Two-Door 3 Series or Mini 8 Series?
Mt. Baldy Road is just over an hour’s drive from downtown Los Angeles, but it’s reminiscent of European Alpine Passes – those that lead from metropolises to epic vistas and crisp mountain air. Separating from the highway, it passes through a quiet suburb before opening up to long sweepers crisscrossing the hill. On the final climb, it folds into tight switchbacks before ending in a tiny rural ski resort. This is the type of road car that the BMW M440i xDrive was designed for.
The 4 Series is no longer just a two-door 3 Series. While this iconic sedan retains its dynamism, the 4 Series evolves and now offers a blend of luxury and performance once reserved for high-end BMW models. It’s a balance that will leave some drivers happy and others asking for more.
Is the M440i fast? Yes…
Behind those atrocious oversized kidney grilles sits a turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-6 engine producing 382 horsepower and 364 lb-ft of torque, transmitted through an eight-speed automatic transmission to BMW’s xDrive all-wheel drive system. It’s a powerful setup. Using the sportier ride modes and a bit of pedal overlap, the M440i jumps to 60mph in 4.0 seconds flat and cuts the quarter mile in 12.6 seconds at 110.2mph.
Acceleration is the most M-ish thing about this car – at 60 it’s as fast as an X3 M Competition and not far from the pace of the last-gen M3. Still, the M440i’s engine is just as happy to stroll calmly as it is to rush to the red line. All the while, he’s spinning with a soft (but perhaps digitally enhanced) growl.
Swat the paddles and shift gears obediently, although they aren’t dual-clutch quick. Catch up gear under hard acceleration and the car responds with a nice little kick. Or, just leave it in auto and cruise mode, letting its computers gently select the right gear.
Brake calipers with the M logo lock the ventilated rotors to a stop of 109 feet at 60 mph. This deceleration separates other performance-oriented BMWs; the M340i stops at 111 feet and the M2 Competition at 106 feet. The brakes are responsive and provide a linear buildup of stopping power. But the pedal stroke is long, which makes it difficult to judge the pressure needed to achieve the desired effect. The responsiveness makes them a bit catchy at low speeds, while the long run didn’t inspire confidence when approaching those mountain bobby pins.
With MotorTrend Kim Reynolds, Head of Testing, behind the wheel, the M440i averaged 24.7 seconds and 0.78 g on the figure-eight course. On the skidpad, it got stuck up to 0.93 g. It’s impressive when you compare it to other all-wheel-drive sports cars. The Quattro trim Audi S4 doubled the figure eight in 25.2 seconds to 0.75g. The Mercedes C43 with 4Matic AMG-ified did the same in 24.8 seconds at 0.77g. Both circled the skate at 0.91g. After evaluating the 4 Series, Reynolds called it “a very powerful car that propels quickly around the next corner with modest drift at the exit.”
… But is it fun to drive? Not enough.
As true as it may be on the test track, don’t expect the xDrive system to provide happy hijinks without serious provocation. Drivers with skill levels below Reynolds will find the all-wheel drive to be as good as it gets. On the mountain. Baldy’s switchbacks, the M440i, were extremely reluctant to turn, instead rounding corners with firm neutrality. Accelerating early has just brought understeer with overly cautious stability control intervention. On the fast corners it offered superb calm at high speed but little excitement. And it was in Sport Plus mode, in a car fitted with the “ZTK” cooling pack and high performance tires.
The scarcity of steering feel is also minor for the many M badges. As in the M8 competition, the abject lack of feel through the wheel results in dilution of the fun. It feels numb, isolated from whatever is going on under the front tires, unimproved by its lightness and somewhat slow gear. Of course, it’s precise and the car goes where the driver wants it. But it’s not quite agile, while the numbed sensations make the grip levels vague. That mystical driver-machine connection that BMWs were once known for is simply not there.
The ride is also lacking in feel, but that could be a good thing, because here the M440i looks more like a grand tourer than a sports coupe. While 3 Series models with M Sport suspension hammer their occupants over every imperfection in the road, the M440i rides comfortably, effectively erasing cracks and noises, only slightly rough on large potholes. Although it is flexible and non-floating, more feel through the suspension would give a better feeling of connection to the road during lively driving. Again? It is luxury.
The comfort of cruising on the continent persists in the cabin. The plush front seats resemble lounge chairs with side bolsters. To a real surprise, the rear seats are actually somewhat usable. There’s a decent amount of space, and dedicated air vents, USB ports, and storage compartments show that BMW hasn’t made the 4 Series second row an afterthought. Flawless driver assistance technologies make highway driving easier.
While the 12.3-inch digital gauge display is not as customizable as its German rivals’ counterparts, BMW’s latest iDrive revision is more user-friendly and its 10.3-inch touchscreen is bright and clear. Crisp, punchy sound emanates from the optional Harman Kardon 16-speaker premium audio system. The quality of the materials is high, although the layout is essentially identical to any other current BMW, a simple evolution from the previous 4 Series. A more inspired interior seems warranted for a car that makes such a bold design statement on the exterior. Then again, the austere cabin perhaps offers a refuge from the sight of that blatant grille.
Is the M440i a good M car?
There is no doubt that the M440i drives better than it looks. Understand, however, that this is not a 3 Series coupe. Like the best GT cars, the M440i is capable but keeps its operator away from the machines below. It’s powerful, balanced, and easy to drive quickly. Still, there’s an incredibly little sense of speed, and the feelings of connection and involvement that real driver cars offer are almost absent. Maybe the M4 will fix this.
Instead, the M440i is more like a miniature 8-Series: a smooth, calm haven to navigate in which you’ll always indulge in blasts at full blast. Like a true grand tourer, he’ll float through town, cross freeways, and force corners to be cut – just like he did on Mt. Baldy road. Don’t be fooled by all those Mr.
|BMW M440i xDrive Coupé 2021|
|STARTING PRICE||$ 59,495|
|PRICE TESTED||$ 69,770|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Coupe 2-door, 4-passenger, all-wheel drive, front engine|
|ENGINE||3.0L / 382hp / 364lb-ft DOHC 24-valve inline turbo engine|
|TRANSMISSION||8 speed automatic|
|WEIGHT ON BOARD (F / R DIST)||3,960 lbs (54/46%)|
|Length x Width x Height||188.0 x 72.9 x 54.8 inches|
|0 to 60 mph||4.0 seconds|
|QUARTER MILE||12.6 seconds at 110.2 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||109 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.93 g (average)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||24.7 s at 0.78 g (average)|
|EPA CITY / HWY / COMB FUEL ECON||22/30/25 (est) mpg|
|ENERGY CONSUMPTION, CITY / ROAD||153/112 kWh / 100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.78 lbs / mile|