2022 BMW M4 Manual Review

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The new BMW M4 manual is one of those cars that is impossible to test in Australia right now, so we take one for a drive in Germany.

A quick look at the classifieds in Australia and there’s not many BMW M4 manual’s available to buy, but the fact remains that for those who want it the BMW M3 and M4 manuals are a gift among a sea of auto-only options, some exceptions being the Porsche 911, upcoming Nissan Z, and newly announced Toyota Supra with stick-shift option.

And just as it’s hard to buy a BMW M4 manual, there’s never been one offered on the local press fleet, so we’ve tested one in Germany.

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A brief refresher on the M3 and M4: in most regions, BMW offers them both in ‘plain’ and Competition versions. The non-Competition was always intended as the purist’s choice, with a manual gearbox and rear-wheel drive only. In Australia, we get both. The manual version produces 353kW and 550Nm, while the Competition has 22kW and 100Nm extra and comes with only the admittedly brilliant eight-speed automatic, gets some additional equipment and can be matched with BMW’s fiendishly clever xDrive four-wheel-drive system.

Coming into the M4 manual, I had heard that it’s not the greatest shift in the world, that the manual feels like a bit of an afterthought and that the automatic suits the M4’s character more. And you know what? All of that is true.

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The clutch is quite stiff and springy, making it not the easiest car to drive smoothly. The 3.0-litre twin-turbo straight six’s torque means that stalling it is almost impossible, but a bit of kangarooing is easy to do. Our test car also had the preposterous carbon bucket seats with that weird trapezoidal bit of carbon between your legs. It’s annoying in the auto, but even more so with three pedals.

The gearchange itself also has some springiness, as well as the typical BMW rubbery feel. However, the throws are short, notchy (in a good way), and rewarding. Curiously, the shifter is right in the middle of the centre console, and as the 3 and 4 Series are now quite wide cars, the gearlever is a bit of a reach. And that’s not mentioning that it’s quite odd to be in such a big, fast, high-tech car, and to be changing gear yourself.

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But despite all that, I absolutely would go for the manual if offered the choice.

My overriding impression of the M3 Competition is that it is so competent that at anything resembling sane (or legal) speeds, you feel like you’re just cruising along. To stop it feeling ordinary, you either need to take some serious liberties with speed limits or find a racetrack.

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Having six gears and an extra pedal to tend to adds a lot of the engagement back in, both at lower speeds and when you find a good road to explore the engine’s rev range and the chassis’s balance.

You’re far more aware of what the engine is doing, you think about which gear to approach a corner in, and you can perfect your heel-and-toe technique (there is an auto rev-match function if you’re not up for that). And while the gearchange isn’t the sweetest in the world, it’s satisfying enough.

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BMW has also avoided the issue we have with Porsche’s recent manuals, where you end up just leaving it in one gear because the ratios are so long. Second gear tops out at 122km/h, which seems rather high, but unlike with a naturally aspirated engine, you don’t always feel the need to rev it out, so you end up going between second and third quite a lot. The other gears are pretty closely stacked, too. Third runs to 185km/h, and at 110km/h in sixth, the engine is still turning 2400rpm – unusually high for a modern petrol car.

Do you miss the 22kW that the non-Competition version loses compared with the one we get over here? Of course not. It’s still ballistically fast, and actually feels more intense because you’re more involved. To my ears, the engine also sounds a little more natural – slightly gravelly and a far cry from naturally aspirated M3s of old, but free-revving and exciting.

And as the next generation will almost certainly be hybrid and auto only, if you are in the market for an M3 or M4 and like the idea of a stick shifter, it might be the last opportunity to grab one.

Ilya Verpraet

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