Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: January 18, 2021
Say what you will about the controversial grill on the new 4 Series but BMW has won this battle. As they say, there is no such thing as negative PR. Those two massive kidney grills have sparked widespread debate and attention, though public perception of it seems to err on the negative with many criticizing the front end as unfinished, un-BMW-like, and downright ugly. It’s a good thing then that looks are subjective.
Personally I don’t mind the new snout, though it seems to fit better on a more aggressive front profile, such as the one on the upcoming M3 and M4. I think the grill looks even better when enlarged and unrestricted like in the M4 GT3 race car set to race in the 2022 season. But I do agree that BMW’s designers should have mounted the license plate holder on the side air intake like they do in the Alfa Romeo Giulia and Nissan GT-R, creating a more homologated front end. But after spending a week with the new M440i xDrive, I’ll tell you this. The moment you stop focusing on the looks, you will find an incredibly capable and effective sports car underneath.
Longer, lower, and wider than the outgoing model, the new 4 Series cements its position as both a luxury and performance 2+2-seater coupe. Its silhouette is clean and attractive, from the frameless windows, long hood, and minimalistic lines. The low stance, dark surrounds around the grill, and beautiful shade of Dravit Grey really brings out some unique road presence but there really isn’t much here that screams BMW. The rear end with its tapered tail lights is more distinctive than the 3 Series but it lacks brand distinction, and if you pulled off that BMW badge, it could easily be mistaken for a Lexus RC 350 or Audi A5.
Launched in two flavours, the 430i xDrive ($53,650) receives a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder (B46) that punches out 255 hp and 294 lb-ft and a 0-100 km/h time of 5.6 seconds. The sportier M440i xDrive ($64,450) on test here is equipped with the more potent 3.0-litre turbocharged inline-six (B58) that generates 382 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque. It will run from 0-100 km/h in 4.5 seconds, competitive against the Audi S5 and Mercedes-AMG C 43, and easily distinguishable from the 430i with its rear trunk spoiler and Cerium Grey finish to the kidney grill, front air intakes, mirror caps, and exhaust tips. That, and the tacky M badges unceremoniously plastered on the side fenders. First order of business for any owner should be slicing those off.
Both 4 Series models come standard with an 8-speed automatic transmission and xDrive all-wheel drive. The M440i further comes with a limited slip rear differential, as well as a 48-volt mild-hybrid system, working much like the one in the Audi A7 and Mercedes-AMG CLS 53. This starter and generator unit is paired with a 48-volt battery that powers the car’s electronics, allows for a smoother start/stop function with possible engine shut off when the speed drops below 15 km/h, and recuperates energy from braking and deceleration, using it to supplement the engine with 11 additional horsepower during hard acceleration and subbing in when the turbo has yet to wake from its slumber.
WIth additional bracing, firmer springs, and stiffer anti-roll bars, the M440i is more rigid than before. Opting for the M Enhanced Track Package ($4,950) adds 19-inch wheels, an adaptive suspension, stronger M Sport brakes, carbon exterior upgrades, and a blacked out kidney grill. The M440i now also features an Adaptive drive setting, which automatically adjusts the steering, suspension, gas pedal sensitivity, and transmission shift mapping based on map data supplied by the GPS system, and will alter them accordingly based on upcoming corners and terrain.
Typical of BMWs, the engine that takes the spotlight. No rivaling V6 can match the smooth and silky behaviour of the 3.0-litre straight-six. BMW has been perfecting and fine-tuning this engine layout for what feels like a millennium, and their expertise pays off. With a gobsmacking amount of torque way down low, and a broad powerband that never ceases to run out of breath, the M440i is effortless to drive. Caught at 100 km/h and the gearbox sleeping in eighth? Just mat the throttle and the powerplant jolts to life without delay, sprouting torque left right and center, and delivering it without the slightest shudder in the chassis. It just picks up and glides forward. The 8-speed reacts quickly and is tuned with decently stacked ratios for road use. Responsive and harmonious is the best way to describe this powertrain. Engine talks to gearbox. Gearbox talks to driveshaft. Driveshaft talks to wheels. There’s no broken telephone. Just a clear line between all parties, and it really shows.
We don’t feel the mild hybrid system very much during daily use but turbo lag is pretty much undetectable and non-existent, with just the tiniest of vibrations when the engine starts back up on idle. The brakes however, while direct and have incredible initial bite, can be a touch sensitive and difficult to modulate to a smooth and slow stop. There’s a whiff of springiness to the pedal, almost like a hybrid’s, but it’s not something we can’t get used to. It just takes more finessing of the right foot, but the learning curve is there. For BMW’s first application of a mild hybrid system like this, it’s not bad. Mercedes’ EQ Boost and Audi’s systems are more polished, though.
It’s a shame that steering feel remains as numb as an anesthetized limb, but there’s enough organic and rotational weight with the variable-ratio steering rack to give us some clue and semblance as to where the front wheels are pointing, and whether grip is at the ready. It’s artificial and a far cry from BMWs of yore but not an absolute dealbreaker, especially when that tradeoff means added driver assistance features in the form of adaptive cruise control and lane keep assist.
Overall, the M440i’s performance capabilities cannot be understated. This is an extremely capable performer, affable and approachable in all dimensions. There is an overkill of usable torque, the low- and mid-range make it so easy to drive and utilize every inch of horsepower, and grip and traction never seem to let up thanks to the rear-biased AWD system. There is verve and vigour to be found but we actually just preferred lounging in the M440i more than aggressively pushing it around serpentine roads. The adaptive suspension is wonderfully tuned, effectively soaking up and nullifying most of the impacts that litter our familiar test route. While the M440i rides slightly firmer than the Mercedes-AMG C 43 Coupe, it’s about on par with the Audi S5 Coupe, and makes for an exceptionally competent and forgiving companion for long distance journeys.
Those focusing too much on the new kidney grill should realize those owners will spend most of their time staring at the interior rather than the exterior, which is a good thing, as the M440i’s cabin is sleek and well put together, though can come across as somewhat undramatic. Mimicking the 3 Series and 8 Series design, the layout will be familiar to anyone that has spent time in a modern BMW. The windshield now uses acoustic glass to improve cabin insulation, adding to the already quiet cabin, and the M440i comes standard with a 10.25-inch touchscreen and a fully digital 12.3-inch instrument panel. BMW seems to have listened to customer feedback and have made its wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto features standard fare. Swollen dimensions may be a detriment when it comes to performance but it actually pays dividends to rear seat space in the M440i, which can now comfortably fit average-sized adults. My six-foot figure still finds it a bit cramped but I honestly wouldn’t mind the short journey to and from the grocery store.
Divisive styling aside, the new BMW M440i xDrive impresses with its dynamic acuity, sweetheart of an engine, excellent road manners, and gold standard of an infotainment unit. While we have to admit that aesthetics go a long way into driving customer appeal, we advise you to at least experience the ergonomically sound interior and exceptionally polished powertrain. You just might find the gem you are looking for.
Model: 2021 BMW M440i xDrive Coupe
Paint Type: Dravit Grey
Base Price: $64,450
Price as Tested: $78,495
Length/Width/Height (mm): 4,773 / 1,852 / 1,393
Curb weight (kg): 1,804
Engine: 3.0-litre turbocharged inline-six
Horsepower: 382 hp @ 5,800 - 6,500 rpm
Torque: 368 lb-ft @ 1,800 - 5,000 rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, AWD
Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 10.9