Review: 2020 BMW M4 Cabriolet
Roofless thrill ride.
THE PROS & CONS
- What’s Good: Loads of power, rip-roaring exhaust, losing the roof ups the excitement.
- What’s Bad: Heavy, Tiny back seats, limited cargo space.
Chopping off the top on one of the best sports cars in the world should be a recipe for brilliance, even though the loss of structural rigidity in doing so makes many purists cringe. That’s ok. The BMW M4 Cabriolet is not for them.
Personally, I’ve never been a convertible guy but it’s quite difficult to argue against the joy of motoring down your favourite ribbon of road on a crisp, sunny day without a pesky roof to encumber sightlines and muffle sonorous exhaust notes.
There’s been a roofless variant of the M3 (they were all M3s until BMW updated its naming conventions) since the beginning. Traditionally a soft-top, the last two generations nixed the well-insulated fabric roof for an even better-insulated metal one.
It takes about 20 seconds to fully open or close the top, accomplished with one switch on the centre console. At times during its operation, it looks like a piece of too-complicated origami about to collapse on itself. But that doesn’t happen, of course. All the pieces stack neatly and retreat into the trunk, stealing most of the usable space in there. A partition separates roof from trunk contents, and you’re left with a small slot, enough for a couple of overnight bags or maybe a small suitcase.
The M3 and M4 have gained worldwide fame as visceral, exciting, and track-focused sports cars. Does the lack of a roof turn it from M-car into a boulevard cruiser?
In that same context, I can also ask if an X5 M or any of the other M-badged SUVs are true M-cars, seeing as no matter how much power gets added or how much they tune up the suspension they’re all still heavy SUVs and not what you would consider an ideal tool to lap a racetrack. Not to say that they can’t, but just because you can do something, it doesn’t mean you should.
Likewise, the M4’s metal-folding hard-top and associated hardware add well over 200 kg of weight. For a machine purpose-built to carve corners, that’s less than ideal.
If you’ve kept up with this current generation of M3/M4 you’ll know that while it faced some initial criticism of losing the tactility that it was known for and that it had grown too big, too soft, and too isolated, it was still an exciting and legitimate performance machine no matter what the pundits and tire kickers said. The too big, too heavy statements have been applied to every new generation of M3 that’s come out. And if you think about what the original E30 M3 was, and still is, you’d know that a car like that, groundbreaking as it was in its heyday, offers about the same performance as a new Civic Si does today.
Yeah, the world has moved on. And so have cars, and safety, and tech. We’ll never get those days back where all that separated butt from road was a thin sheet of cold-rolled steel, where everything was analog and buzzed with feedback and road feel was as high on consumers wish lists as digital gauges and massaging, ventilated seats are today. Yes, in this day a sports car needs to be good on a track, but it must also be comfortable and be able to drive itself and it should be made from 90 per cent recycled materials and have zero emissions so it can save the planet. Not exactly an easy time for a car designer.
2020 marks the last year that this generation of M4 will be sold. Soon to be replaced by the next wave of 4-series and variants based on BMW’s modular CLAR platform that underpins many new BMW models like the new 3 Series, Z4, and even the full-size X7. The upcoming M4 will undoubtedly offer even more performance but will probably continue the separation of driver from road as history has dictated thus far.
I’ve driven the fixed-roof M3 and M4 and compared to the immediate competition from Mercedes and Audi it’s still the one to have if handling and driving excitement top your priority list. The BMW is still the sharpest, the most agile, and the best way to traverse a twisty road. If driving fun to you means oversteery goodness and exiting corners trunk first, but still in total control, this is the car you want. On that front, it’s difficult to beat.
Other than a few trim and paint additions not much has changed on this M4 Cabriolet since it was introduced in late 2014. My San Marino Blue tester wore stunning 20” wheels and a full bevy of carbon fibre trim pieces giving it an extra aggressive look.
The Competition package upgrades the springs, dampers, anti-roll bars, and even the software governing the Active M differential and stability control delivering an added boost to the handling dynamics. The comp pack also gives the twin-turbo S55 straight-six a healthy 19 hp bump for a total of 444 horses, which can be fed through a standard 6-speed manual or an optional 7-speed dual-clutch automatic (as tested here) to drive the rear wheels.
A 0-100 km/h run in 4.3 seconds is possible, made easier and more repeatable by using the built-in launch control function.
This M4 was equipped with something BMW calls the Ultimate package, which includes the Competition pack and all those carbon fibre pieces, but also comes with a raucous titanium sport exhaust and a whole bunch of other options too lengthy to list here. Basically, for what is nearly the price of that new Civic Si you can get almost every available option on the order form, inflating the price of this M4 to M5 levels. And that’s a lot of dough. But you can be smarter when picking options because those carbon fibre bits, nice as they look, aren’t really the most practical use of your hard-earned money.
An argument, however, can be made for that deliciously raspy titanium exhaust finished beautifully with carbon tips. At full chat it rips great big holes into the surrounding atmosphere, disturbing the air with all the violence of a chainsaw going through the trunk of a tree.
It quiets down when the engine is in ‘efficient mode’ but I almost never had it set that way. In sport or sport plus it was much, much louder than I expected although at low speeds it sounded rather like a toad with indigestion. Let the revs fly when you’re underway, though, and the toad turns into a tiger gargling a mouthful of rusty nails. Burbles and pops on overrun border on insanity. And it was perfect. This is the point where the lack of a roof clicked in for me. I was able to fully appreciate the M4’s character, greatly amplified in cabriolet form.
Last year I drove the limited-run M3 CS and it was very good and also very exciting to drive, and more capable in every way. But my grin in this M4 cabriolet was bigger. Mainly because it feels unfiltered, and you still get that torque-bomb S55 engine that can break the rear tires loose on demand. Except here you’re out in the open. You’re a bigger part of the tail-out histrionics rather than an observer behind a screen. It’s more speedboat than Nurburgring weapon. And on public roads you don’t need a Nurburgring weapon.
Like all the other M3s and M4s, you get a rather heavily weighted, numb steering rack but one that you can use to easily and precisely place the car anywhere you’d like. It feels connected and of a piece, even though you’ll notice some rear-view mirror shake. The ride is well controlled and quite forgiving, with only the worst bumps making themselves known. There’s no getting around that extra weight, though, and you’ll feel it in long sweeping turns and quick left-right transitions. But make no mistake; this is still a car that will relish a good flogging on a back road as much as it relishes a leisurely cruise.
It’s in daily driving duties where the Cabriolet’s shortcomings reveal themselves. The trunk space with the top down, as I mentioned earlier, is like a mail slot. If you have to transport larger items you’ll need to do so with the roof in place. Likewise, the backseats, quite usable in the regular M4, are going to be suited only to small children and people you don’t like.
Tooling around town, you’ll get more attention than you thought you would. The M4 is a fairly ubiquitous sight around most built-up areas but drop the roof and everything changes. Adults will stare and kids will point. So I found myself driving top up in the city. Now, not everyone will feel this way but I tend to be a bit of an automotive introvert, preferring the stealth look to retina-searing paintjobs and chrome wheels.
But this is a stupendously good-looking car when it’s topless. A low and wide front clip looks mean and ready to pounce with large, purposeful bumper cutouts. The interior is where the M4 starts to show its age. Although beautifully finished with contrasting black and light grey leather on the dashboard and door cards and just about everywhere else, the infotainment, switchgear, and analog instrumentation are all yesterday’s news. Already being transitioned out in many new BMW models including the new 3 series.
But none of that really made much of a difference and I still thoroughly enjoyed my time with the M4 Cab. It’s still one of the best convertibles sports cars you can buy today with loads of power, near-perfect seats, a great driving position, neck warmers for the chillier days, and the raspy unfiltered sound from the 4 titanium pipes out back.
Is it as capable as the fixed-roof M4? No. Is it more fun? Absolutely. So, does that make it more of an M-Car or less of one?
I’ll let the Internet argue over that.
2020 BMW M4 Cabriolet
BODY STYLE: 2-door, 2+2 convertible
CONFIGURATION: Front-engine, rear-wheel drive
ENGINE: 3.0-L twin-turbocharged inline-6, 444 hp, 406 lb-ft
TRANSMISSION: 7-speed dual-clutch automatic
FUEL ECONOMY: (Premium Gasoline in L/100 km) 14.5 city; 10.5 highway; 12.7 combined
OBSERVED FUEL ECONOMY: 13.7L/100 km
CARGO CAPACITY: 370 litres roof closed, 220 litres roof open
PRICE: $ 89,000 (base); $115,895 (as tested) does not include destination charge of $2245