Ford Mustang vs. BMW M4: Which sports coupe comes out on top?

The Ford Mustang and BMW M4 are similar in looks and size, but they have vast differences when it comes to price tag and what's under the hood. 

Carlos Osorio/AP/File
The Mustang GT 350R is unveiled during the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

The Ford Mustang and BMW M4, at face value, probably don’t appear to have a whole lot in common. They go at it from opposite ends of the enthusiast landscape: The Mustang is the quintessential pony car—an American icon by almost any definition—while the BMW M4 builds on decades of finely groomed performance pedigree.

Price-wise there’s a vast difference, too; you could get two high-performance, V-8-powered Mustang GT Coupes for approximately the price of a base BMW M4.

Yet these two models have become more closely aligned than you might think, in recent years. Both models are nearly identical in overall width and height and within a few inches in overall length. Even their profiles have become quite close in silhouette—especially with the introduction of a somewhat more modern, sculpted, organic look for the 2015 Ford Mustang.

The BMW M4 is a new model, too, although it’s not a new segment for BMW whatsoever. The M4 takes the place of the M3 Coupe, as BMW has pushed its coupes and convertibles onto a separate 4-Series model line (still related to the 3-Series, but different in some key performance areas); the result is a bit leaner-looking, yet the M4, of course, pushes the design into its optimized high-performance form, with flared fenders around larger wheels and grippier tires, plus a carbon-fiber roof option, upgraded sport wheels, M-specific controls for the electronics, and all sorts of interior touches.

Under the hood, these two models both aim to provide inspiring performance with everyday personalities to match, but again they go about that in very different ways. The M4 goes with a new, higher-output version of BMW’s twin-turbo in-line six-cylinder engine, making 425 horsepower, mated to a rev-matching manual or seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox, and can get to 60 mph in just under four seconds or up to a 155-mph limiter.

Those who have been following BMW’s performance products for years won’t be at all surprised that the M4 is a technological (and electronic) tour de force. And there are pros and cons to that. There’s an Active M limited-slip differential that helps get the power to the pavement, dynamically and predictably when it matters; electric power steering that varies weight and feedback; dynamic adjustment for damper settings, and multiple Active M modes from Comfort to Sport and Sport+ that sum it all up for the driver.

The Mustang, on the other hand, is more of a traditional performance car in its top Mustang GT guise; that’s where a 435-horsepower, 5.0-liter V-8 rumbles under the hood, mated to six-speed manual or automatic transmissions, and at its best with a Performance Pack that wraps in a limited-slip rear end, summer performance tires, Brembo brakes, and extra body bracing. There’s launch control, too, and you can get a line lock for smoky burnouts and drag nights.

The 2015 Mustang, for the first time, gets a fully independent rear suspension, and it’s one of the keys to ride and handline that are far more mature and nuanced than they’ve been in the past for this model. Rough pavement no longer leaves the Mustang feeling out of sorts, and it’s far more confirdence inspiring in the corners.

We’ve driven both of these models back-to-back, and we have to admist that while it’s an odd comparison, we have more fun in the Mustang on certain kinds of roads. In tighter canyon roads, the Mustang had a feeling of directness and control—and inspiring sounds from the V-8—that made it our pick versus the M4. On the other hand, the M4 is a car that feels in its element on high-speed sweepers, blasts across the desert, and flat-out acceleration runs. Unfortunately none of those are realistic U.S. drivingn conditions, and you’ll need track time to get to any sort of giddy point with the M4 while keeping your license.

Both models are essentially 2+2s and offer roughly the same amount of interior space. The Mustang Coupe and M4 both offer small back seats that work for adults for short stints yet are a bit too small for regular duty. And both models are offered in Convertible variants. The Mustang Convertible now has a top that lowers twice as quickly as before and preserves more of the racy profile, while the M4, also with a soft top, is a step ahead in comfort (as it should be for the price) with a standard wind blocker and three-temperature neck warmers.

Other higher-performance versions of the Mustang are on the way—most notably, the Shelby GT350, with its 526-hp flat-crank 5.2-liter V-8, track-focused performance, and $49,995 price tag. Moving to the more practical end for the moment, the Mustang is also offered in base V-6 and four-cylinder EcoBoost turbocharged models—with the latter providing quite a different (albeit still very quick) alternative personality to the burbling V-8.

The BMW M4, of course, offers some features you won’t find in the Mustang—like a head-up display, and an iDrive infotainment system that, we now think, is far easier to navigate than Ford’s laggy MyFord Touch (soon to be replaced, by the way). However, the Mustang surprises here, too, with active-safety options like adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, and blind-spot monitors all on the menu.

It all goes to show that, when shopping for a performance-oriented coupe, you can’t always assume that a higher price tag will put a bigger smile on your face. If you give value a little extra weight, as we tend to do here at The Car Connection, the Mustang is the champ of this comparison.

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