I take delivery of a sparkling, red-bronze BMW M4 fitted with optional Competition pack; yet another in the line of spend-more-money-for-the-suggestion-of-exclusivity M cars, and immediately hatch a plan. Cars of this ilk – any M car, frankly – should not be wasted on the urban crawl, masquerading as a daily commute, where people can take offense at your oversteer angles. No, this pumped-up, hunkered-down, carbon fibre-infused Beemer is dying to stretch its legs. So, we’ll drive up a hill about 600 km away, at the Jaguar Simola Hillclimb, but not before it swallows up every great piece of driving road in the Western Cape. Because that’s what petrolheads do with their cars.
I really wasn’t kidding about this M4 getting the hell out of dodge, by the way. In my experience, people mostly despise M cars. Please remember, I drive everything from the tiniest Citroën C1 cabrio to the most monstrous Mercedes-AMG G-Class; for the most part driven on the same road in ‘the same way’. But there’s just something about a BMW M that rubs motorists the wrong way. They won’t let you out of a side street and they’ll refuse you safe passage in a merge zone on the highway, as if assuming you’re going to behave like a typical bad Beemer driver the second they do. I kind of see why when I take a step back and drink in this Competition’s menacing proportions. Tight and taut, yet big and imposing, it rides on 20-inch rims that could be spinning pentagrams. The Competition package blacks out the grille, M badges and exhaust pipes, and has a menacing gaze courtesy of razor-edged LED daytime running lights. Then there’s the small matter of its meaty twin-turbo 3.0-litre in-line six. In said Competition guise, it feeds 14 kW extra to the rear wheels for a grand total of 331 kW and 550 Nm of torque, but it’s the torque spread that’s more like a table top than a curve, delivering hard from 1 850 to 5 500 rpm. Time to put it to good use.
It feels like we’ve been going for ages already, just trying to navigate out of Cape Town without overtly offending anyone. The car is extremely comfortable though, the cabin is large enough, particularly for rear passengers, but still snug upfront with a driver-focused feel, while mod cons such as heated leather seats, satnav and the head-up display make long tedious stretches a pleasure, not a chore – a good GT car then. There’s a versatility to the chassis, dependent on the driving mode, which is rare for a BMW M car, and worth celebrating in the interest
of social acceptance mentioned up top. Start jabbing at the power train, steering, stability control, suspension and gearbox-shift-ferocity buttons, and everything can be engineered to suit your driving style, as well as then cleverly saved as either M1 or M2 for quick access upon the steering wheel.
Slipping off the motorway, onto the world-famous Clarence Drive, I call upon ‘M2’. Sport+ everything with M dynamic mode (MDM) marshalling stability control for heroic-looking but controlled power slides. In this configuration, the motor’s timbre turns from purposeful resonance to full-lunged roar, there’s immediately more heft to the steering, but not so much that it feels leaden. Added stiffness to the dampers highlights an intrinsic rigidity within the chassis; any pitch, roll or yaw momentum is now satisfyingly resisted, transferred instead into accurate changes of direction. Traction is still limited, however, the steering wheel snapping and back end swivelling under the demands of even partial throttle.
If only there was a button to deploy rear tyre warmers for our capricious Michelin Pilot Super Sports. I find a page in the Vehicle Status menu on BMW’s iDrive system that perfectly illustrates the dilemma I face with real-time tyre temperature and pressure readings. The rears are still only 18°C! This is clearly not within the optimal window, but the back end wiggling around on cold tyres is definitely heaps of fun. A good way to build heat into the rubber, you see.
Now that’s more like it. With coastal scenery a footnote in our rear-view, the Munich mile-muncher is bombing up the exciting, flowing Tradouw Pass outside Barrydale, getting all its power down
with zero slip and nothing but constant, ferocious forward momentum as I lay into the throttle, tyre temperatures reading a toasty 40°C. Here, the front end starts to win the day, giving technicolour response and making me go all finger-tippy with my steering inputs at the wheel, but also tram-lining and tracing ridges of asphalt with a blind obedience and constant tyre roar in the cabin more befitting a racing car. Optional carbon ceramic brakes surrender approach speeds along this stretch of switchbacked perfection with their telltale squeak. This, right here, is driving, people.
On Route 62, the other side of the hamlet of Barrydale, we light the fuse and put the skirmishing six-cylinder drive-train to the sword – one turbo per three cylinders, same size, same purpose, same pulverising performance. It’s cartoonishly, stupendously fast. A 4.1 sec 0–100 km/h time and top speed of 280 km/h are the numbers, but it’s so intoxicating. There’s a low rumble in the jungle you can’t miss under load, that’s the double-VANOS and Valvetronic working their witchcraft in firing alternating cylinders to ensure turbo pressure remains charged and constant the instant you press that throttle pedal – whhhump! Next up, Huisrivier Pass, in parts bumpy, tight and demanding, in others fast, sinewy and glorious, the M4 carves it up in a measured yet forceful manner. Here, deploying its turbo torque takes a certain aptitude.
Opt for too low a gear and you’re all tied up in the top of the revs where the plateau of torque has already dissipated. Apply throttle too hurriedly and you’re left scrabbling for traction and squabbling with the DSC. Nope, the swiftest way through this dipping, rising and off-camber pass is to opt for a higher gear, roll accurately through the curves with balanced steering and throttle, then blast through with lovely, progressive power input and supreme momentum.
Another hour and a half of sweaty, edgy driving to Oudtshoorn, down the beautiful but all-too congested Outeniqua Pass and we’re back in the real world of loping traffic and perfunctory speed restrictions from George to Knysna… Breathe. The M4 delivers good fuel economy here in Comfort mode – just 8.8 ℓ/100 km – bang on the claimed combined figure. Soon, the grand vistas
of the Knysna lagoon appear off to the right and we dive left towards the Jaguar Simola Hillclimb, where, frankly, we think the M4 Competition deserves a wildcard entry in the production-car class after its performance today. We ease up the innocuous looking road, before, moments later, we’re ushered through the crowds despite having no official credentials whatsoever. But hey, who am I to disagree with the burly, hi-vis-jacket-wearing gatekeepers; their impassive faces broken into a knowing nod and full-palm gesture to proceed to the pit area no questions asked.
Despite earning all the kudos, the M4 Competition isn’t here to race and I can’t stymie the guilt of this unearned privilege any longer. We’re here to watch the hillclimb and generally indulge in the petrolhead merriment that only the Knysna Speed Festival can provide.
Did we survive it? You’re going to have find out here!
In a nutshell –
BMW M4 Competition Pack
Fast, ferocious, multi-talented
Unloved and highly reliant on tyre performance
Engine: 2 979 cc, 6-cylinder, twin-turbo petrol
Power: 331 kW @ 7 500 rpm, 550 Nm @ 1 800 – 5 500 rpm
Performance: 0-100km/h 4.1 sec, top speed 270 km/h (M Drivers Package)
Tyres: 20-inch alloys, 265/30 front, 285/30 rear – Michelin Pilot Super Sport
Economy: 8.8 l/100 km (claimed)
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch auto
CO2 emissions: 204 g/km
Price (as tested): R 1 452 800