By: Jesse Adams
Johannesburg - The term ‘race car for the road’ is used a lot. Often inappropriately.
Technically speaking, race cars and road cars can’t coalesce. And not only for issues of slick tyres, loud exhausts, missing lights and absent chassis numbers. It’d also be downright absurd to take a fully roll-caged, six point-harnessed sedan with 10mm of suspension travel and front tyres set at five degree negative camber angles down to the shops. A heck of a lot of fun, maybe, but still absurd.
There are some rare exceptions, though. In the late 90s Porsche and Mercedes built road-going versions of their 911 GT1 and CLK GTR to comply with homologation rules for international circuit racing. These cars were quite literally race cars for the road, and even called Strassenversions - which when directly translated from German means ‘road version’. They’re also as rare as rocking horse poo. Look them up, they’re marvellous things.
Still, there are cars that balance the fine line between road and track, and I’m not talking about your mate’s lowered Fiesta on drag radials. We’re talking about factory-built track-day specials. They may vary in true raciness on a scale from Renault Twingo RS to Nismo GT-R, but some stray even closer to the realm of pre-race paddocks and parc fermes. Here’s one... BMW’s new M4 GTS.
Please don’t mistake this for a slightly warmed up everyday M4, even if it may seem that way on the surface. Dig a little deeper and some genuine race engineering is revealed. As it rightly should given its R2.2-million price. That’s almost exactly double the tag on a garden variety M4.
The light stuff
Right off the bat you’ll notice a set of carbon-fibre racing buckets, which are adjustable on sliding rails only. You’ll need to remove four cap screws to alter height and backrest angles. The steering wheel, centre console and parts of the dash are covered in alcantara, the sun visors are plastic, the sound system plays through two small rear speakers only, and there are dog leash-like fabric loops instead of regular handles to pull the doors closed.
The interior door panels are also made of lightweight composite materials, and there are no pockets for stashing wallets, cellphones or suchlike. These items inevitably find a home in the passenger footwell, so few and far between are storage binnacles. The GTS’ rear seat has been removed altogether, so you could put things there, provided they’ll fit between the roll cage’s bars. Yes, in our market an orange-painted steel jungle gym is included as standard equipment.
Scratch even deeper and it gets better. This M4’s bonnet is made from lightweight carbon fibre, the exhaust is titanium, brakes are carbon/ceramic, and an under-bonnet strut brace in glossy carbon fibre gleams like an expensive necklace over the engine.
It gets better. At all four corners you’ll find Eibach springs and remote reservoir coilover racing shocks from KW, with adjustments for rebound and compression. There’s even a coilover lock-ring spanner in a neat little case in the boot for adjusting ride height. Bear in mind, this requires removal of all wheels, and some basic knowledge of damper setups.
Then there’s the M4’s piece de resistance - a water-injection system hidden under the boot floor. This flux capacitor-looking device requires regular top-ups of distilled H2O, which is spayed directly into the combustion chamber as a cooling aid. Cooler cylinders mean more boost. More boost means more power. In this case 368kW and 600Nm compared to a standard M4’s 317 and 550.
That brings us to the most obvious and controversial GTS inclusions. I, for one, am not a huge fan of the matte paint, Acid Orange wheels and obscenely large (but thankfully functional) rear wing; although I know others might be. I also believe a car of this genre could do without satnav, auto start/stop, cruise control and USB ports. What’s the point of saving a few grams with plastic sun visors, only to put it back in with unsuited creature comforts?
No matter, the GTS still weighs about 27kg less than a standard M4, giving it a much healthier power to weight ratio. Is it noticeable? Yeah, I’d say so. But the extra kick in the pants is somewhat overshadowed by a sensation of the aural kind.
If, like me, you’ll find a regular M4’s exhaust tone a bit too muzzled, the GTS’ is anything but. That titanium freeflow offers a whole new character for the three-litre twin-turbo six, and what starts as a deep bellow, morphs into a hollow roar and then into a high-pitched shriek as the revs rise toward their 7500rpm redline.
The aural assault doesn’t only come from the engine either. Because there’s less sound deadening, there’s a surfeit of wind and road noise too. At low speeds the cabin also echoes with the sound of sand and stones being flicked off the super soft Michelin tyres into the inner wheel arches. A very racecar trait.
The ride is understandably firm, but not absurdly so. The multitude of suspension adjustments were left in their most neutral positions in our test car, so in theory it is possible to make it a bit softer (or harder) depending on if it will spend most time on road or track.
Obviously the GTS is intended more for circuit than drag use. Lateral grip, thanks to its trick suspension and sticky rubber, is phenomenal, but traction is a bit of a problem off the line. The driven rear wheels grapple for purchase on launch, and then continue to fight for grip as boost builds at around 2500rpm in the first four gears.
That said, we recorded an impressive 0-100km/h time of 4.2 seconds (BMW claims 3.8), with the quarter-mile coming in 12.2 at our Gauteng test track. These figures make it the fastest BMW ever through our doors. - Star Motoring
The M4 GTS comes with carpets, air conditioning, satellite navigation and an iDrive infotainment controller, so it’s clearly intended for road use. But its carbon brakes, rollover protection and mounting points for (optional) six point harnesses means it’s also designed for the track too.
A true race car for the road might be impossible, but this comes darn close. Sorry, but all 23 examples allocated to South Africa, out of 700 worldwide, are sold.
BMW M4 GTS
Engine: 3.0-litre, 6-cylinder turbo petrol
Gearbox: Seven-speed automatic
Power: 368kW @ 6250rpm
Torque: 600Nm @ 4000-5500rpm
0-100km/h (claimed): 3.8 seconds
Top speed (claimed): 305km/h
Price: R2 200 000
Warranty: Two-year/unlimited distance
Maintenance plan: Five-year/100 000km.
Follow Jesse Adams on Twitter @PoorBoyLtd