There has always been a certain cadence to the way the big European car makers roll out new models in Australia.
It seems to be the same routine, no matter the brand, no matter the model.
First to arrive are usually the entry level models – the least expensive, and generally the least powerful. It’s a great way to introduce the new model, with entry-level price tag, to an eager public.
Next comes the higher-spec models that push up the price, usually with added power and equipment. Then, roughly a year or so later, the brands uncover performance-enhanced variants. For Mercedes-Benz that means AMG, for Audi it’s a S or RS designation, while for BMW it’s the legendary M monsters. It’s kind of like a slow, seductive disrobing.
So when BMW unveiled their most recent model, the all-new 3 Series, the tastiest offerings were, as usual, the last to arrive. It meant those lucky enough to be buying an M3 or M4 had the longest wait.
And last of all was this car, the M4 Convertible Competition.
The pattern, therefore: the more time it takes for cars to get here, the faster they go, whether that be on the road or through the dealership doors.
Good things, after all, come to those who wait.
By any normal logic, this would make the M4 Convertible the apex predator of the 3-Series family. Except, it isn’t. Not by a long shot.
Yes, there’s the same 375kW, 650 Nm twin turbocharged six-cylinder engine, driving through the same eight speed automatic transmission. The power is put to the road via a sophisticated all-wheel-drive system, a fairly new addition in this model.
It gets the same aggressive body styling, with the oversized BMW grille at the front, giving way to a fetching, lithe silhouette.
It wins the title as the most expensive 3 Series, tipping the scales at a throat-clearing $176,900 plus on-road costs. Which, by the way, is almost three times the base-model 3 Series.
The M4 Convertible might well be the most desirable model in the family tree, but it’s not the fastest. And not the sharpest. Nor is it the most focused.
Those qualities belong to this car’s two-door sibling, the hard-top M4 Competition Coupe – a car that costs at least $10,000 less than its cloth-roofed alter-ego. It’s just one of the reasons to choose hard over soft top.
The convertible is softer, heavier and more lavishly equipped. Which raises the obvious question: why pay more, and wait longer, for a flagship model that, by any reasonable measure, is not the sharpest tool in the shed?
Yes, there are few things more pleasurable than heading down the highway in a beautiful German machine, feeling the warmth of the sun, a gentle puff of wind, and the bark of those quad exhaust pipes burbling in the background.
But why pay more for a version that brings some serious compromises?
It’s no skin off the nose of BMW, of course, with a long queue of buyers. BMW has even bestowed the Competition designation to indicate the car’s motor racing heritage.
Yet this car is more likely to be competing for the most prominent parking spots on Noosa’s Hastings Street, than it is to be competing at Phillip Island or Eastern Creek.
If the M4 coupe is all about racetrack-capable performance and laser-like driving focus, the convertible is 50 per cent about showing off and 50 per cent living up to that iconic badge.
It’s a fast car, by any measure – reaching the speed limit in 3.7 seconds, barely 0.2 seconds slower than the M4 coupe.
But it’s also heavier (almost two tonnes which is seriously bulky), less rigid and less “pointy” than the coupe, and feels it.
Which, at the end of the day, is totally OK.
Yes, the Convertible is noticeably “softer” than its siblings. Partly that’s because of the extra paunch, and partly because removing the roof of any vehicle takes away much of the stiffness designed into the chassis. To compensate, it requires more reinforcement and bracing in the chassis – making the car heavier, slower and less nimble.
On the positive side, that probably makes the car more enjoyable for a longer trip (the test car covered almost 600km in a week). Just remember to take a hat and apply sunscreen.
That cloth roof (replacing a folding steel option in the previous model) makes it a bit noisier but, equipment-wise it mimics its siblings in almost every way.
Right down to the two “M” buttons on the chunky leather steering wheel which automatically sharpen a range of functions from engine mapping to transmission, brakes and chassis stiffness. But even those didn’t seem to be quite as responsive as in the other M models.
The twin-screen dash setup is first class, the controls tactile and purposeful.
Perhaps most surprising of all was the amount of rear leg room, even with six-footers in front and back there were no bent or broken bones.
It’s an easy car to live with. With one small exception.
The part-carbon fibre, part-leather premium sports seats are among the best. But there’s every chance the side bolsters will perform some kind of invasive procedure in the process of taking a seat.
Those seats are a $7600 option, or part of a 26-grand “M Carbon” package.
Fans will be willing to spend up – they’ve waited long enough for the privilege.
BMW M4 CONVERTIBLE COMPETITION
* HOW BIG? The rag-top is 4794mm long and 1887mm wide – which equates to a relatively big machine for this category. It tips the scales at almost two tonnes which is bulky for a true performance machine.
* HOW FAST? That extra weight means it will reach the speed limit slightly less quickly than its sedan and coupe siblings (3.7 seconds compared to 3.5).
* HOW THIRSTY? The official fuel figure is 10.2L/100km which is reasonable for a car with this level of capability. Hard driving will push it towards 20L/100km pretty quick.
* HOW MUCH? The M4 Convertible Competition costs $176,900, plus the obligatory on-road costs. Ticking a few options boxes will push that figure past 200 grand pretty easily.