TEST DRIVE: 2021 BMW M440i xDrive – Buttoned-down

With the design of the new 4 Series, BMW definitely ruffled some feathers.

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Sometimes a new car will be so controversial that it will downright split the automotive world in two. We’re seeing something along those lines with the new BMW 4 Series and things are not likely to die down anytime soon. The main issue is already very well-known: its design. But, we set out to find out whether the 4 Series a worthy successor to the iconic 3 Series Coupe.

It’s a tricky question to answer because one would have to simply judge this car based on its handling. And that is easier said than done because one of the biggest sellers for the 3 Series Coupe was, without a doubt, its more aggressive design.

The First 4 Series Was Quite Successful

As a matter of fact, until the first ever 4 Series came out, the underpinnings of the Sedan and the Coupe versions of the 3 Series were really close, bordering on identical. Then, BMW decided to separate them and created the 4 Series family – a model that was meant to be more agile than its more practical sedan or Touring brothers. The first generation didn’t push the envelope too far. Sure, small mechanical differences were included in the mix, but they weren’t radical in any way. Design-wise it was the same story: different, but still closely related.

2017 BMW 4 Series M Sport Coupe 27
F32 BMW 4 Series Facelift

The first generation 4 Series was a success too. By the end of its production run, the 4er was sold in no less than 800,000 units worldwide. Not bad for a first run! For the second generation, BMW decided to go even bigger and now we’re all seeing what that means.

A New And Controversial Design

Whenever one touches on a symbol created and refined over decades, a pushback is to be expected. With the design of the new 4 Series, BMW definitely ruffled some feathers. After all, they messed with one of the most iconic designs in the world: the double kidney grille. Whether this new take will become a success or not over time remains to be seen but, what is pretty obvious right now is that, the reception the new 4er received was lukewarm, at most.

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A Bold Front-End

And that wasn’t the only issue either. If you check the previous-generation 4 Series, you’ll notice a lot of creases on the sides, character lines and the likes, that are meant to emphasize its sporty demeanor. That’s all gone now and instead we have a very clean design, without any sort of useless complication. Even the sole character line on there is very subtle and hard to notice. Look hard and you might even spot a Hoffmeister kink somewhere on this car, but unlike on every single BMW made up until 2020, you’ll have a hard time finding it. It’s still there, but it’s now sitting at an angle, right on the C-pillar.

With all these drastic changes on the outside, one can’t really confuse the 3 Series and the 4 Series on the outside anymore these days, unlike how things were with the previous generation models. The two are now clearly differentiated. And not just design-wise.

The 4 Series is wider, longer and lower than the 3 Series, in a bid to make it feel sharper on the road. I have been fortunate enough to drive two different versions of this car before getting my first ride in the M Performance version of the range – the M440i. That allowed me to draw some parallels between them and experience the differences firsthand.

The King Of The Family – M440i xDrive

TEST DRIVE: 2021 BMW M440i xDrive – Buttoned-down
BMW M440i xDrive

The BMW M440i is currently the only model you can buy with a straight six petrol engine. It uses the latest iteration of the B58 engine that was hybridized to make it a bit more frugal and, in the process, a bit sharper under throttle. Depending on where you live, the M440i comes with either 374 HP or 382 HP and while that may not seem like a big difference, there’s more to it than just 8 horsepower.

The difference in the rated output comes from the dreaded Otto Particulate Filter, that has become mandatory on cars sold in Europe, back in late 2019. That may take some of the power away but you won’t really feel it when driving the two back-to-back. What you will notice though is the different sound they make, as the US-version has a louder, deeper growl compared to the sedated version the old continent is getting. And that’s a big deal for a lot of people, myself included.

Sure, BMW is making up for it with the Active Sound Design feature, but it’s not the same thing even though you do get some added acoustic feedback in the cabin, when driving particularly sporty. For the latest iDrive system, you can actually adjust the intensity of the sound enhancement and even turn it off. A neat trick that will come in handy for those who are terribly offended by its fakeness.

Once you get inside and you set off, you also start to notice a couple of other things too. The 4 Series has matured and it feels quite a bit more settled down. Set off and you’re quite isolated from the outside world, with some carefully placed sound deadening all around the chassis, a quiet suspension and a well buttoned-down behavior from the dampers. The car absorbs bumps with ease and doesn’t send shocks through the cabin like you’d expect in an M Performance car.

As we all know, M Performance models, like the M440i, come with a couple of changes in the suspension department, meant to make them sportier and stiffer most of the time. If the M Sport models are stiffer than the other model lines, the M Performance choice takes it up a notch, with a lower ride height and even stiffer setup.

It didn’t really feel that way in this car though.

Less than a month before, I had the 420d out for a spin and it was fitted with the M Sport package as well. And yet, as counterintuitive as it may sound, I remember it being stiffer than the M440i. Somehow, the M440i felt a bit more comfortable and I was slightly more cocooned inside. Intriguing.

A Fast Sports Coupe

TEST DRIVE: 2021 BMW M440i xDrive – Buttoned-down
BMW M440i Interior

Make no mistake though, when it comes to piling on speed, the M440i is a proper fast car. BMW says it will do 0-100 km/h in 4.5 seconds but the independent readings will tell you that’s a conservative estimate. As usual. The 500 Nm of torque are there with you from 1,900 RPM and the gearbox is doing a great job at keeping up with your right foot, in all driving modes. Well, maybe in Eco Pro mode it needs a bit more convincing but that’s normal, after all.

The mild-hybrid setup might also have a thing to say about the way this car drives and feels. Under the hood of the M440i you’ll find a small electric motor working as a starter-generator. It can develop up to 11 HP and is there to help out in various scenarios. From turning off the engine while approaching a stop light to giving you a little push when setting off, this was initially meant as a system aimed at decreasing emissions and improving fuel consumption.

It also works a lot better in combination with the six-cylinder under the hood as it’s a more balanced setup compared to four-cylinder engines, especially diesels. The switch from electric power to the ICE was smooth and sometimes barely noticeable.

But this setup has another task too: to fill up torque gaps and help under heavy acceleration. With its introduction, the M440i feels like a car with no turbo lag. In Sport mode, the 4er sprints from under you the moment you touch the gas pedal and it keeps going until you’re too scared to continue. The limited top speed of 250 km/h is reached without breaking a sweat and the car feels like it could keep going for a lot longer.

Go into a series of tight bends and you start noticing the other differences compared to the more ‘pedestrian’ models in the range. The one thing you experience right away is the steering. It’s still electronically assisted but it’s direct, fast and, on the M Performance model you get a variable steering ratio. That means the car adapts to the speed, and you can feel it. It may not offer the same level of feedback older systems offered but, it’s better than the system found on the first generation 4 Series.

The M440i also felt heavy to me, it leaned a lot more into corners than I expected while, at the same time, being a bit more composed than the 430i or the 420d. The latter were bouncing a lot more when going into corners with rough patches of asphalt. The damping somehow felt better, but all in all, you do feel a bit more isolated as a consequence.

That baffled me, as I was expecting this to be the rawest experience a 4 Series could offer. But it wasn’t. Instead, it was the fastest and most precise of the three. Approaching a corner with more speed than you intended could trigger an adrenaline shot in anticipation of a crash. But the M440i can take it, as the wider track and lower center of gravity gives you better control.

The car has tons of grip, and the xDrive system, along with the M Sport differential will allow you to accelerate and slingshot your way out of a corner with ease. This is still a fun BMW to drive, but you do feel less connected to the road in it and you notice its heft too.

Heavier Than The Other 4 Series Models

TEST DRIVE: 2021 BMW M440i xDrive – Buttoned-down
Handles Great On Snow

Upon further investigation I was able to determine why it felt like this: it’s considerably heavier than all other models. The BMW 430i I drove on the track was the lightest of the three model choices. Being a RWD model, it tipped the scale at just 1,545 kilos whereas the 420d xDrive was 125 kilos heavier. Care to guess how much the M440i xDrive weighs? 1,740 kilos. That’s nearly 200 more than in the 430i and you can definitely feel it on a chassis this size.

Parking the car, I couldn’t help but feel that the M340i xDrive is bit more poised, agile and (dare I say it) fun to drive overall. Something in my head kept telling me that’s not possible. The wider track, the lower center of gravity, the longer wheelbase, all of these hard, cold numbers say otherwise. But then again, that lingering feeling was still there. And then I also checked the weight of the EU-spec M340i xDrive: 70 kilos lighter than its Coupe brother. And it all started to make sense.

Should I Buy One?

At the end of the day, the M440i felt very unusual and way off what I expected when I got behind the wheel. As much as I didn’t want to admit it, I too felt like it has grown up a lot. It’s a very refined, muffled out ride, that feels compliant, fast and effortless. It is, by all means, more of a scaled down 8 Series than a more hardcore 3 Series. For me, the more fun choice in the 4 Series range would be the 430i. It feels better balanced, lighter and, even though it won’t be as fast as the M440i, it will provide plenty of thrills at safer speeds.

What we’re looking at here then, is the metamorphization of the BMW range. It seems like, if you want to buy a great driving experience in a rear-drive Coupe, the 2 Series is the one for you. Get it in M240i guise or in M2 Competition clothes (which is doable, considering the price tag an M440i comes with) and you’ll have the fun of your life.

On the other hand, the BMW M440i is meant for those looking for a more comfortable, less analogue-feeling ride but that’s just as fast in a straight line as the entry-level M car. It’s all down to whatever is more important to you but no matter what you choose, the BMW range has you covered.

2021 BMW M440i xDrive

Exterior Appeal - 6
Interior Quality - 8
Steering Feedback - 8
Performance - 9
Handling - 9
BMWness/Ultimate Driving Machine - 8
Price Point - 7

7.9

BMW M440i is meant for those looking for a more comfortable, less analogue-feeling ride but that’s just as fast in a straight line as the entry-level M car.