Summer is just around the corner, and that means plenty of upcoming opportunities for tearing up endless ribbons of asphalt.
How could we compare an M4, the iconic German sports coupe (nee M3) with the Mustang, America’s pony car contender, you ask? Sure, the two coupes compete at vastly different price points and have respective histories all their own, but their characteristics have converged on the spec sheet. The two rear-wheel-drive coupes are closer than ever in terms of size, power, and capability.
To find out if the similarities on paper translate to driving dynamics, we spent time with both coupes, wringing them out on highways and back roads, in hopes of evaluating the latest automotive playthings, irrespective of price.
The benchmark: BMW M4
For nearly three decades, scores of sports-car manufacturers have sought to create a two-door package as cohesive as BMW’s M3. Few have succeeded.
In its latest iteration, the M3 coupe has become the M4, with little lost in translation. It carries through the fixtures of BMWdom, from the kidney grille to the low, wide stance, and is slightly larger in most dimensions than the model it replaces. We like the way it looks, inside and out, and in deep gray, the M4 looks sinister.
Moving the M4 is a sweet, turbocharged inline-six engine, which replaces a V-8 from the last-generation model. Its 425 horsepower represents an approximate gain of 10 horses over the model it replaces, making BMW’s two-door coupe feel mighty and breathe lightly. A 6-speed manual is standard, although our tester was equipped with a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission. Our one gripe with the powertrain: The active exhaust system is a bit too noticeable in some drives modes, sending more engine noise than we’d like through the speakers of the M4.
Other than that, the M4 makes perfect sense as a grand tourer cum performance car. The M4 feels lighter on its feet than it is, making hard launches as enjoyable as tight corners. Steering is lighter and less connected than we would prefer, but remarkable accuracy remains, as does the connection between the driver and the road. Our verdict after 400 miles: The decision to revert to an inline-six engine, after a generation of the V-8-powered M3 coupe and sedan, was a smart one. At no point did we lack power, and our tester did a laudable job of finding the right gear among the seven in the dual-clutch transmission.
In comparison to the Mustang, which is half the price, the similarities are shocking in terms of the two cars’ profiles. The M4 is no pony car, but nor need it be. Read on for the surprise contender for the crown.
2015 BMW M4
Base price: $65,150 (includes $950 destination charge)
Drivetrain:425-hp, 3.0-liter turbocharged inline six-cylinder engine, rear-wheel drive.
You’ll instantly love: The simplicity of the man-machine interplay.
Takes getting used to: The slightly dulled feeling of a piped-in exhaust note.
Unlikely forte:Acting as a moving van, with the rear seat folded.
Also consider: Mercedes-AMG C63, Lexus RC-F.
The unsung challenger: Ford Mustang 5.0
History has placed unusual significance on the 5.0-liter Mustang. In the Eighties and Nineties, it was The Mustang with the Big Engine, and little more than a straightline athlete. Today, the story is a lot different.
The star of the show is still the Mustang GT’s 5.0-liter naturally aspirated V-8, which routes 435 easily accessible horsepower through either a 6-speed manual or automatic transmission, but for a totally different reason. The Mustang GT is finally a competitor beyond the rental lot.
A comparison between the inline-six M4 and the Mustang’s optional 3.7-liter V-6 would be more apt, you say? The Mustang’s V-6 engine produces only 300 horsepower. At any speed, the Mustang GT made a great impression on us, growling and snarling and literally pushing us back in our seats from behind the long, yellow hood.
But what impressed us most about spending time behind the wheel of the Mustang GT was its precise polish. Unlike Mustang past, which felt less than expertly assembled, and wobbled on the highway, we can finally say that the sixth-generation Mustang has the bona fides to compete with the world’s best sports coupes.
Every movement, from flipping the toggle switches to hitting the apex of a tight turn, has the appropriate weight or heft. Flimsiness is all but absent. Turn-in is sharp, braking is linear and strong, and we felt confident during every moment behind the wheel.
What you won’t get in the Mustang, at any price point, is most of the feature content standard or available on the M4: carbon-ceramic brakes, adaptive suspension, self-parking, 360-degree cameras, full-LED headlights, and a head-up display, to name a few. Try as you might, however, and a fully loaded Mustang GT like our tester would barely scratch the surface of 45 grand.
That leaves plenty of spare cash for tire-burning exercises.
A Mustang burnout would go quite nicely with a summer barbecue.
2015 Ford Mustang GT
Base price: $33,125 (includes $825 destination charge)
Drivetrain: 435-hp, 5.0-liter V-8 engine, rear-wheel drive.
You’ll instantly love: The snarl of the V-8 and the
Takes getting used to: The finicky MyFord Touch interface.
Unlikely forte: Hauling four people and their gear in comfort on an hours-long trip.
Also consider: Ford Mustang GT convertible.