Have a listen to our Exhaust Notes video above to hear it for yourself. Now, I will admit that the noise is a bit much at times, especially during cold starts and when the exhaust spits out AK-47 gunfire every time you lift off the throttle. Just be careful running through a tunnel, the sharp piercing notes are enough to rupture an eardrum.
In no way does the M4 Cabriolet ever caress the dynamic range of the Coupe. Simply drive over some railroad tracks and that split second experience will give you the Sparknotes summary as it rattles side to side without the same kind of rigidity, composure, or grace. Window rattles and scuttle shake are absent but you do feel that weight pulling you down every time you push the M4 out of its comfort zone. Still, below those limits and on smooth patches of road, the M4 Cabriolet is every bit as exciting and with the cabin open to the elements, the emotional factor raises up to the elevens. It may not be the most popular option due to its inherent penalties and skyrocketing price tag but in our eyes, the Cabriolet is the only way to have an M4.
Model: 2020 BMW M4 Competition Cabriolet
Paint Type: San Marino Blue
Base Price: $89,000
Price as Tested: $118,900
Length/Width/Height (mm): 4,687 / 1,870 / 1,386
Curb weight (kg): 1,964
Engine: 3.0-litre twin-turbocharged inline-six
Horsepower: 444 hp @ 5,500 - 7,300 rpm
Torque: 406 lb-ft @ 1,850 - 5,500 rpm
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch transmission
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, RWD
Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 13.5
Tires: Michelin Pilot Super Sport