BMW M4 VS McLaren 540C
- Adaptive suspension
- Ripping dual-clutch auto
- No AEB
- Awkward access to tight rear seats
- So-so warranty
- Brilliant dynamics
- Impressive performance
- (Relatively) approachable price
- Tricky entry/egress
- Drinks a bit when pushed (don't we all)
- Practicality not a strong suit
When it comes to cars, the letters B, M, and W carry huge credibility. But the extra letters and numbers that follow make all the difference.
A second M for example, means the hot rodders in the Munich maker's performance and racing skunkworks have played with everything from the drivetrain, aero and suspension, to the rims, rubber and interior design.
The number sitting next to it then determines whether you're looking at a compact firecracker (M2), fast-lane monster (M5), or bruising family truckster (X6 M). But every now and then some additional letters find their way onto even a BMW M car's bootlid.
In this case, a C and an S are significant additions to the already impressive M4 badge. They stand for Coupe Sport and were famously applied to BMW's achingly beautiful (E9) coupes of the late 1960s and early '70s.
So, with the howling echo of that all-time classic's in-line six ringing in its ears, the new M4 CS stands up as a proper high-performance coupe, pitched against the likes of Audi's recently reborn RS 5, the Lexus RC F, and Merc-AMG's soon-to-arrive C 63 S Coupe.
Does the CS legend live? Read on to find out.
|Engine Type||3.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
Believe it or not, the McLaren 540C is an entry-level model. But you won't find anything remotely resembling rubber floor mats, steel wheels, or cloth seats here. This is a 'base' car like few others.
Revealed in 2015, it's actually the cornerstone of McLaren's three-tier supercar pyramid, being the most affordable member of the Sport Series, with the properly exotic Super Series (650S, 675LT and now 720S), and pretty much insane Ultimate Series (where the P1 hypercar briefly lived) rising above it.
Only a few years ago, McLaren meant nothing to anyone outside the octane-infused world of motorsport. But in 2017, it's right up there with aspirational sports car big guns like Ferrari and Porsche, both of which have been producing road cars for close to 70 years.
So, how has this British upstart managed to build a world-beating supercar brand so quickly?
Everything you need to know to answer that question resides inside the stunning McLaren 540C.
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
The BMW M4 CS is every bit as fast and engaging as you'd expect it to be. But be prepared for the day-to-day compromises that go with its pared back interior layout. It's beautifully engineered and dynamically excellent, but will have its hands full when Merc-AMG's similarly sized and priced (updated) C 63 S Coupe arrives shortly to rattle its cage.
Is the BMW M4 CS your kind of four-seat sledgehammer? Tell us what you think in the comments section below.
BMW offers the 'Service Inclusive' program, a one-off advance payment to cover scheduled costs at the 'Basic' or 'Plus' level.
The 540C is desirable on so many levels. Its dynamic ability, blistering performance, and stunning design make the cost of entry a value-for-money ticket. And the refreshing thing is, choosing a McLaren, with its focus on function and pure engineering, sidesteps the wankery that so often goes with ownership of an 'established' exotic brand. We absolutely love it.
Do you think McLaren is a genuine competitor for the usual supercar suspects? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
The M4 in either entry-level Pure, or next-step-up Competition spec already looks like John Cena in a 10-year-old's t-shirt, with muscular bumps, curves and cuts extending aggressively in all directions. From its bulbous 'power dome' bonnet, to the pumped-up guards and gaping vents, the M4 screams 'don't argue'.
But this CS version borrows heavily from the track-focused M4 GTS (phased out earlier this year) and dials the aggro up a few notches.
A Matterhorn-sized bulge in the centre of the lightweight CFRP (Carbon-Fibre Reinforced Plastic) bonnet descends towards a broad air extraction vent that could double as a stormwater drain in bad weather.
The front, exposed carbon splitter is a slightly less accentuated version of the GTS's race-ready set-up, and the signature kidney grille is finished in menacing gloss black.
That black finish, part of the standard BMW Individual 'Shadow Line' package, also extends to the side-window trim, window recess covers, and vents on the front wings.
CFRP (unpainted this time) reappears on the roof, and an exposed carbon Gurney flap-style spoiler adds a touch of flash and aero efficiency to the bootlid. A nice match for the carbon diffuser below.
Suitably wide black alloy rims (19-inch front, 20-inch rear) further enhance the intimidating look, with twin LED headlights and an 'Organic rear lighting system', the latter another lift from the GTS, delivering an impressively vivid display.
The interior is familiar BMW territory, but it does feel like you've had a nasty break-up and your significant other has filled the moving van with all the luxury bits.
The leather and Alcantara trimmed sports seats are classy and racy enough, but the door cards are made from a natural-fibre composite BMW calls 'Nawaro'. There are no storage pockets, and you get a webbing strap to help pull the door closed.
Super lo-fi, and bafflingly, the 'armrest' slopes downward at an angle that, despite an Alcantara-trimmed pad, makes it just about impossible to actually rest your arm on it. Perhaps it adds some wheel-twirling elbow room, but for the other 99 per cent of the time it's just annoying.
Although trimmed in contrast-stitched Alcantara, the centre console is also a rudimentary affair, with no storage box between the front seats or adjustable air vents for rear-seat passengers. It might be good for weight saving, but it's not so great in terms of day-to-day practicality (which we'll get to shortly).
There's more Alcantara on the M Sport steering wheel (a leather wheel is a no-cost option) and dash-panel insert, with the CS designation neatly called out in mosaic-style lettering near the centre stack.
In 2010 the recent rise (and rise) of McLaren Automotive really began, when its design director, the hugely respected Frank Stephenson, started to send things in a compelling direction.
He says McLarens are 'designed by air' and that intricately sculpted, wind-tunnel-driven approach to supercar beauty is clear in the 540C's shape.
A serious front spoiler and a mix of large intakes low in the nose create a delicate balance between downforce and corridors for cooling air.
Broad strakes down the side, standing proud of the main bodywork, are reminiscent of a formula one car's turbulence reducing barge boards, and giant intake ducts channel air through to the radiators in the cleanest, most efficient way possible.
And the look is suitably spectacular. You could hang the dramatically carved doors in a contemporary art museum.
There's a delicate lip spoiler on the trailing edge of the main deck, and a giant multi-channel diffuser proves air flow under the car is just as carefully managed as that going over it.
But the 540C doesn't lack traditional supercar drama. The dihedral design doors swinging up to their fully open position is a camera phone attracting, jaw dropping, traffic-stopper.
The interior is simple, striking and single-mindedly driver-focused. The chunky wheel is completely unadorned, the digital instruments are crystal clear, and the seats are the perfect combination of support and comfort.
The vertical 7.0-inch 'IRIS' touchscreen is cool to the point of minimalism, managing everything from audio and nav, to media streaming and air-con, with low-key efficiency.
When it comes to cars, practicality is a subjective area. The M4 CS offers plenty of space for the driver and front-seat passenger, with room for two more in the back, as well as a decent boot. Practical, right?
But day-to-day details make all the difference and the drive to simplify the CS's cabin and reduce the car's overall weight has seen many common interior-storage options deleted.
The price CS owners pay for racy minimalism is a complete absence of door bins, no lidded box between the front seats, and no oddments tray in the middle of the centre console. Just a pair of cupholders ahead of the gearshift, and a shallow tray beyond that.
If you and a friend get into the car each carrying a standard load of personal junk like a phone, keys, wallet, and a beverage of some description, capacity is immediately exceeded.
Yes, you can shove all that 'stuff' into the (medium-sized) glove box, and that's probably the safer option anyway. But it's not as convenient as slipping things into strategically placed bins and boxes.
In terms of charging/connectivity there's a 12-volt outlet between the cupholders, and a single USB port oddly placed towards the rear of the centre console.
And while there are two seats in the back, getting to them requires the flexibility of a side-show contortionist, and the patience of a Tesla Model 3 reservation holder (the electric system that slides the front seat forward is glacially slow).
Even once you've managed to thread the needle through to the back, headroom is tight, so it's fine for kids and an occasional-only option for grown-ups. There are no cupholders or even a fold-down centre armrest back there, but there is a small, open oddments tray between the seats.
A cargo net is standard, there are four tie-down anchors, a small netted storage section behind the passenger side wheel tub, a cubby on the opposite side, shopping-bag hooks and conveniently placed handles, which release the 60/40 split-folding rear seat backs to liberate more room.
Don't bother looking for a spare wheel of any description. A repair/inflator kit is your only option.
There are some cursory concessions to practicality… like a glovebox, a single cupholder under the dash at the leading edge of the centre console, a small bin between the seats, housing multiple USB outlets, and other storage options here and there.
The latter includes a shelf at the top of the bulkhead behind the seats, marked with a specific label saying (words to the effect of) 'don't put stuff here', but that's more about objects flying forward in a high-G deceleration, which in this car is more likely to be the result of hitting the brakes, rather than a crash.
But the 'big' surprise is the 144-litre boot in the nose, complete with light and 12 volt power outlet. It easily swallowed the CarsGuide medium sized, 68-litre hard shell suitcase.
In terms of getting in and out, make sure you've done you warm-ups because frankly it's an athletic challenge to maintain composure and get the job done either way. Despite best efforts, I hit my head a couple of times, and aside from the pain it's worth pointing out that being a follicularly-challenged person I'm forced to display abrasions in full public view.
Price and features
In a classic less-is-more (money) scenario, the $189,529 BMW M4 CS cops a decent serving of standard features, but misses out on some of the luxury trimmings included on the next-rung-down M4 Competition ($156,710).
Standard inclusions run to adaptive LED headlights (including 'BMW Selective Beam' anti-dazzle tech), adaptive M suspension, combination 'Merino' leather/Alcantara seat trim, Alcantara-wrapped 'M' sports steering wheel (with blue/red stitching), a configurable head-up display, a 'BMW Individual' Anthracite roofliner, 'Comfort Access' (keyless entry and start), plus the 'iDrive6' multimedia system (managed via controller, touch or voice) running through an 8.8-inch, high-definition screen.
There are also big 10-spoke forged alloy rims, front-seat heating, sat nav, automatic headlights, rain-sensing wipers, front and rear park distance control, 'Surround View' parking assist, and the 'BMW ConnectedDrive' suite ('BMW Connected+' smartphone app, real-time traffic info, concierge services, and more).
That's a heavyweight equipment list for a car that's all about lightness. Inside, besides the basic door and centre console arrangement, the other significant concessions to kilo stripping are a 'specially adapted' 12-speaker version of Harman/Kardon's 'Surround Sound' audio system with DAB+ digital radio (16-speaker in the Competition), and a simplified, single-zone climate control set-up (dual-zone in the Competition).
Kind of like the CEO wearing a Swatch watch; they're wealthy and powerful, but 'all about performance', so they wear a functional, conspicuously un-flashy timepiece. They still live in a $10m penthouse apartment, though.
Standard kit runs to climate control air con, an alarm system, cruise control, remote central locking, LED headlights, tail-lights and DRLs, keyless entry and drive, a limited-slip differential, leather steering wheel, power folding mirrors, four-speaker audio, and a multi-function trip computer.
'Our' car featured close to $30,000 worth of options; headline items being the 'Elite - McLaren Orange' paint finish ($3620), a 'Sport Exhaust' system ($8500), and the 'Security Pack' ($10,520) which includes front and rear parking sensors, a reversing camera, alarm upgrade and a vehicle lifter that raises the front of the car an extra 40mm at the push of a column stalk. Very handy.
And the signature orange shade follows through with orange brake calipers peeking out through the standard 'Club Cast' alloy rims, and similarly coloured seatbelts inside.
Engine & trans
Like its E9 coupe forbear, the M4 CS is powered by an in-line six-cylinder engine, but things have moved on over the last 50 years, and the current (S55) engine offers a mechanical case study in the marriage of high-performance and efficiency.
The all-alloy unit features direct injection and twin turbos, the key drivers behind a stonking 600Nm of maximum torque (50kW up on the M4 Competition), available from 4000-5380rpm, and peak power of 338kW (+7kW), arriving at 6250 rpm.
It also features a 'charge air' (air-to-air) intercooler, 'Double Vanos' variable cam timing, and 'Valvetronic' variable valve lift (inlet and exhaust side).
The sleeveless cylinders use 'Electric Arc Wire Spray' technology to form a thin coating of iron on the cylinder walls, to save weight (no cast-iron liners) and reduce manufacturing complexity. And the engine's closed-deck design increases the block's torsional rigidity, enabling a substantial 10.2:1 compression ratio and use of a lightweight, forged crankshaft.
Transmission is a seven-speed 'M Double-Clutch' (M DCT) dual-clutch auto, complete with dedicated oil cooler, and drive is distributed across the rear axle via an electronically controlled, multi-plate 'Active M Differential'.
Aside from you and a passenger, the most important thing sitting between the 540C's axles is the 3.8-litre (M838TE) twin-turbo V8.
Developed in collaboration with British high-tech engineering specialist, Ricardo, McLaren's used it in various states of tune across different models, including the P1, and even in this 'entry-level' spec it produces enough power to light up a small town.
In 540C trim, the all-alloy unit delivers 397kW (540 metric horsepower, hence the model designation) at 7500rpm, and 540Nm from 3500-6500rpm. It uses race-derived dry sump lubrication, and a compact flat plane crank design, favoured by Ferrari and others in high-performance engines.
While vibration damping can be an issue with this configuration, it allows a much higher rev ceiling relative to the more common cross plane arrangement, and this engine screams up to 8500rpm, a stratospheric number for a road-going turbo.
The seven-speed 'Seamless-Shift' dual-clutch transmission sends drive exclusively to the rear wheels and comes from Italian gearbox gurus Oerlikon Graziano. It's been progressively refined and upgraded since its first appearance in the MP4-12C in 2011.
Claimed fuel economy for the combined (ADR 81/02 - urban, extra-urban) cycle is 8.3L/100km, the twin-turbo six emitting 194g/km of CO2 in the process.
Over roughly 350km of city, suburban and freeway driving (much of it 'enthusiastic') we recorded 10.9L/100km (at the bowser) An impressive number for such a strongly performance-focused machine.
Minimum fuel requirement is 98 RON premium unleaded, and you'll need 60 litres of it to fill the tank.
McLaren claims 10.7L/100km for the combined (urban/extra urban) fuel economy cycle, emitting 249g/km of CO2 at the same time.
For the record, that's six per cent better than the Ferrari 488 GTB (11.4L/100km – 260g/km), and if you take it easy on a constant freeway cruise, you can lower it even further.
But most of the time, we, ahem, didn't do better than that, averaging 14.5L/100km via the trip computer in just over 300km of city, suburban and freeway running.
Let's get it out of the way. The M4 CS is fast. Anything running 0-100km/h in less than four seconds gains admission to a seriously rapid club, and BMW claims 3.9sec for this car (an exact match for the soon-to-arrive Merc-AMG C63 S Coupe).
We might have given the standard launch-control system a go, and may be able to confirm straight-line acceleration from step-off will compress your chest like an over-zealous lifesaver at CPR practice.
But just as impressive is the in-gear thrust, with 80km/h to licence loss (120km/h) covered in only 3.4sec. Which plays to the twin-turbo six's strength, with maximum torque arriving at a relatively high 4000rpm, and remaining on tap until 5380rpm.
Power doesn't reach its peak until 6250rpm, with the rev ceiling sitting at 7600rpm; impressively high for a twin-turbo engine.
Everything from the DSC, ABS, and active suspension to the active diff, electrically assisted steering and seven-speed, dual-clutch transmission has been tuned specifically for the M4 CS.
The 'M DCT' auto is agreeably civilised at parking speeds, yet shifts positively and rapidly, especially in manual mode, under pressure at higher pace.
An M Sport exhaust system features electronically controlled flaps sitting directly in front of the rear mufflers, and varies the intensity of the accompanying soundtrack according to drive mode and level of aggression. It sounds suitably angry, but those hoping for the soaring purity of say the (S54) naturally aspirated in-line six found under the bonnet of the E46 M3 will be left hankering for the good old days.
Front suspension is a modified MacPherson strut design, with a five-link set-up at the rear, and data from wheel-acceleration sensors on each corner is used to recalibrate each damper's setting every 2.5 milliseconds.
The drivetrain, suspension and steering can each be dialled into 'Comfort', 'Sport' or 'Sport+' modes, and the CS's ride changes markedly in the switch from Comfort to Sport; the former proving compliant and smooth rolling over rough city surfaces, and the latter keeping things reassuringly buttoned down on a B-road blast.
Although BMW says that, unlike the M4 GTS, it has deliberately steered the M4 CS away from a focus on the circuit (no roll cage, no adjustable splitters or spoilers) we'd suggest it's best to keep the Sport+ suspension setting for track days unless you're already planning on replacing some of your older fillings.
Speaking of track days, BMW says the M4 CS's dynamics were “honed on the Nurburgring Nordschleife” where it's recorded a best lap time of 7:38, which is as fast as a Ferrari 458 Italia and Lexus LFA. That's very, very impressive.
At 1580kg the M4 CS is 35kg lighter than the M4 Competition (1615kg), and just five kegs under the Pure (1585kg), so despite all the light-weighting hype it's worth remembering we're still looking at a car tipping the scales at just under 1.6 tonnes.
The electromechanical steering can also be tuned through the three performance modes, and Sport delivers the best combination of quick turn-in, agreeably linear assistance and decent road feel.
But putting the CS's power down out of even moderately quick, tight corners is less convincing. The big forged-alloy rims (19-inch front, 20-inch rear) are shod with ultra-high-performance Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 rubber (265/35 front – 285/30 rear).
Squeezing the power in smoothly but quickly, the semi-slick tyres feel like they need more heat in them. Without going anywhere near the DSC's more taily 'M Dynamic' modes, and despite the active diff, the rear of the car will squirm when fed full throttle acceleration on corner exit, unsettling overall balance. Less edgy Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres are a no-cost option.
The standard M sport front seats look the part (the M4 logos in the backrest illuminate!) and grip firmly without any discomfort for this 183cm tester.
And when it comes to slowing everything down, the standard brakes run to big ventilated discs front and rear, clamped by four-piston calipers at the front, and two-piston at the rear.
Our test example was optioned with the $15,000 'M carbon ceramic' package featuring humungous carbon rotors, thumping six-piston calipers up front, and four-piston rear. For that money you'd expect Le Mans-style braking performance, and while we didn't exactly put them to a 24-hour high-speed test, firm application of the left-hand pedal will consistently stand the car on its nose.
The best word to describe driving this McLaren is orchestration. The 540C's dynamic elements flow seamlessly together to transform its operator into a conductor guiding a well-honed mechanical orchestra through an energetic concerto.
And slipping (carefully) over the carpeted bulkhead into the driver's seat is like dropping into an ergonomic masterclass. It feels like you're putting the car on, rather than getting into it.
Like all other current McLarens, the 540C is constructed around a one-piece, carbon-fibre tub, which it calls MonoCell II. It's super stiff, and just as importantly, light.
McLaren quotes a dry weight (no fuel, lubricants, or coolant) for the 540C of 1311kg, with the kerb weight a stated 1525kg (including a 75kg passenger). Not featherweight, but with this kind of power sitting a few centimetres behind your head, it's not a lot.
A sophisticated launch control system means zero to licence loss is achieved in a flash (0-100km/h – 3.5sec), with jail time lurking if you ever decide to explore the 540C's 320km/h maximum velocity. And in case you're wondering, it'll blast from 0-200km/h, in just 10.5sec.
The engine sounds brilliantly guttural, with lots of exhaust roar managing to find a way past the turbos. Maximum torque is available across a flat plateau from 3500-6500rpm, and mid-range punch is strong. However, the 540C is anything but a one-trick pony, or is that 540 ponies?
The double wishbone suspension, complete with the adaptive 'Active Dynamics Control' system lets you channel all that forward thrust into huge cornering speed.
The switch from Normal, through Sport to Track progressively buttons everything down harder, and an ideal weight distribution (42f/58r) delivers fantastic agility.
Feel from the electro-hydraulic steering is amazing, the fat Pirelli P Zero rubber (225/35 x 19 front / 285/35 x 20 rear), developed specifically for this car, grips like a Mr T handshake, and the standard 'Brake Steer' torque vectoring system, which applies braking force to optimise drive and minimise understeer, is undetectable in the best possible way.
The steering wheel paddles come in the form of a genuine rocker, so you're able to change up and down ratios on either side of the wheel, or one-handed.
Hammer towards a quick corner and the reassuringly progressive steel rotor brakes bleed off speed with complete authority. Flick down a couple of gears, then turn in and the front end sweeps towards the apex without a hint of drama. Squeeze in the power and the fat rear rubber keeps the car planted, and perfectly neutral mid-corner. Then pin the throttle and the 540C rockets towards the next bend… which can't come quickly enough. Repeat, and enjoy.
But slotting everything into 'Normal' mode transforms this dramatic wedge into a compliant daily driver. Smooth throttle response, surprisingly good vision and excellent ride comfort make the McLaren a pleasure to steer around town.
You'll love catching a glimpse of the heat haze shimmering up off the engine in the rear-view mirror at the lights, and the (optional) nose-lift system makes traversing awkward driveways and speed bumps manageable.
The BMW 4 Series (and by extension the M4 CS) hasn't been assessed for crash safety by ANCAP or EuroNCAP, but boasts a solid array of active and passive safety tech, with several notable omissions.
To help you avoid a crash the M4 CS features ABS, brake assist, EBA, EBD, 'Cornering Brake Control' (CBC), Dynamic Stability Control (DSC), Dynamic Traction Control (DTC) and dry braking, 'Emergency stop signal', lane-departure warning and a tyre-pressure-monitoring system.
M4 owners also receive a complimentary BMW Intensive Driving Experience course (one person per vehicle purchase), which is arguably the best crash prevention measure of all.
But significantly, there's no AEB (Auto Emergency Braking) or other, more recent safety bits and pieces (found on other current BMW models) like blind-spot monitoring, forward-collision warning, fatigue detection, reverse collision avoidance, or speed-sign recognition and warning.
If all else fails and a collision is unavoidable passive safety tech runs to head and side airbags for the driver and front passenger, as well as curtain airbags covering front and rear. But again, things like an active bonnet and active front head restraints, fitted elsewhere in the BMW world, are MIA.
There are ISOFIX child-restraint anchors with top tether points in each of the rear seat positions.
In terms of active safety, the car's dynamic ability is one giant safeguard against a collision, and that's backed up by tech features including ABS and brake assist (no AEB, though), as well as stability and traction controls.
But if a crunching-type incident is unavoidable, the carbon-composite chassis offers exceptional crash protection with dual front airbags in support (no side or curtain airbags).
Not a huge surprise that ANCAP (or Euro NCAP, for that matter) hasn't assessed this particular vehicle.
Warranty cover is three years/unlimited km, with 24/7 roadside assistance included for three years, and additional support from BMW 'Servicemobiles' (07:00 – 23:00 every day) staffed by trained techs and stocked with key service parts.
Maintenance on all BMW 4 Series models is controlled by a 'Condition Based Servicing' system which piles real-time data (mileage, time since last service, fuel consumption, and how the car has been driven) into a specific algorithm to determine whether an annual vehicle inspection or (oil) service is due.
That's a lot of kays for a premium exotic like this, and some may not see 15,000km on the odometer… ever.