The basic BMW M4 costs £56,650 - and for that money you can have some very tasty alternatives
Steve Cropley would head straight for a Jaguar F-type coupe V6 S
The F-type coupe's £60,000 price tag means Cropley would end up owing £3600
Nic Cackett recommends the Ariel Atom 3.5 R
Cackett's other pick is the Ford Focus RS, but you'll also need to budget for a hefty fuel bill
The first of Hilton Holloway's choices would be the BMW M235i
For those more sensible days, Hilton would also opt for the practical Skoda Superb
Colin Goodwin would satisfy his curiosity with a Ferrari 550
The other of Goodwin's picks is already his - it's the Triumph Tiger 800
Lewis Kingston would fulfill a childhood dream by owning the Ferrari 308 GTB
Matt Saunders would buy a Lotus 2-Eleven, which costs around £35,000
There's no reason why you couldn't put 100,000 miles onto the right BMW M5, says Saunders
Let’s pretend, just for a moment, that the majority of expensive new cars are not actually bought on finance or as company cars.
Let’s imagine, solely because it suits this story, that the accepted way to buy a new car is to stroll into a dealership with nigh on £60k’s worth of bank notes in your hand and place them quietly on to a salesperson’s desk and gently ask if they’d mind, awfully, exchanging them for a BMW M4.
A new M4, with manual transmission and no options – not that anybody will buy one like that – retails at £56,650, and very pleasing it is, too. With 424 twin-turbocharged nags, a limited-slip differential and rear-wheel drive, it is a coupé to be adored. It drives well. It seats four. It swallows golf clubs. And it is as capable at driving to and from the Nürburgring as it would be around the circuit when it got there.
Do we like the idea of that? Consider our boat duly floated. But what if you had the requisite £56,650 to do with as you pleased in motordom, but didn’t want an M4. Where should you take your bank notes instead? And would you be better off doing so?
Personally, I’d have about a dozen ropey old sheds and snotters, have greasy fingers and no personal life, so I have been banned from the game. Instead, we have asked some of our esteemed contributors what they would do – and below are their proposals.
Steve Cropley - Jaguar F-type coupé
You'll clock that when it comes to spending Mr Prior’s £56k, my colleagues have mostly taken the two-car option. In a way, I admire their enterprise.
However, a lifetime of chucking good money after bad on cars old and new (not to mention about 50 motorcycles, two aeroplanes and a boat), I can tell you with certainty that the most enjoyable course is to choose one fabulous car that you can enjoy every day of the week. It simplifies everything: garaging, insurance, servicing, deciding what to drive tomorrow.
That’s why I’ve chosen the Jaguar F-type V6 S coupé. First of all, it’s one of the most satisfying cars that I’ve driven for years, exciting for its performance yet reassuringly easy to drive because of its precision.
Once you learn its capabilities (I’m tempted to say ‘limits’ but you’ll never approach most of them, on the road) it feels like something you wear. Subtle stuff like brake assistance build-up and steering gearing is exactly as I’d choose it myself. I like that feeling that I’m stepping straight into a car the great Mike Cross has just signed off.
There has been criticism of the ride. Some find it too firm. It seems fine to me and – important – also to the missus who (I’ve learned from long experience) has to sign up to any car we buy for it to be fully enjoyed.
The F-type is firm, but also taut and controlled. It looks terrific and is unmistakable as the new F-type. And in the more rigid, more precise coupé, even the boot space is respectable.
The eagle-eyed among you will have noticed that the coupé costs £60,000, not the £56,000 I’m offered by Mr P. The hell with it; to make up the difference, I’ll sell the racing pigeons and take on a paper round.
Matt Prior's verdict - Not bad at all, Steve. A fine-handling car with poise, and purpose, and for my money the F-type’s engine sounds better than the BMW’s. Talking of money, you owe us £3600.
If we’re spending M4 money in the real world, and not just indulging in some Pistonheads browsing fantasy, I want something that I could afford to run without the need to swap road testing for hedge fund management.
In fact, I want two things. Because, inevitably, I want to go hazardously quickly very occasionally on my own and moderately quickly the rest of the time, potentially with others aboard.
The first criteria is easy to fulfil. For affordable track and summer day silliness, you buy British. And brand new, too, because a combination of low volume and high demand means that you get more of your money back.
The Ariel Atom 3.5 pictured is the 245, the oft-forgotten entry-level car. It’s often forgotten because its 2.0-litre Honda VTEC engine lacks the supercharger that made its more expensive siblings the subject of instant renown.
However, in my view, a bit less shove actually helps to make the car’s hectic potential seem like a tappable resource rather than a bottomless well of whining excess. By the time you’ve added a limited-slip diff and had it taxed and tested, the Atom will have set you back £32,795.
That leaves £23,205. Used Porsche Cayman money. But anything with six cylinders or more is out (see earlier conviction) and a requirement for back seats and a boot puts us in hot hatch territory. You could opt for a new car here, too – Ford Fiesta ST3 – and be very happy, but I’ve indulged my hankering for the Blue Oval’s other recent great: the Mk2 Focus RS.
You’ll need all the remaining budget for a decent example and, yes, the warbling in-line five does like a drink. Even so, it’s the leggy Volvo donkey that now marks the car out as special, its brawny, big-engine flexibility proving a likeable world away from the current generation of overstrung four-pots. That and the exceptional front-drive chassis to which it is connected.
Thus you have broad-batted amenability, nonchalance and invigoration for the working week, and hair-on-fire exhilaration for Sunday best. Everything the M4 is trying to be, in fact, but utterly more so.
Matt Prior's verdict - Decent choices, NC: a nice-sounding, entertaining tin-top for carrying stuff, and an Atom for ideal thrills when you reach the right road. Now, can you fit a towbar to the old five-cylinder warbler?
So with a notional £56k to play with, the first thought that comes to mind is that I won’t be buying some ‘classic’. If there’s one thing that (briefly) owning old cars taught me, it is that they are an unreliable money pit best suited to inveterate fiddlers and tinkerers.
So with new cars on the list, it’s hard to beat the ‘small body, big engine’ formula. I can still remember – over 20 years on – the thrill of being handed the keys of a Volkswagen Golf VR6 for a weekend. That car’s liquid, humming progress was a revelation. I also ran a Mk4 Golf R32 for a year, another car that combined effortless pace and a handy size.
But nothing quite matched the sophistication of Autocar’s long-term BMW M135i, a small car with a hugely muscular engine. Every time I drove it, I was amazed by the overwhelming sense of really serious engineering that pervaded the car. Really, you only usually get this kind of vibe with seriously expensive cars.
For me, the M135i feels more ‘special’ than even a Porsche Cayman and right up there in 911 land. Oh, yes, all that and the slingshot performance and exquisite balance. The M135i was an insane bargain at £30k. Its 2-series coupé equivalent, the M235i, is hardly any less so at £35k. Oh, and don’t forget to spec the automatic gearbox. Manuals went out with the Weber downdraught.
With pleasure motoring catered for (and Sundays free to go for a drive rather than spending the day struggling with a feeler gauge), a serious workhorse is needed. Pound for kilo, there’s none better than the Skoda Superb.
Based on the Chinese-market stretched Passat, it manages to combine both massive passenger space and massive luggage capacity. Rear seats down, the load bay has a much greater height than the shallow bay in the Volvo V70. And if you recline the backrest of the front passenger seat, it’s possible to carry Ikea’s longest flatpack: the 2.6m-long wardrobe door.
It drives very well and is especially satisfying with the 1.8-litre turbo and a DSG ’box. The Superb is what a Volvo estate really wants to be.
Matt Prior's verdict - I can see where HH is going: the Superb will save waiting at home between 8am and 6pm because it can take its own stuff home from Ikea – allowing more time to drive the M235i, which is a limited-slip diff away from wonderful.
Colin Goodwin - Ferrari 550 and Triumph Tiger
Allan Muir, who turns what I write into something that hopefully someone might want to read, went through a phase of buying new motorbikes, as did a few other mates. Eventually, I got fed up with everyone else having new toys, so I bought a new Triumph Daytona on the drip.
Jealousy is a dangerous thing, and while I was on holiday in Sri Lanka earlier this year it raised its ugly head again. The owner of the guesthouse in which I was staying happened to be a car fanatic and he and I spent several evenings talking cogs and stuff.
This chap owns not one but two Ferrari 550 Maranellos and swears by them. Add him in and that makes four friends who own or have owned 550s. So given this surprise of M4 money, it is my turn to have one, too.
I remember the first time that I drove a 550: it was down at Peter Robinson’s place in Italy and Steve Sutcliffe, Stan Papior and I went clubbing in it. (Stan was on the parcel shelf.) Must have been 1996. The 550 felt like it was machined out of solid billet – so strong and tough, with no clonks or free play in the drivetrain. Eighteen years ago, 485bhp was a lot. Now it is puny but that V12 engine is lovely and the Luddite-friendly six on the floor flawed but involving.
One owner friend said that for every tank of fuel, he had to put £40 in his back pocket as a ‘tyre fund’. I’d only be using the Ferrari for my sparrow-fart Sunday blasts to the coast for a cuppa, so tyre wear wouldn’t be too big an issue, or fuel.
And anyway, that is why I have the Triumph Tiger 800. It has enough poke, it isn’t too heavy for filtering and won’t snap off my leg if it falls over, and it’s easy on fuel. The three-cylinder engine is sweet and sounds cracking with an aftermarket zorst.
Matt Prior's verdict - Ferrari 550s are increasingly hard to get for this money, especially with enough over for a bike. And neither is that practical. But Goodwin has built an aeroplane in the garden shed of a terraced house. So he’ll probably find a way.
Lewis Kingston - Ferrari 308 GTB
An early ‘vetroresina’ Ferrari 308 GTB was the first supercar that I ever experienced. I was eight when I first sat in the passenger seat and, suffice to say, the 308 left quite a mark on me – to the extent that it’s what I’d buy now, if I had the money. I loved everything about it, from its sleek Pininfarina-penned lines to its snug, finely detailed and low-slung interior.
What really leads me to continually recall the 308 GTB, however, is the howl of its quad-cam V8. I will also never forget the first moment that I saw the tachometer of the svelte 2.9-litre engine climb above the 7000rpm mark, the quartet of Weber 40 DCNFs liberally cascading fuel into its intake tracts.
Compared with modern engines, the V8’s claimed 255bhp and 210lb ft barely register on the scale. But you can actually deploy and enjoy this engine to its fullest without risk of instantaneously losing your licence.
What further impressed me at the time was its comparative ease of use. It was well mannered in traffic, factory air-con kept the cabin cool, and the owner rarely had any mechanical issues with it – despite a six-figure mileage and track use.
With a service manual to hand, you could also undertake much of the required general maintenance yourself, making the ownership experience even more gratifying.
Values of 308s are well on the up, so perhaps it’s best to jump in now, rather than miss the boat. You should be able to find a smart steel-bodied 308 GTB with fewer than 80,000 miles on the clock for £50k to £55k.
Besides having a rare and distinctive Ferrari to enjoy, you could also take comfort in the knowledge that you may have just bought an appreciating asset. A justifiable and usable classic supercar? Just so.
Matt Prior's verdict - Now here is a car that doesn’t need to augment its engine noise by playing it through the cabin speakers. Would you want to use one every day? I doubt it, but that’s okay: in a month, Lewis will have sold it and bought a muscle car.
I’m spending my M4 money with zero regard for the price of insurance, servicing, tyres or fuel. As everyone knows, this is the only sane way to operate your personal car collection. Better to pick cars that are old enough – and special enough – not to depreciate much, and take the hit on paying as you go to keep them in decent condition. Not lending them to the other tear-arses on the road test desk – or Goodwin – will help.
Splitting the pot, I’d commit the bigger half (£35,000 or so) to the most uncompromised thrill machine I could fit my not so waif-like backside into. Caterham Sevens and Ariel Atoms don’t count because I can’t use them comfortably; too tall, too fat, too many bruised elbows and knees.
But I reckon that you’d be mad to pick an Atom or a Caterham over a Lotus 2-Eleven anyway. Although not as light, the Lotus makes a better track car because it comes on full-sized wheels and tyres, is decently aerodynamic and more stable at high speeds than the little ’uns. It’s also usable on high days and holidays on the road – just.
I’d be lucky to get one like the now privately owned 2-Eleven you see in the gallery above. A one-off in Lotus’s evocative JPS livery, it was created by Lotus independent trader Scott Walker and supplied by Jamie Matthews of Bell and Colvill. And it’s a knockout. It has unique provenance, too: chassis number 211, with special permission granted for the paintjob. A future collector’s item.
The smaller half of my pot would go on something more practical – but little more sensible. Something to give Munich a bit of love, in the face of all this ‘I don’t want an M4’ talk.
The E60 BMW M5 was the last M car I got truly excited about. Some people can’t stand the ‘Dame Edna’ styling, but the more time passes, the better the car looks to my eyes.
The one pictured in the gallery above is a saloon, but I’d have a Touring – a later car, as they had more reliable gearboxes, better usability and more rarity value, not to mention narrower rear wheels (nudge, nudge). There’s no reason why you couldn’t put 100,000 miles on one. I reckon you’d savour every warbling 10-cylinder mile.
Matt Prior's verdict - Nice choices by MS. A 2-Eleven is a wonderful thing, and the M5 is okay, too. Certainly worth talking about; and he’ll have plenty of opportunity to chat about it, given that he’ll have to stop at every third petrol station.
What would you buy with your imaginary M4 money? Leave your suggestions below, and read the full BMW M4 review here.