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First drive: BMW M440i xDrive. Image by BMW UK.

First drive: BMW M440i xDrive
Yes, the chassis and drivetrain are both marvellous, but yikes, the front-end design most certainly is not…

 



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BMW M440i xDrive Coupe

4 4 4 4 4

BMW brings us the first fast 4 Series with the expected M Performance model, this M440i xDrive whetting motoring enthusiasts' appetite ahead of the arrival of the full-on M4 in 2021. And then, presumably, immediately quashing said appetite with that ridiculous front-end 'styling' treatment.

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: BMW M440i xDrive Coupe
Pricing: 4 Series range from £40,460, M440i xDrive from £54,645, car as tested £61,105
Engine: 3.0-litre turbocharged straight-six petrol with 48-volt mild-hybrid electric vehicle (MHEV) technology
Transmission: xDrive all-wheel drive, eight-speed Steptronic Sport automatic
Body style: two-door performance coupe
CO2 emissions: 176g/km (VED Band 171-190: £870 first 12 months, then £475 per annum years two-six of ownership, then £150 annually thereafter)
Combined economy: 39.8mpg
Top speed: 155mph (limited)
0-62mph: 4.5 seconds
Power: 374hp at 5,500-6,500rpm
Torque: 500Nm at 1,900-5,000rpm
Boot space: 440 litres

What's this?

Car critics, such as ourselves, are supposed to be impartial. That's the crux of the job. But if you get into this industry in the first place, there's a good chance the reason you chose to join this particular professional world is that you're a huge fan of cars. You like them. You invest emotion in them. You start to develop your own personal tastes of which automotive marques you prefer, and which ones don't float your boat so much.

So, allow me to slip, momentarily, out of using the 'royal we' for this review and lay my own personal cards on the table. I am a BMW man. I have had a 17-year association with this particular manufacturer, since joining a specialist magazine dedicated to the Munich outfit in 2003. I was there through the Bangle Era, when everyone was utterly shocked by the American's 'flame-surfaced' designs (how good do they still look now, by the way?). I've owned BMWs, of varying ages, including an E30 M3 (for work purposes), an E64 645Ci and, currently, an E61 M5. Back in the mid-2000s, I managed to talk my then-new girlfriend, now my financially cautious wife, into buying an E46 M3 because it was a 'good' car for us to put our dog in (no, seriously). In short, I love BMW. I am a devoted acolyte of the marque. I want to see the company do well, always. Conversely, I don't consider that these 'qualifications' somehow make me the ultimate, unfailing authority on all things Munich. And, as a critic, I am perhaps harder on BMW than I would be on some of its rival companies, mainly because I expect more of the marque; behind my reviewer's façade, the swivel-eyed aficionado in me demands the absolute best from the manufacturer.

Forgive me, then, for predictably joining the ongoing and frankly tedious debate about BMW's current fascination with ever-larger kidney grilles. I fully understand that this alarming trend is because the Chinese market likes big, dominant front-end features. I appreciate that aesthetic concerns on a vehicle are extremely subjective, so what one person (me) may not like, someone else might find highly appealing. And I have heard all the arguments about 'it might grow on us with time' and 'it looks better in all black on a black car, like the M440i', too. But here's my two penn'orth on the matter: the front end of the new 4 Series is a joke. It is awful. It is bad enough that, no matter how good the interior and all the oily bits underneath, I will never, ever want to own one of these vehicles. It even makes what BMW did to the poor old current generation of 7 Series for its 'LCI' look partway-reasonable. Ugh.

And while there will undoubtedly be those who appreciate the exterior of the M440i, there must equally be many more people who feel like I do, which is worrying for BMW because lots of people buy cars simply on the strength of how they look. Argue the toss all you want, but we all know this; you'll have seen plenty of vehicles passing you on the motorway, which you know have decent styling but are critically panned for being dull or poor to drive, and yet people still buy them because they 'looked nice in the showroom'. Cars are an emotive purchase. A lot of the buying potential a vehicle possesses comes from the first impression of its metalwork. Therefore, I'd argue that, if you are siding with me on this one, the M440i is fatally flawed from the off. Those kidney abominations don't look good, or daring, or clever. They just look daft, and grotesquely disproportional, and ruinous.

The worst of it is, this isn't even BMW's ugliest car right now - and the fact that there are now two machines in the Munich canon which make the X6 appear to be wholly acceptable is almost unforgiveable. The problem is that it's not as if the 4 Series is a great-looking car elsewhere, because it has hefty rear three-quarter flanks and occasionally busy detailing, but it's a smooth-enough design at the sides and the back, enough so that you stand there in miserable stupefaction and wonder how much better it would look if it just had a far more discreet nose - such as the grille-and-bumper treatment of the model with which it shares so much, the perfectly handsome M340i. But no. And, lurching from one calamity to another, BMW has decided that not only does the new M4 have to have this preposterous face, so too does the M3 and the long-long-long-awaited M3 Touring. It's enough to make a BMW fan weep in abject frustration.

Anyway, the interior's nice and fairly spacious. Oh, and the 374hp M440i is reasonably priced, considering it is only £14,185 more than the entry-level 420i with 184hp and rear-wheel drive. But I've kind of lost interest in the rest of the M440i's package by this point, if I'm honest.

How does it drive?

Right, back to using 'we' and being professional (of sorts). Because, no matter who you are nor what you think of the ghastly appearance of the M440i, if you can bring yourself to climb aboard and start driving it then you'll find little to fault with the way it moves. BMW doesn't just want the 4 Series to be a two-door 3 Series, instead suggesting the Four is sharper and more engaging to drive than the Three - which is a pretty invigorating steer as it is. The good news is that this doesn't seem to be spurious marketing flim-flam, because the M440i is more rewarding and enjoyable to pilot quickly than the somewhat-staid M340i we drove last year.

It's not quite perfect for this sort of M Performance machine, as there's quite a bit of understeer to work through if you get ambitious with your corner-entry speeds, and it still has a too-thick steering wheel controlling an EPAS set-up which can have some inconsistent and overtly artificial weighting at times. But the general poise and panache of the three-stage adjustable damping is superb, allowing the M440i to be a comfortable pseudo-GT one minute and a hard-charging sports coupe the next. That 3.0-litre forced-induction engine is an absolute gem, too, feeling more naturally aspirated in its clean, linear and robust power delivery, sounding good and straight-six raspy up to the redline, and now being bolstered by the 4 Series' unobtrusive 48-volt hybrid tech to ensure that any momentary hesitation from the engine, the ultra-slick eight-speed Steptronic autobox or the xDrive AWD traction is completely eradicated. You press the throttle, the M440i surges off into the middle distance in an instant. It's intoxicating.

Yes, there's perhaps a bit too much in-cabin augmentation of the soundtrack in Sport Plus mode, but overall the way the car handles is manifestly excellent. And while there is understeer if you're deliberately provocative with the BMW's steering, it will just as easily kick its back end out under power if you want it to, neutralising whatever minimal nose-led tendencies it has. Indeed, for the vast majority of the time you're behind the wheel in the Beemer, the sensation is that of push from the rear axle rather than any corrupting pull from the front, so much so that you have to remind yourself the M440i is an xDrive and not BMW's traditional RWD.

And, as we've already alluded to, driven sedately the M440i is glorious to travel in. Its ride quality is fabulously supple, the cabin is acoustically isolated to a level that ranks as the very best of anything this side of £100,000, and the weighting of the controls in Comfort mode is such that the car is remarkably genial to command and manoeuvre at urban speeds. In every respect you can measure it, this BMW has a sublime drivetrain and a magnificent chassis set-up. It is a terrific car, a quite brilliant sports coupe and one that should, by rights, stand up there with the very best that Munich has had to offer in previous years. Which makes its unfortunate appearance even more, well... desperately unfortunate, doesn't it?

Verdict

The entire selling point of the BMW M440i xDrive Coupe is as with every other 4 Series model available right now: do you like that stonkingly divisive front end, or not? If you do, then you'll be very, very happy with the way the M440i performs, rides and handles - it's a superb prestige sports coupe, all told. But if, like me, you think the Four's aesthetic is simply too much to stomach, then you're going to have to resign yourself to a nice M340i xDrive Touring instead. I suppose that's not too bad a second prize, all things considered.

1.5 1.5 1.5 1.5 1.5 Exterior Design

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Interior Ambience

4 4 4 4 4 Passenger Space

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Luggage Space

5 5 5 5 5 Safety

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Comfort

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Driving Dynamics

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Powertrain


Matt Robinson - 23 Oct 2020









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2020 BMW M440i xDrive Coupe UK test. Image by BMW UK.2020 BMW M440i xDrive Coupe UK test. Image by BMW UK.2020 BMW M440i xDrive Coupe UK test. Image by BMW UK.2020 BMW M440i xDrive Coupe UK test. Image by BMW UK.2020 BMW M440i xDrive Coupe UK test. Image by BMW UK.

2020 BMW M440i xDrive Coupe UK test. Image by BMW UK.2020 BMW M440i xDrive Coupe UK test. Image by BMW UK.2020 BMW M440i xDrive Coupe UK test. Image by BMW UK.2020 BMW M440i xDrive Coupe UK test. Image by BMW UK.2020 BMW M440i xDrive Coupe UK test. Image by BMW UK.








 

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