BMW M4 Coupe Concept’s styling pleases our eyes, but will its performance stir our souls?

BMW M4 Coupe Concept front three quarter

The BMW 3 Series will always be the favored car of yuppies and people who can’t afford a 5 Series, but it will also hold great promise for regular fans of speed. That’s because BMW always hands the car over to its M Division, which always turns it into the spectacular M3.

Since the launch of the F30 3 Series, fans have been waiting for a new M3. At this week’s Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, they’re getting it. Sort of.

BMW is doing things differently this time: Since it’s splitting the two-door coupe and convertible cars off under the new 4 Series moniker, the new M3 coupe is actually an M4.

Officially, its the M4 Coupe Concept, but the very shiny coupe you see here is almost identical to the production car people will actually be able to buy. That car will debut at the Detroit auto show in January. The sedan, still called M3, will be mechanically identical.

The M4 Coupe comes hot on the heels of the 2014 435i and like previous M3 coupes, it takes that car’s styling and adds some steroids. The fenders are flared, the hood gets a bulging power dome and there is plenty of ductwork.

One point of interest is the new twist on the trademark side vents. They were a signature styling cue on the previous two M3 generations (E46 and E90/92), but this time around they look a lot like the ones from the sorely missed 1 M Coupe.

The redesigned front and rear fascias also bear a family resemblance to the 1 M and the current M5, making the M4 look macho, but in a specifically BMW way. The vertical intakes on the outside edges of the front fascia, called the Air Curtain, are also supposed to keep air flowing smoothly around the wheel arches.

Not many people spend time looking at their car’s roofs, but everyone will be taking a close look at this one. As with the previous M3, the M4 Coupe Concept has a carbon fiber roof. It’s an exercise in targeted weight removal: by lightening the top of the car, engineers lower the center of gravity, improving handling. At least, that’s what the PR spiel says.

The M4’s roof is actually carbon fiber-reinforced plastic (CFRP), the same materials used to make the chassis of the i3 electric city car.

That gold paint may seem a bit tacky, but it isn’t any worse than the Phoenix Yellow Metallic hue BMW offered on the E46 M3. The M4 definitely looks good, but will it have the performance to match its physique?

BMW hasn’t made any official statements regarding the powertrain, but it is widely believed that the M4 (and M3 sedan) will have a turbocharged inline-six engine. This harkens back to the E46 and the 1990s E36, two of the most popular M3s of all time. However, it probably won’t be as exotic as the engines that powered those cars.

The M Division has lifted its traditional prohibition on turbos and is no longer designing its own engines. Just look at the 4.4-liter twin-turbo V8 used in the M5 and M6: it’s based on the engine uses in several of its regular models.

With that in mind, it seems likely that the M4’s engine will be based on the 3.0-liter inline-six from the 335i and 435i.

That may sound like a letdown, but keep in mind that the current V8 M5 is more powerful, more fuel efficient, and faster than the old V10 model. BMW may pull off the same trick as it transitions from the current M3’s 4.0-liter V8 to the six.

The real question is whether BMW can preserve the elemental driving experience of past M3s, and not mask it with electronic complexity. The video game-like quality of many recent BMW performance cars has been a major point of criticism.

To surpass the great M3s of the past, the M4 will have to be quite a machine. Watch this space to see if it is.

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