(Image Credit: Raphael Orlove)

I’ve been a BMW fan my entire life. My first project car was a BMW. My first real race car was a BMW. Hell, I’m still trying to turn a BMW into an off-road Baja racer. But since the 1M went away five years ago, BMW hasn’t built much that did it for me. Until now.

No amount of hype was going to get me interested in the M4 GTS. The way I’ve seen it lately, M cars have become boring, far more about marketing hype and making sure the world knows their owners are loaded than actual performance at a track. Then a friend sent me a picture of something below the sheet metal. Something weird and awesome. So I went to see the GTS for myself and basically spent the rest of the day freaking out over it.

Here’s the picture that lured me into looking closer at the M4 GTS. Can you see what I saw?

It’s the front upright, machined from a solid chunk of billet aluminum.

Why would BMW do that? Does the machining process make the part that much lighter over a standard cast aluminum upright? Was it simply to keep the ideal suspension geometry with the car’s lower ride height? Did BMW just need to reposition the strut to fit larger front tires?

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When we asked, one of BMW’s technicians simply said that this is a specifically designed “swivel bearing/wheel hub” made to accommodate the shock absorber tube.

Then I got another picture, with the note “Bet you can’t guess what goes in here.”

I knew it was a suspension part. This toolkit is in the trunk of the GTS and that wrench is used to adjust the car’s ride height. But that missing bit...

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There were four slots. Cars have four wheels, brakes, and shocks. It had to be some tool for the shocks. But I was fully intrigued. BMW had built something I hadn’t expected after all.

When we asked about the toolkit, one of the company’s techs clarified that it includes “A hook/spanner wrench, knurled adjustment wheel for front rebound adjustment (rebound adjustment at the rear is performed at the upper end of the piston rod using the integrated knurled wheel) and a 22 mm socket.” The empty slots I saw are for screws that get removed in suspension adjustments. And don’t worry, we’ll get back to that soon.

I realized pretty quickly that the M4 GTS is a whole lot more than a sticker kit and dress-up package. It has an adjustable front splitter and rear wing. Carbon wheels. The radiator vents through the hood. It has a “boy racer” look to it, but so did the E30 M3 when it was new 30 years ago.

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That widebody work helped the original M3 make a big splash when it landed, but the fact that there was an incredible car underneath is what made it a legend. I think we might be looking at the same thing with the GTS.

Engage one of the “M modes” and the car wakes up with a big yawn from its titanium exhaust. The muffler’s 20 percent lighter than the one in a regular M4, but more importantly, it’s bypassed with the valve you see just aft of the hanger here.

Unmuffled the car’s loud, throaty, angry.

Lift off the throttle and all those deep gurgling noises you make in your head when you play race car in traffic come pouring out of the pipe... so remember to close it up a few blocks from home if you don’t want your neighbors staging a protest outside your house.

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I wanted to pop the hood and inspect at the engine but when I opened the door to find the latch, the interior was immediately too distracting. I love it. Simple, classy, and covered in M stripes.

The orange jungle gym of roll cage in the back is pretty obnoxious looking, but this is the first time BMW has sold a U.S. car with a factory roll cage. And that’s something to celebrate! You can only celebrate with one friend though since this cage takes up the entire rear seating area.

Those panels are made of carbon fiber reinforced plastic and weigh 40 percent less than the regular M4’s rear seat. Door handles were struck in the name of streamlining, too. Little M-colored straps were put in to replace them which save weight, look sweet, and don’t work at all.

BMW mounted them so far forward that it’s nearly impossible to have enough leverage to close the door. But I smiled every time I reached for one. The car takes its homage to racing seriously, and that’s exactly why it’s so much fun.

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The door skins feel as strange as they look- like someone molded them out of plastic then dipped them into cloth shavings. The cloth pattern looks cool, but the tactile sensation is something like a worn out tennis ball. It’s soft and nice to touch, but it feels unfinished compared to the luxury leather in the standard M4. But do you care? The new doors skins are 50% lighter!

The dashboard looks like a regular M4’s until you get to the cool GTS logo emblazoned into the Alcantara.

Hey, does that font look familiar to anyone else?

One M4 GTS option we can’t have in America- the carbon fiber, fixed back Club Sport seats. Those are certainly lighter but the U.S.-spec GTS seats are still very cool.

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The side bolsters are Alcantara, but the high wear spots you slide over are leather. You can’t actually feel the cut outs in the upper portion of the seat but they look great and let some air reach your back. I could do without the monster M colors on the headrest, but I love the more subtle striping on the seat belts.

Another differentiator between American and European GTSs is the wing. The part is the same, but because of U.S. regulations on the third brake light, the side plates are bolted on upside down on US models. My friend had them switched back around Euro-style.

While we’re talking about lights, I’m a little ashamed to admit it but the taillights are one of my favorite things about this car. Inside the housings a dozen or so little OLED can be triggered independently according to a BMW technical document I found:

“By activating the OLED segments individually, it is possible to create different rear lighting effects in different driving modes. Whereas normally the L-shape is wide and uniformly illuminated, in Sport mode a different-shaped light pattern can be used by activating only some of the OLED segments. The rear light then appears as a narrow, focused and sharply defined “strip” of light.”

So basically, the car’s nighttime profile changes as it changes in personality and performance level.

And we haven’t even started talking about carbon fiber wheels yet.

My friend ordered his car with the carbon wheels which I have yet to see on another GTS. Most come with the Acid Orange, aluminum wheels. I don’t particularly like the shape of the carbon wheels, but conceptually come on, carbon fiber wheels! The idea is awesome and unsprung weight is the devil.

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As you can see up close, the rims are carbon but the spokes and part of the wheel structure itself are aluminum.

Now even closer:

Moving around to the front, you might notice that the bumper is the same at the regular M4. The GTS, however, has a carbon platform that allows an acid orange splitter to extend out from underneath.

Here it is fully retracted. Loosen a few bolts and it slides out another 2.4 inches.

It’s easy to get lost in all the cosmetic parts of this car. They’re pretty and functional to back up their brashness.

But eventually, I did find that hood latch and made my way into the engine bay.

The GTS has the same engine as a regular M4 with a few small changes. One of the big ones is actually in the trunk, where BMW stashed a water injection system. Lift up the cargo floor and you’ll find this compartment holding a 1.3 gallon water tank and pump.

Water injection technology dates back to WWII fighter planes and there are countless in-depth articles on the topic, but the basic concept is that water is sprayed into the engine to cool the intake charge and reduce the chance of pre-ignition or detonation.

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As a result, BMW can be more aggressive with this engine’s timing and compression, which allows the engine to make more power.

Combine the water injection with a more power-biased engine computer calibration tune and BMW claims the output has been cranked up to 493 horsepower. A standard M4 is rated at 425.

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Once you get back to the engine bay you’ll find a giant radiator vent in the carbon fiber reinforced plastic hood that looks exactly like what we’ve been seeing on BMW’s race cars since the ’90s.

If you can hook up the rear tires, you should be able to get from stopped to 60 miles per hour in just 3.7 seconds. It’s fast.

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It’s so fast that traction control is a joke. The squiggly-road panic light on the dash strobes its warning every time you roll into the gas. Turn it off, and the acceleration doesn’t feel that different. But check the rearview mirror and you’ll see a few hundred dollars worth of rubber you just incinerated into smoke.

The M4 GTS lights up tires unlike any road car I’ve driven. If you want to drift a showroom stock car, the M4 GTS is your weapon. We didn’t have a racetrack to play on so here’s BMW’s promo video of the GTS drifting around the Nurbürgring, where it managed a fastest lap of 7:28.

The bodywork, engine, and suspension are so amazing I nearly forgot about the brakes.

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Giant calipers, ceramic pads, and yes they are brand new. They come from the factory with all those little cracks!

As one of BMW’s explained to us: “The M Carbon ceramic brake discs are made out of carbon fiber reinforced silicon carbide (C/SiC). As part of the manufacturing process, the brakes are baked in a special oven at high temperature. During cooling a visible cracked pattern is formed, this is called the relaxed microstructure.” So no, it’s not broken.

I still think that a 911’s brakes are better than a BMW given the weight balance of the Porsche, but these are the best brakes I’ve ever tried on a front-engine, street car.

My hunch is that the 3-way adjustable suspension is actually the key to the M4 GTS’s strong braking. The ceramic technology is incredible, but the way the car squats down under braking is even more impressive. It feels exactly like my race car... squeeze the brakes and the car doesn’t nose dive, the whole chassis hunkers down. The back doesn’t raise up at all and the feeling of stability is really unprecedented in a stock street car.

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Take a closer look at the front shocks. I’ve heard rumors they are made by KW but haven’t been able to confirm this (if you can, please share!) Keep in mind, the car I drove was just delivered from the dealer with BMW’s factory settings. A day at the track and you could probably adjust the shocks to make the car handle even better.

The picture above also shows the little clips that you remove for track days: look at the second black collar going up from the threads. The idea here is that you can go to the track, lower your car to a preset ride height, and reset it perfectly for less aggressive road driving when you leave.

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Instead of having to remember how many rotations to turn the wrench at each corner every time you want to track the car, you just jack the M4 GTS up, pull the spacer clips out and lower it.

I heard you could pull them out with an even simpler quick-release system, but I think you’d still need to twist the upper perch down to the lower stop with the wrench in the tool kit. Even so, you get repeatable suspension settings every time you lower the car for track days.

A day climbing around and driving the GTS completely convinced me that this is a car worth taking seriously. It may not have been built as a homologation special for racing like the original M3, but the GTS is very much a race car for the street.

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Adjustable aerodynamics. Adjustable suspension. Machined front uprights. Ceramic Brakes. Carbon body panels. Lowered ride height for track days. Carbon wheels. Water injection. And more horsepower to scare yourself silly on any road you’ve ever driven.

My only complaint is that just 301 cars have been allocated to the U.S. market. I know it’s cliché to say, but I don’t care. The real shame of the M4 GTS is the lack of production. The GTS is amazing, and while I don’t have $133,000 lying around myself, that price really is a steal for a truly special special edition BMW.

(Image Credit: BMW)

To BMW’s credit, the company tried to get the few cars coming here into worthy hands. A few have shown up on the internet with insane markups, but most went to loyal BMW enthusiasts.

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Dealers selling the cars were required to send a short background on potential clients to BMW for approval. They had to have been previous M owners or ambassadors of the brand with a racing background or membership at a private race track. Another 30 or so were offered directly to individuals that BMW considers influential in motorsports like Bobby Rahal, Roger Penske, Patrick Womack, and Rick Hendrick.

I’d basically giving up on modern BMWs and the M brand since the 1M Coupe went away, but the GTS proves there’s still some secret sauce left in Munich, even if only 301 drivers will ever taste this batch.

I just hope it’s not the last few drops from the glorious 1980s vintage, but the first taste of a new formula we’re going to get more of.