After a bleak winter that saw him ruefully lamenting the demise of the fast, fun car, Jeremy Clarkson was full of the joys of spring in his latest car review for The Sunday Times Magazine, in which he waxed lyrical about the new BMW M4 Competition.
There was one fly in the ointment during his road test, though — black ice.
Despite the blue skies and budding snowdrops, as he drove BMW’s muscly coupé down a stretch of country road Clarkson could sense that something wasn’t right.
Carefully, so as to avoid losing control, he placed an “exploratory kiss” on the brake pedal.
“It was the noise that gave it away first. A sort of shooshing sound, followed by the slow-motion staccato of the car’s antilock braking system fighting a losing battle with a surface that plainly had the mu characteristics of wet soap in a puddle of Fairy Liquid.”
Being a seasoned driver, Clarkson managed to point the car to the side of the road, enabling him to find some tyre adhesion and continue his journey, though “at approximately 1mph”. The Clarkson’s Farm presenter took the opportunity to claim the M4 is a machine from the maker of “the worst winter cars of them all”, thanks to their tail-happy, rear-wheel-drive nature. Of course, this is something BMW has addressed with its xDrive four-wheel drive system.
As Clarkson continued, he encountered several other motorists who hadn’t been so lucky, including an upside-down van in a field and a lady in a Peugeot who had collided with a Vauxhall. This seeming loss of ability to drive on ice, he surmised, was down to rising global temperatures making icy roads an increasingly rare phenomenon in Britain.
“All these crashes had happened because people today simply don’t know what it’s like to drive a car when it’s below freezing out there. To them black ice is as alien as an actual alien.”
Neither his near-miss nor the slippery conditions managed to convince Clarkson that getting the optional xDrive fitted to the M4 would be a good idea, though. It “may be of some use if you live in Helsinki or Val d’Isère, but when you’re going downhill on sheet ice, you might as well rely on the local ley lines for your health and safety,” he claimed.
“Frankly, I’d spend the £2,765 it costs on an old pick-up truck and use that on the one day a decade when it snows. Because, let’s face it, this is an M4. It should be rear drive only.”
And it’s fair to say Clarkson was wowed by the rear-drive M4 Competition in less challenging conditions, its 503bhp (which is similar to a Porsche 911 GT3) being more than adequate, he felt, for everyday driving enjoyment.
More power “renders a car too scary to be much fun most of the time. With 500 horses you can put your foot down for long periods of time, in most of the gears, and shriek with joy, not terror.”
The BMW’s handling also came in for considerable praise.
“It’s so communicative and so perfectly judged and so exciting,” he enthused. “As exciting as the early M cars? No. Of course not. Nothing is that exciting any more, but this new breed manages to be 90% as good while being 10,000 times more refined.”
That refinement and ability to perfectly balance comfort with “nutter bastard mode” is the M4 Competition’s brilliance, Clarkson argued. It’s a car that can be fast and thrilling when the driver is in the mood for fun, or relaxed and cosseting when they aren’t.
“Inside you get just about the best seats ever to envelop my nether regions and a dash that even I, in my advanced years, could operate. Which is why I was able to work out that you can choose two perfect set-ups — one for fast driving and one for going home after work — and then you can access either by simply pressing a red button on the steering wheel.”
Those advanced years may perhaps make redundant the “YouTube era” feature that rates the duration and quality of the driver’s drifts. Otherwise, however, the M4 Competition is a practical and grown-up car with, according to Clarkson, seats that are easy to get out of, enough room in the rear and plenty of space in the boot.
But what of the polarising styling? The controversial toothy front end? Clarkson wasn’t put off. It was a “genuine struggle”, he said, to find anything he disliked about the BMW.
“This is a sensational car,” he concluded. “There are purists, I know, who lament the passing of the old V8, but the twin turbo straight six we get now is so smooth and so sonorous and, let’s be honest, it churns out a smidge more than 500 horsepower, which is always going to be enough.”
With the pure-electric BMW i4 now with us, and a ban on sales of new petrol and diesel cars from 2030, this could be the petrol-engined M4’s swan-song, Clarkson realised.
“I’m glad to see it going out in such style. Not with an especially large bang — although there may be a lightweight CSL version in the wings — but with a satisfied, arms folded, post Sunday lunch sense of a job really well done.”
Read his review in full here.
- If you were amused by Jeremy Clarkson’s take on the BMW M4, you might like to hear why he called the Lexus ES a perfectly dull car
- Check out Will Dron’s review of the BMW M3 and M4 here (spoiler: he came to the same conclusion as Clarkson).
- Did you know that DriveTribe, the car website founded by Clarkson, Hammond and May, is closing down?
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