Even as eco-friendly mobility gains traction, the evolution of the performance vehicle in recent times has captured the imagination.
This seems to disprove the theory that motoring for the sheer joy of it is destined to become obsolete. Well, for now anyway.
There are so many permutations of speed and engagement on the market at the moment. From traditional sports cars (Mazda’s MX-5) to so-called hyper-hatchbacks (the Mercedes-AMG A45) and pedigree animals such as the Ferrari 488 GTB, there is something for most tastes and a lot of budgets.
It would be remiss of me to write about driving pleasure and not mention BMW. Performance was once the cornerstone of the brand. You know, before it started building front-wheel drive multi-purpose vehicles and egg-shaped electric cars. While there are many notable hits from BMW, the M3 is probably the nameplate that most consumers would associate with the performance arm of the carmaker.
This year marked the 30th anniversary of the M3. As part of the manufacturer’s new naming convention of reserving even numbers for coupé variants, the two-door version of the car was dubbed the M4.
BMW recently released the “competition package”, which promises an extra measure of thrill to buyers who might have found deficiencies with the regular M3 and M4.
So we procured a test car equipped with the competition package to find whether it offers tangible gains.
Our trip took us across Gauteng to Mpumalanga, with sessions on two racing circuits along the way.
From a looks point of view, the standard car does a stellar job of attracting attention from fellow road users.
Those plagued by debilitating shyness best look elsewhere — the car, in its lurid Java Green paint, prompts all sorts of questions. Most people wanted to know whether it was a factory option, or one of those wrap jobs that have become so common these days.
Exterior add-ons are subtle. They include a high-gloss black trim (“shadow line” in BMW parlance) which adorns window recesses, the kidney grilles and side gills. This is in addition to a set of fetching 20-inch wheels, which are machine-polished and purportedly weight-optimised. BMW fans might see a slight resemblance to the cross-spoke alloys fashionable on the E30 generation 3-Series.
Getting inside, you will find racy-looking seats with cut-outs in the backrests — ostensibly to save weight and perhaps to alleviate the sweating that is bound to ensue. M-car anoraks will love the safety belts into which the distinctive trio of stripes have been woven.
On paper, the performance gains offered by the M4’s competition package are not impressive.
An extra 14kW has been extracted from the boosted 2979cc, six-cylinder engine. That takes the total figure to 331kW, while torque remains at 550Nm. It translates to a marginally faster 0-100km/h sprint: it is 0.1 of a second quicker than the lesser car. Equipped with the seven-speed, double-clutch transmission, the M4 could do this in four seconds flat.
So what is the point of forking out more money for the competition package, if it entails only a few aesthetic bits and negligibly swifter acceleration?
Well, the brilliance of the competition package lies in the mechanical tweaks it brings. Something that is palpable when you are blasting over the asphalt on an empty, sinuous road well outside the limits of the city.
The extent of the enhancements is as follows: new anti-roll bars, new dampers and new springs.
BMW claims to have reconfigured the electronic driving modes too. Invariably, sport plus is going to be the automatic choice virtually all the time. This is mostly so you (and passers-by) can enjoy the awesome obnoxiousness of that raucous sports exhaust system. It amplifies all those snaps, crackles and pops we so love from performance cars in 2016.
Attacking the twisty bits with verve reveals that these suspension tweaks have resulted in a car that feels grafted to the road surface beneath it.
The competition package throws in a layer of focus: under pressure, the car seems to be tied down and tauter — yet still compliant. Or maybe we should say relatively compliant. As expected, ride quality is a trade-off with this dynamic prowess, even when comfort mode is engaged. But who cares about that stuff in an M4 anyway?
We never really felt that the standard M3 and M4 duo were meek performers. But when armed with all the benefits of this competition package, it starts to make one doubt the standard M3 and M4.
Perhaps this is what these vehicles should have been right from the very beginning. This is a R135 900 option box that aficionados will to want to tick. – Brenwin Naidu
Fast Facts: BMW M4 Competition Package
Engine: 29796cc straight-six
Power: 331kW at 7000rpm
Torque: 550Nm at 2850rpm
Transmission: seven-speed M-DCT
0-100km/h: 4.0-seconds (claimed)
Top speed: 250km/h (limited)
Fuel: 8.8l/100km (claimed combined)
CO2: 204g/km (claimed)
Price: From R1 355 300 (standard M4 Coupe + Competition Package)