Whether you’re a fan or not of the “Fast & Furious” franchise, one thing that’s hard to argue against is the impact it has had on modern modified car culture. For BMW, the modified and after-market scene is huge business, and one that BMW GmbH itself is participating in more frequently than ever before with its M Performance branded parts. That ability to customize and individualize your pride and joy, be it for the looks or for the performance gains, is a massive fascination for many, myself included, with Instagram and YouTube providing a forum for a host of new influencers to show off and share their creations.
And whilst for the few this can turn a passion and a hobby into a paid or sponsored career, for other’s it can simply be a lifestyle choice and for others still, just a bit of fun. Sometimes though it doesn’t always go to plan. Only last year, BMW gave YouTuber Riccardo Senior just a week to pay up for his M4 Competition in full. Why? Well, Riccardo highly modified his M4 with methanol injection and a hybrid turbo to produce a truly tarmac shredding and staggering 720bhp. Promoted over YouTube, it was hardly surprising BMW were upset, you see Ricardo didn’t actually own the car, he was leasing it from BMW. Duh.
But sometimes the need to modify is negated by the fact that a special car is created from scratch by a manufacturer. Take BMW’s M division for example, over the decades they’ve produced such legends as the E30 M3 Sport Evo, the E46 M3 CSL, even the Fire Orange E92 V8 M3 GTS. And the most recent addition to this rather select group of cars? Well that’s the track focused M4 GTS.
Released back in 2016, and at £120,000, the GTS was double the price of the regular F82 M4. But did that put prospective buyers off? Not a chance, the entire limited global production of 700 vehicles was sold out within days. The UK was allocated 30 right hand drive cars, although according to one source that number increased to 32 after a few toys were thrown out of a few prams by a couple of wealthy brand advocates not wanting to miss out.
So, whilst producing a very rare and special version of an M car was not unheard of by BMW M, what was justifying the hefty price tag of this particular GTS? Under the bonnet sits the familiar 3 litre straight six twin turbo from the F80/F82, but this time it has one very trick upgrade, a cold-water injection system. Who would have thought water can make a petrol engine car go faster? And not just a little bit faster either. Power and torque both increased substantially over the base power unit, giving 493bhp and 442lbft of torque, and that translated into delimited top speed of 190mph and 0 to 62mph time via its DCT gearbox of just 3.8 seconds.
The GTS also has a whole bunch of other upgrades and additions so that the car could be finely tuned to suit either the track or road. Along with its widened track, the car has three-way adjustable coilovers (16 settings), carbon ceramic brakes, thicker anti-roll bars, a (bright orange) roll cage courtesy of the no-cost option Club Sport package, a large front splitter, a huge rear wing and the stunning orange and diamond cut wheels were shod with Michelin’s sticky and track focused Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres. Here was a car that was set up for super sharp driving dynamics.
Of course, to go faster, more power is helpful, but so is losing weight. Like many of its predecessors, the GTS was no exception in having been put on a weight saving diet by the folks in Munich. Gone are the rear seats, the fronts seats replaced with light weight versions, the roof, bonnet, boot, splitter and wings were made of carbon fibre, and even the wheels could be upgraded to carbon fibre versions to save an extra 7 Kg of unsprung weight. Added to this, the standard exhaust is made of titanium and the interior has been paired back so there is no centre console storage and only grab straps instead of door handles. With all of these changes you may be a little surprised that the weight saving over a regular F82 M4 is only 30Kg’s then. But from experience, that adjustable suspension system will be adding significant weight over the standard set-up and the there’s also a 5-litre tank in the boot for that trick Water Injection System.
Cosmetically the M4 GTS is somewhat muted in exterior colour options compared to the M3 GTS that came before it, painted as that was in “look at me” Fire Orange. The M4 GTS options are far less shouty and coming in four colours only; Frozen Dark Gray Metallic, Sapphire Black, Mineral Gray and Alpine White. I say only, as it seems one determined German customer couldn’t resist twisting BMW’s arm and had his M4 GTS painted in the same Fire Orange as the previous generation; quite a feat considering no Individual paint colour options were supposed to be available, a true one of one car; that’s some impressive personal network connections going on right there.
But “muted” is not what I’m thinking right now as I stand in front of this absolutely stunning Frozen Dark Grey Metallic M4 GTS owned by Julian Rooney. The way that frozen finish holds the light across its shape on this glorious late summer’s day is quite extraordinary. The contrasting orange wheels & roll cage, gold brake calipers and extensive exposed carbon fibre bring together an awesome visual feast for the eyes, only bettered as the ignition is switched on and the rear bespoke OLED tail lights do their dance. If ever there was a factory produced Fast & Furious car then this is it.
Seconds later my jaw dropped euphoria is shattered as Julian turns over the engine and the exhaust explodes in to life. PHAAAWWWRRRRRRRR!! Whooah, what an epic noise! This is one Weapons Grade road legal race car.
After the car is moved out of its spacious garage and on to the driveway to be photographed, it gives me a few moments to speak with Julian about how the M4 GTS ended up in his collection. “It was during the F80/82 M3/M4 launch at Intercity Istanbul Park back in June 2014 that I found about it. Over dinner, and after a few glasses of wine, it was mentioned by one of the BMW guys that a limited track focused edition version of the M4 would be made available, my interest was piqued. The headiness of an M4 and exclusivity of a GTS, well it was something I just had to have. As soon as I was back in the UK, I made the call to Sytner High Wycombe and got my name on that list.”
But the M4 GTS purchase nearly didn’t happen, Julian continues, “However, I almost lost out on my slot. I was away with the family in Scotland on holiday during the October half term the following year, and with very little mobile reception I was pretty much out of contact with everyone. What I didn’t realise was that BMW had chosen that week to call all of the prospective buyers to take deposits; and it was simple, no deposit no car. Luckily a really good friend of mine realised what was going on and knowing that I was pretty much off grid for the week, very kindly stepped in and paid my deposit.” That IS a good friend.
And what does Julian enjoy most about his GTS, “The enormous sense of occasion. It doesn’t feel like an M4 at all. And unlike some of my other cars such as the Porsche 999.1 GT3 which you can lean on immediately and which has huge traction, the GTS takes time to build confidence and understand the depths of capability; although it’s certainly a bit of a handful in the wet on those Cup 2’s”.
As we look around the car it becomes clear of the quality and attention to detail that BMW has lavished on the M4 GTS. The installation of the water tank and roll cage finishing are really very impressive, the coil over suspension adjustment kit is a work of art, and I can’t help being blown away by those orange and diamond cut wheels. Although as Julian points out, the limited clearance between the front brake calipers and inner alloy is so tight that it can lead to stones being trapped and scoring the alloy which has occurred on one of the wheels; I can’t say I much envy the poor guy or girl who has to refurb and match that wheel finish…
Climbing into the drivers full Carbon Recaro seat, specified as part of the Club Sport package, I realise just how well these seats grip the driver in all the right places, and yet this is done whilst being obviously comfortable. And Julian backs this up by confirming he has made several five-hour journeys with no issues. It’s a great cabin to be in and instantly familiar to anyone who has sat in an F8X M3 or M4 CS, only the steering wheel with its M Performance LED Race steering wheel and GTS badging differentiating the surroundings. The steering wheel itself feels chunkier than normal, but wrapped in Alcantara it’s a special thing to be holding on to and fully complimentary with the noise that exhaust is making out back.
With the static shots finished, we head out on to the rural Sussex roads. These single lanes are not forgiving, the quality of their surface is broken and they undulate significantly, but Julian knows them well and we are quickly making some seriously rapid progress. With the Cup 2’s now warming up the poise this GTS is carrying down these roads and the grip that is available is staggering; that trick suspension is incredibly impressive. Like all great fast road car suspension, it is that initial inch of travel that is so impressive and plush, keeping that Michelin rubber firmly glued to the tarmac, that really breeds driver confidence to push on.
But whilst my backside and brain are appreciating the ride and grip, it’s actually my ears which are having the greatest time. But that enjoyment is not coming from the outstanding induction noise from under the bonnet like previous M Car legends such as the E46 M3 CSL, no, this time all of the joy is coming from those four titanium exhaust tips. The noise is truly epic, with a fantastic range of pops and burbles on the overrun; whoever designed that exhaust system deserves a medal, it defines the character of this car perfectly.
As we head on to larger and smother roads Julian demonstrates the explosive acceleration of this M4, and in doing so also exposes one of the cars rare areas of weakness. On full bore acceleration in Sport mapping and up shifting from 2nd to 3rd, the warm Cup 2’s break traction, overwhelmed by the torque of the engine. And to repeat, this is on warm Cup 2’s. Whilst the break is momentary it is enough to halt that last percentage of forward momentum and can undo some of that confidence so wonderfully increased from the suspension. To fix this should be a simple mapping change to the throttle and gearbox; interestingly the M2 CS I drove only the month before had exactly the same issue, that was fixed by changing the throttle mapping to Comfort, but really, the Sport setting should be able to take the torque, let’s not forget, there is an even more aggressive Sport Plus setting too.
Other faults are few and far between. Yes, the front splitter is low for our UK roads and is prone to grounding now and again, and Julian mentions that the Electric steering is “not very GTS like”, but that is an unfortunate trait of many of the electrical steering systems; with each new BMW generation improving over the last.
After waving at the Supercar spotters at Buckbarn on the A24, we finally join the A272 and are able to stretch the GTS’s legs along some of southern England’s finest driving roads. It gets a lot of attention this GTS and for all of the right reasons, it just looks a very special car. As I switch to my Z4M which is acting as a camera car today, it gives me plenty of time to stare at the GTS from all kinds of up-close angles and watch the way it goes down the road. Just the way it sits and glides over the surface, that race car stiffness evident, tells me it is one very capable car.
As we take a break between the rolling shots, I can’t help but ask Julian which of his fast road cars he prefers, and perhaps cheekily which one he’d sell first, the Porsche 991.1 GT3 or the M4 GTS? After a pausing briefly for thought, he then smiles, “I’d keep the GTS and sell the GT3. Finding another GTS wouldn’t be easy, and I’ve had it from new and its, well its more special”. High praise indeed. But what I most admire about Julian’s M4 GTS, and in fact all of his cars, is his absolute conviction that all of them should be driven regularly and driven properly. This GTS has over 3,000 miles on it already, and that should tell you all you need to know about how far away this particular, albeit, mint example is from being a Garage Queen.
As we head back across the now busier Sussex roads, I give some thought to the place of this M4 GTS within BMW’s M Car legends. It feels unlike any other that I have driven and very different from an E46 M3 CSL for example. It is for sure rarer, but it is also a more hard-core track focused Weapons Grade machine. And please don’t read that as I’m belittling the CSL, I wouldn’t dare do that, but I do think the GTS is on a different level again, and in my mind, that makes it quite a special thing indeed.
A massive thank you to Julian Rooney for not only sharing his M4 GTS with us for the day, but for sharing his huge enthusiasm about all things automotive; a true functioning car addict if ever there was one.