Making a Back road Murderer: When Identical Ain't All It's Cracked Up To Be
We named the sixth-gen Camaro our 2016 Car of the Year. That’s the highest praise we can give a vehicle. I remember sitting around after the vote with my fellow judges expressing the following sentiment: “Forget Mustang and Challenger. The Camaro now competes with BMW and Audi.” We proved that just days later when the new Camaro beat the Mustang GT in a Head 2 Head.
What if we put our COTY winner up against the gold standard of Teutonic performance machines, the venerable BMW M4?
It’s a virtual tie to 60 mph. Same story for the quarter mile.
Our combined eight decades of spinning around the sun make us not take the Camaro as seriously as we could.
“Here’s a sentence I never thought I’d write,” boss man Angus MacKenzie wrote at the time. “The Chevrolet Camaro is a better, more entertaining car to drive than a BMW 3 Series.” MacKenzie was talking about the brand-new 340i, a car that most certainly did not take home our Golden Calipers. But what if we put our new darling COTY winner up against the gold standard of Teutonic performance machines, the venerable BMW M4?
We’ve done this before. Five years ago, editor-in-chief Ed Loh pitted a 2011 Ford Mustang with the 5.0-liter Coyote V-8 up against an E92 M3. That one ended with Ford in second place, BMW winner of the chicken dinner. About that Mustang: “Never has a loss felt so much like a win. From not once considered to full-blown contender, 5.0 officially puts the world on notice.”
About that Bavarian: “Did you blink and miss the M3’s onionskin advantage over the GT? Here’s a hint: It’s in the chassis, not underhood.” The point in all this is that although the M4 remains a monument to itself, there are cracks in its armor.
Our COTY award went to the Camaro lineup as a whole, but the model that really sold it for us was the SS. It’s got a 455-hp, 455-lb-ft, 6.2-liter LT1 V-8 heart connected to a stout six-speed manual transmission powering only the rear wheels. The chassis is the latest version of GM’s highly acclaimed Alpha platform, the same underpinnings you’ll find beneath the skin of the Cadillac ATS and CTS, the latter also a COTY winner. The M4 comes with so many changes compared to the regular 3 Series that BMW gave it a new chassis code: F82 instead of F32 for the run-of-the-mill 4 Series. Under the Haube rests a 3.0-liter inline-six souped up by way of two turbochargers that help pump out 425 hp and 406 lb-ft of torque. Like the Camaro, the M4 has a six-speed manual and is rear-wheel drive. Although the Chevy has more power and torque, the BMW is lighter at 3,512 pounds (1,593 kg) versus 3,696 (1,676 kg).
“I ran the numbers a couple of times just to make sure these were as close as the charts show,” road test editor Chris Walton noted when he emailed us the performance results. “FREAKY close, nearly identical.” He ain’t kidding. It’s a virtual tie to 60 mph, the BMW needing 4.2 seconds and the Chevy taking 4.1 seconds. Same story in the quarter mile: Camaro in 12.4 seconds at 115.8 mph (186 km/h), M4 in 12.5 seconds at 116.5 mph (187 km/h). What about the figure eight? Both contenders came in at 24.1 seconds even though the Camaro’s average lateral acceleration is 1.01 g compared to 1.00 g for the M4. The wheelbases are identical: 110.7 inches each. We had Randy Pobst lap each around the Streets of Willow: 1:22.94 for the BMW, 1:23.15 for the Chevy. Confession time: Due to an oversight on our end, the BMW was lapped with only half a tank of premium. Our standard testing procedure is to test and lap all cars with full tanks. Assuming 7 gallons were missing, that’s about 40 pounds (18 kg). We asked our SCCA Hall of Fame buddy what difference 40 pounds (18 kg) makes on a racetrack. “Maybe a tenth,” Pobst said. Apologies to Camaro Nation, but our point about these two cars being near indistinguishable performers remains. You Ford fans? The new Mustang GT takes 1:24.32.
As my fellow senior features editor Jason Cammisa says, all of these numbers are “within the noise.” Meaning that tenths of seconds and hundredths of g’s don’t actually matter in the real world. The only outlier in terms of performance was braking: 108 feet for the BMW against 102 feet for the Chevrolet. A bit disappointing on that last one, as the M4 comes with $9,350 USD carbon-ceramic brakes. (Yes, the brakes are “only” $8,150 USD, but you have to get a $1,200 USD set of wheels to get the fancy stoppers.) That said, Cammisa, Pobst, and I all preferred the way the M4’s brakes worked to how the Chevy’s did. Of course, the other numeric outlier is price: $46,095 USD as tested for the Camaro SS, $77,495 USD for the M4. That’s more than $31K USD.
That is all of the objective stuff. Measured, timed, and weighed. As you know, though, objective information is indeed useful, but it’s certainly not the entire picture. For instance, this Camaro SS is the 2SS model. Even though it’s about $9K USD pricier than the 1SS model we tested for Car of the Year, we don’t like it as much. Objectively, the performance is almost identical. Look at the figure-eight times. Both ran a 24.1-second lap. However, both Cammisa and I preferred the ride and handling from the fixed suspension on the 1SS to the adjustable magnetorheological dampers on the 2SS. We also both preferred the way the Camaro tore up a ribbon of asphalt compared to the M4.
The Alpha chassis is worth its weight in aluminum. It’s properly stiff and sporty; we’ve yet to find an Alpha car that didn’t handle at or near the top of its class. “We’re hard on the M4 because of our high expectations from anything with a Roundel on it—and that absurd price,” Cammisa said. “But the fact is that the 4 Series is still a reasonably well-engineered car, and a beautiful-looking one at that. What’s missing is any trace of that special sauce that used to make BMWs worth the additional price: tuning.”
All the little things that used to come standard on not just M Division cars but with BMWs in general seem to be lacking. “The steering’s numb, the shifter’s sloppy, the engine’s response is nonlinear, and the clutch pedal has far too much travel,” Cammisa said. The Camaro had far superior electric power steering and a more precise shifter, and its clutch, which by no means is world-class, is better than the third pedal in the M4.
As for the engine, no contest here—small-block all the way. Again, we know the performance numbers are a virtual dead heat, although the Camaro is so much easier to launch that on the street the Chevy will win 90 percent of the time. That’s not what we’re talking about. We enjoyed the 6.2-liter natural breather more. Cammisa had much to say on the subject. “Any criticism of the BMW’s power delivery needs to be tempered by the harsh reality that governments are waging a war against fuel consumption, especially in Europe,” he said. “Downsized turbo engines do well on standardized tests even if they don’t deliver fuel savings in the real world. For a turbocharged engine, the BMW motor is great. Sure, it has lag—all turbos do—but it’s got an enormous powerband and pulls incredibly hard to seven grand.”
He then tempered his own comment. “Then again, maybe if BMW wasn’t so obsessed with selling every model in enormous volumes, a slurpy, thirsty M3/M4 wouldn’t be a big deal.”
We get that the M-Division’s hand was (probably) forced to produce a turbocharged motivator for the M3/M4. However, we do not get the noise this thing makes. “It’s possibly the coarsest straight-six ever,” Cammisa said. “It sounds like a Cuisinart choking on concrete. Scott Evans described its cold idle as ‘one of those small, portable air compressors you plug into the lighter socket.’ He’s dead on.” That’s on the outside. Inside’s worse, and it’s made no better by the fake engine noise pumped in through the M4’s speakers. “BMW’s active sound management amounts to little more than spraying air freshener to drown out nasty bathroom smells,” Cammisa said. It’s fake, and noticeably so.
The small-block is GM’s core competency. The three most expensive products the General sells—Escalade, Z06, CTS-V—all have small-block V-8s. That compact, big-lunged, power-dense cam-in-block throwback is what Chevy and the rest do best. Same story here for the LT1 in the SS. It’s linear, sonically awesome both at idle and wide-open throttle, and just as fuel-efficient in the real world as the S55B30 in the F82. Instead of phony noises, the Chevy features an intake resonance tube plumbed right off the cold air pipe and mounted to the firewall. “Which,” Cammisa said, “is not only simpler but also sounds better. Sometimes simple just works better.” Amen.
That’s not to say the Camaro is a perfect car. Like all cars, it isn’t. Cammisa and I much preferred the M4’s looks. Even if you like the Camaro’s design more, you have to admit that it’s childish. Although we’re young at heart, my and Jason’s combined eight decades of spinning around the sun make us not take the Camaro as seriously as we could. Maybe a little less cartoony next time around? The BMW is straight up handsome, no two ways about it.
Aside from looks, Cammisa tabulated a litany of things we don’t like about the SS: “The back seat is a cruel joke. The HVAC vents love to freeze and/or slow-cook your right hand, and their cleverly integrated temperature knobs feel cheap. When it’s hot under the hood, the starter can barely crank the V-8 over quickly enough to start it. Steering weight can’t be selected individually from the drive modes—and it’s artificially heavy in both Sport and Track modes. The powertrain suffers from some big NVH issues.” However, he quickly adds, “All of those flaws suit the Camaro; this is a car with a clear understanding of what it is, who it appeals to, and what it needs to do.”
By dint of declaration, Cammisa’s saying that the BMW does not know what it needs to do. The numbers show the M4 has it when it counts. But just driving the thing around? Feels like a plain old luxury car. Refined and nice enough but not the be-all, end-all of hot Germanic muscle machines. Admittedly, faulting a car like the M4 is akin to feeling the pea under the mattresses, but it’s more than one pea, and them’s pretty thin mattresses. “I was genuinely concerned that the M4 would wipe the streets with the Camaro, and yet the exact opposite happened,” Cammisa said. “The Camaro’s win was wholesale.”
Hats off once again to Camaro boss Al Oppenheiser and his team. They took on Germany’s performance standard-bearer, objectively tied it, and subjectively blackened the M4’s eye. “The Camaro’s biggest weakness is its own badge,” Cammisa said. “Discounting the 1LE and Z/28, the Camaro was so bad for so long that it’s hard to take this car seriously against the M4. Until you start driving it.” Yup. If how a car drives matters more to you than badge cachet, Chevrolet has you covered.
Second Place: 2015 BMW M4
It’s time for BMW to either rethink or reclaim ye olde Ultimate Driving Machine. Times done changed.
First Place: 2016 Chevrolet Camaro SS
Our flying hot lap starts with the BMW M4 and Chevrolet Camaro SS within 0.5 mph (0.8 km/h) of each other. By the first corner, the BMW holds a very slight advantage on the Bow Tie, but through this very fast right-hander, the Teuton delivers Randy Pobst loads more confidence. Yet from there until Turn 9 the M4 and SS are virtually roped together again—and it’s a very short leash. The BMW is usually a smidge faster in the corners. The Chevrolet sometimes gains but sometimes loses under acceleration (its shifts being noticeably slower). This slower-shifting by the SS causes bigger trouble on the back straight, but the Camaro reels in the M4 by its ability to brake much later coming into Turn 10. This later braking helps again as the SS bears down on Turn 11. Unfortunately, this slightly erodes its pace in the subsequent corner, and the BMW proceeds to edge out another small advantage with quick bursts of better speed until they finally reach the finish line—where the BMW is ahead by a mere 30 feet. — Kim Reynolds
|2015 BMW M4||2016 Chevrolet Camaro SS Coupe (2SS)|
|DRIVETRAIN LAYOUT||Front-engine, RWD||Front-engine, RWD|
|ENGINE TYPE||Twin-turbo I-6, alum block/head||90-deg V-8, alum block/heads|
|VALVETRAIN||DOHC, 4 valves/cyl||OHV, 2 valves/cyl|
|DISPLACEMENT||181.8 cu in/2,979 cc||376.1 cu in/6,162cc|
|POWER (SAE NET)||425 hp @ 5,500 rpm||455 hp @ 6,000 rpm*|
|TORQUE (SAE NET)||406 lb-ft @ 1,850 rpm||455 lb-ft @ 4,400 rpm*|
|REDLINE||7,500 rpm||6,500 rpm|
|WEIGHT TO POWER||8.3 lb/hp||8.1 lb/hp|
|TRANSMISSION||6-speed manual||6-speed manual|
|SUSPENSION, FRONT; REAR||Struts, coil springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar; multilink, coil springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar||Struts, coil springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar; multilink, coil springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar|
|BRAKES, F; R||15.8-in vented, drilled, carbon-ceramic disc; 15.0-in vented, drilled, carbon-ceramic disc, ABS||13.6-in vented disc; 13.3-in vented disc, ABS|
|WHEELS, F;R||9.0 x 19 in; 10.0 x 19 in, forged aluminum||8.5 x 20-in; 9.5 x 20-in, cast aluminum|
|TIRES, F;R||255/35ZR19 92Y; 275/35ZR19 100Y Michelin Pilot Super Sport||245/40ZR20 95Y; 275/35ZR20 98Y Goodyear Eagle F1 Asymmetric 3 (Runflat)|
|WHEELBASE||110.7 in||110.7 in|
|TRACK, F/R||62.2/63.1 in||63.0/62.9 in|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||184.5 x 73.6 x 54.4 in||188.3 x 74.7 x 53.1 in|
|TURNING CIRCLE||40.0 ft||38.4 ft|
|CURB WEIGHT||3,512 lb||3,696 lb|
|WEIGHT DIST, F/R||52/48 %||54/46 %|
|HEADROOM, F/R||39.8/36.1 in||36.6/35.0 in|
|LEGROOM, F/R||42.2/33.7 in||42.6/29.9 in|
|SHOULDER ROOM, F/R||55.3/51.7 in||55.0/50.4 in|
|CARGO VOLUME||11.0 cu ft||9.1 cu ft|
|ACCELERATION TO MPH|
|0-30||1.8 sec||1.7 sec|
|PASSING, 45-65 MPH||1.6||1.8|
|QUARTER MILE||12.5 sec @ 116.5 mph||12.4 sec @ 115.8 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||108 ft||102 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||1.00 g (avg)||1.01 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||24.1 sec @ 0.82 g (avg)||24.1 sec @ 0.83 g (avg)|
|1.6-MI ROAD COURSE LAP||82.94 sec||83.15 sec|
|TOP-GEAR REVS @ 60 MPH||2,250 rpm||1,400 rpm|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$77,495||$46,095|
|AIRBAGS||Dual front, front side, f/r curtain, front knee||Dual front, front side, f/r curtain, front knee|
|BASIC WARRANTY||4 yrs/50,000 miles||3 yrs/36,000 miles|
|POWERTRAIN WARRANTY||4 yrs/50,000 miles||5 yrs/60,000 miles|
|ROADSIDE ASSISTANCE||4 yrs/Unlimited miles||5 yrs/60,000 miles|
|FUEL CAPACITY||15.8 gal||19.0 gal|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB ECON||17/26/20 mpg||16/25/19 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||198/130 kW-hrs/100 miles||211/135 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.96 lb/mile||1.02 lb/mile|
|RECOMMENDED FUEL||Unleaded premium||Unleaded premium|