Must. Be. Rational. This is an M4 with some trick suspension, a sprinkling of carbon fiber, and a pretty apologetic rear wing. It costs $135,195, which is more than twice the price of a standard M4. I mean, come on. Oh it’s no use. I’m smiling, laughing, a bit giddy and deeply in love. Our time in the M4 GTS is painfully brief, but it’s enough to know that it’s a special car. Rationality be damned. The BMW M4 GTS is awesome.
Let’s rewind a bit. We’re near Barcelona at the Circuit de Catalunya for a very short introduction to the new M4 GTS. We’re allocated just six laps of this F1 circuit behind a pace car driven at something a bit short of 10-tenths. Frustrating certainly, but this is the first high-performance special edition M3/M4 model that’s been made available in the U.S., so we had to make the trip. It follows the six-cylinder E46 CSL and V-8-powered M3 GTS models we’ve previously been denied in seeking out more extreme and track-focused performance through lightweight components and a little helping of extra power. Just 700 will be built and around 300 of that number will find their way to America.
It is extreme, too. The hood is carbon fiber, and the brakes are standard carbon-ceramic units. The interior has carbon-fiber door trim, a lightweight center console, and simple fabric door pulls. Oh, and there’s a rollcage. An adjustable front splitter extends nearly 2.5 inches and works in concert with a three-position rear wing with a carbon-fiber diffuser. Set splitter and rear wing to maximum attack, and the GTS develops nearly 62 pounds of downforce at the front and 205 pounds at the rear at 186 mph (or 26.5 pounds front, 88 pounds rear at 124 mph). Tires are the extreme Michelin Pilot Cup 2 measuring 265/35R-19 at the front and 285/30R-20 at the rear. Further weight-saving measures include a full titanium exhaust system that can wake the dead. But despite the lightening tricks, the additional aero components, rollcage, and the new water injection system actually put the final weight of the GTS at 3,610 pounds, a shade lighter than the standard car.
A mark of the track capabilities of the GTS is its three-way adjustable suspension. Built by KW to the M Division’s specifications, it allows you to raise or lower the ride height and set high- and low-speed compression and rebound damping. There are 16 clicks in the rebound phase, 14 clicks for high-speed compression, and six clicks for low-speed. Yep, this isn’t the work of a simple prod of a button on the dash—you actually have to get your hands dirty. The springs themselves are around 60 percent stiffer than in a base M4. BMW will provide a handbook to owners with a recommended road and track setting.
Interestingly, the eye-watering 7:27.88 second lap of the Nürburgring the M4 GTS set was with the aero set to full track mode—helping to achieve up to 1.4 g of lateral force—but with the suspension running on street settings to deal with the lumps and bumps. However, the Circuit de Catalunya is relatively smooth, and so it’s running about 0.8 inch lower than a standard M4 and with its dampers wound tight.
Before we roll out onto the circuit, one of the BMW guys opens the trunk, removes the floor trim, and reveals another secret to the improved performance of the GTS: a 1.3-gallon tankful of distilled water. This water is injected into the intake chamber as a fine mist at a pressure of 10 bar under full load above 5,500 rpm. Each pair of cylinders has three water-injection nozzles. By dramatically reducing the intake temperature as the water evaporates, volumetric efficiency is improved, helping to prevent knock and allowing for more boost pressure from the twin turbochargers.
It’s a simple but effective system, allowing boost to bump up to 2.5 bar from 2.3, cutting NOx emissions and reducing the thermal load on pistons, exhaust valves, and the turbochargers themselves as the exhaust gases are cooled, too. It even saves fuel at track speeds as there’s no need to dump a load of gas into the cylinder to act as a cooling agent. The result is that this 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged straight-six produces 493 horsepower at 6,250 rpm (up from 425 hp) and 442 lb-ft at 4,000-5,500 rpm (up from 406 lb-ft). BMW claims a 0-60 mph time of 3.7 seconds and a top speed electronically limited to 189.5 mph. Oh, for track use, you’ll have to refill that water tank at the same time as the gas tank.
There’s no time to gradually ramp up the various settings available on the M4 GTS, so the team has helpfully pre-programmed the M1 memory button for us on the fat-rimmed, Alcantara clad steering wheel to the appropriate levels. A quick prod gives us Sport+ for both the drivetrain and steering systems and selects the more permissive MDM setting for the traction and stability control. The full noise, if you like. It seems an appropriate description as the titanium exhaust system is hilariously, irresponsibly loud. It spews a dry, hollow cry and then pops and thuds and cracks on the overrun. If you can resist a gratuitous blip on the throttle pedal then you’re a better person than I am.
Just gently tickling down the pit lane, the GTS feels a very different animal to a normal M4. The ride is very, very firm, the steering is heavy and pulsates with textural feedback, and if you gently weave the steering wheel, the car darts left and right like a racer. At the green light on pit lane exit, I punch the throttle and the rear wheels light up instantly before the electronics step in to save my blushes. The Cup 2s need some temperature, then.
The grip builds quickly as the tires are exposed to the M4’s torque. There’s plenty of it, of course, but this engine—which is pretty dull if impressively powerful in the standard car— seems to have a more exciting delivery, really building in intensity as it howls up to the limiter. The exhaust note helps. It’ll be too much for some, but there’s no question the titanium system shrieks and cracks as another upshift hits home adds a level of drama sorely missing in a normal M4. So it sounds wild. BMW’s seven-speed M DCT gearbox is fast and accurate, and the car’s grip soon comes into focus.
At each and every corner the GTS snaps for the apex. That much you’d expect of a hardcore track machine, but it’s what happens next that’s really special. If you’re pushing hard the front tires might feign to understeer but just as they slip a degree or two wide the rear tires compensate, edging into a small but perfectly judged yaw angle. The process is almost instant but also amazingly benign and it means you seem to nail every single corner, the rear axle just steering the front into the apex curb, the GTS poised perfectly on the edge of grip. For a car that generates so much lateral force and traction, it’s remarkably accessible and feels absolutely alive to your inputs.
Perhaps the MDM program is masking some vices, I ponder. But no, even when I disable the electronic aids altogether for a lap, the innate balance and fine adjustability that characterizes the GTS remain. To feel this car dancing on the edge so beautifully, understeer and oversteer played out almost in slow motion and absolutely to your whim, is a fantastic sensation. It’s also where the GTS scores over, say, a 911 GT3 RS—which has very sharp edges if you overstep the limit. The furious noise and locked-down body control only add to the unbridled joy of wringing out the GTS. As somebody not too convinced by the standard M4 and worried that the GTS would just add more power to a slightly inert and spiky chassis package, I’m elated by the breathless excitement it delivers.
There are caveats, of course. The lovely fixed-back, carbon-shelled Recaro seats won’t be available in the U.S. The carbon-ceramic brakes (six piston at the front, four at the rear) don’t quite have the feel and consistency of a Porsche GT3, and the engine—despite its boisterous soundtrack—can’t set your nerve endings alight like the best naturally aspirated engines. Then there’s the price. It is heinously expensive when you consider that Porsche can completely re-engineer the Cayman GTS to create the GT4 and charge less than $10,000 for new suspension, aero, engine, steering setup, brakes and all the rest of it. Yet BMW nearly doubles the price of the M4 to create the GTS? It’s hard to swallow and the rational part of my brain can’t quite justify the numbers. But despite myself I’m still deeply smitten by the M4 GTS. Whether you consider it a hugely overpriced Mustang GT350R rival or a cut-price Ferrari F12tdf, it’s one hell of a lot of fun.
2016 BMW M4 GTS Specifications
|On Sale:||Sold Out|
|Engine:||3.0L twin-turbo DOHC 24-valve I-6/493 hp @ 6,250 rpm, 442 lb-ft @ 4,000-5,500 rpm|
|Transmission:||7-speed dual clutch automatic|
|Layout:||2-seat, 2-passenger, front-engine, RWD coupe|
|EPA Mileage:||16/23 mpg (city/hwy)|
|L x W x H:||184.6 x 73.6 x 54.4 in|
|0-60 MPH:||3.7 sec|
|Top Speed:||189.5 mph|