Every great sports car has its magic moment — the spot where it seems truly happiest, beyond the driving it manages with proficiency. Sometimes, this takes place in the esses, when you’re ricocheting from side to side and the car’s suspension soaks up the turns and spits you out on the other side with little lost momentum. Think Porsche. Other times the moment takes place at launch, when the engine, transmission and tires conspire to catapult you off the line with as much wheelspin as you desire. Think ‘Vette.
Others shine at top speed. For instance, the Lamborghini Huracán howls like — well, a hurricane above 180 mph and every click from the engine bay and twitch felt in the wheel makes you fully cognizant of how much effort engineers have put into making those speeds possible. It feels like the car was previously waiting for you to ratchet up the nerve to fully unfurl this monster.
The BMW M4 Convertible ($72,500) also has a magic moment, but it’s not in the twisties, the launch or at top speed. This is a hard-top convertible, and that means BMW added 500 pounds of hardware over the M4 Coupe. The self-stacking mechanism, with its majestic retraction, takes a lot of pounds to create, and it’s the engineering equivalent of having two linebackers in the backseat. You feel that presence constantly, and for that reason, its handling is slightly diminished compared to other, more nimble cars.
Engine: 3.0-liter, inline six-cylinder with M TwinPower Turbo Technology
Transmission: six-speed manual transmission or M Double-Clutch Transmission with Drivelogic
Horsepower: 425 horsepower
Torque: 405 lb-ft
0-60: 4.4 seconds
MSRP: $72,500 (base)
For off-the-line performance, the M4 Convertible — which starts at $72,000 and can easily find its way to nearly $100K when you add things like carbon ceramic brakes and a heated neck warmer — is only 0.3 seconds slower to 60 mph than its coupe brother. That’s hardly noticeable, and the high-speed dual-clutch sequential transmission remains a work of kinetic art. But a 4.4-second 0-60 time is not quite magic. Top speeds also don’t inch toward the high hundreds, nor was I in a position to let it truly test these speeds.
Instead, I found the car’s magic comes while driving around on a spring evening in the rolling countryside of western New Jersey — top down, music barely audible, low enough to not drown out the 425 horsepower, twin-turbo inline-six. There, I found an open stretch of pavement and had an experience that took me back to an earlier incarnation of this same vehicle: a 2005 BMW M3, also with a sequential, paddle-shifted gearbox. (This was prior to BMW revising its nomenclature so that coupes and convertibles had even numbers, and sedans, odd.) I remembered that car suddenly waking up in third gear and at about 70 mph, acquiring an aura of menace and purpose.
When dropping into third gear at full throttle, the car transitions from a fast convertible to an unhinged thrill ride.
When dropping into third gear at full throttle, the car transitions from a fast convertible to an unhinged thrill ride, with the 406 lb-ft of torque (40 percent more than its V8 predecessor!) coming to the fore. The exhaust note drops lower than in other gears, and the turbo influence feels more pronounced. This moment is something of an automotive “reset” moment, found by by backing off slightly at the pedal and then re-engaging at full force when the car slams into third. Fourth and fifth gears are naturally more of the same, but not quite with the same edge as at lower speeds. Third is where the car is truly meant to be, gathering speed on a straight stretch of two-lane highway.
The car is terrific in twisty roads, and it will clearly be great fun on a racetrack. It’s appropriately stiffened for stability and flat cornering over the conventional 4-Series, though true track aficionados would likely not opt for the nearly $9,000 carbon brakes that my test car came equipped with — aimed squarely at racetrack performance and longevity — in a car that comes with 500 pounds of extra roof; they’d go with the coupe. But I found the magic moment to be accelerating on the straightaway, and found myself relishing third-gear moments in the turns, as well. It’s there that the car is most happy, as will be the driver who pilots it.