Our second go in the new BMW 4 Series comes in the form of the first tier of speed from the German company, namely the M Performance model under the 'M440i' moniker. As a taster for the impending M4, it delivers a lot of driving goodness. But there's a big problem with the M440i. And you know what it is...
In the metal
Right, let's start inside. It's another quality BMW cabin in the 2020s for the M440i xDrive Coupe, complete with fully digital instrument cluster, the big BMW iDrive OS 7 infotainment screen and nicely laid-out switchgear. Impressively, there's decent legroom for people who have to sit in the back - one six-footer should be able to get reasonably comfortable behind the driving position of another six-footer, for instance - although headroom is cosy, thanks to the Four's sloping roofline. The driving position is spot on, but the steering wheel is a typical BMW M Performance annoyance: too big in circumference, too thick in terms of the rim. Other than that, there's precious little to fault inside the M440i.
So, we move outside. Right. Shane said when driving the 420d Coupe that there's more to the BMW than the most talked-about single fragment of car design in the history of all car design, and he's right of course... and there's also a huge discussion to be had about why BMW is persisting with larger and larger kidney grilles, about the reference they make to models past, about the fact the 4 Series' defining feature is better in darker M Sport Pro or M Performance specification than it is with chrome surrounds, and that aesthetic factors on a car are purely subjective matters - what one person loves, another may hate with a passion. So, you can take this writer's opinion on the matter however you want, depending on your viewpoint: but the grille is hideous. It is appalling. It is no better 'in the metal' than it looks in photos, as it is huge and disproportional to every other aspect of the 4 Series. There shouldn't be any need for us to have to 'eventually get used to how it looks'; no BMW coupe we can remember in the past required onlookers to do such a thing. Sadly, it detracts from the rest of the Four's design, which is far from perfect itself - too much metal in the rear three-quarter flanks, detailing that's a trifle busy at the rear - but which, nevertheless, coalesces into a reasonably handsome car, if viewed from the side or back. Additionally, the wider stance, bigger wheels and subtle M Performance enhancements of the M440i further help this to look good... from certain angles, natch.
The M440i xDrive feels more alive and rewarding than the M340i xDrive with which it shares a drivetrain. This is excellent news, although it's marginally less accelerative than the M340i, posting a 0-100km/h time that's a tenth-of-a-second slower.
Not that this matters much on the road, where the M440i feels ridiculously accelerative. The responses of its xDrive all-wheel-drive set-up, mild-hybrid-assisted drivetrain and the fantastic eight-speed Steptronic Sport automatic gearbox mean you can access the BMW's robust figures of 374hp and 500Nm in a near-instant, there being little turbo lag or transmission hesitancy to note. You simply clap the accelerator pedal to the floor and the M440i lunges off up the road with a rich, straight-six growl. Speaking of which, it sounds good all around the dial, although there's a degree of artificial augmentation in Sport mode that might just be veering towards 'too obvious'.
What's pleasing here is that the M440i feels less 'Audi quattro-ish' than the M340i; which is to say, there's more of a feeling of push from the rear of the all-wheel-drive BMW than there is of pull from the front. Get too ambitious with your corner-entry speeds and the M440i will understeer first, but it then transitions sweetly into oversteer if you get on the power early and slides, as and when they happen, are graceful and controlled, rather than spiky and heart-stopping. Sure, no one really drives BMWs using the throttle any more these days, but it's nice to know the M440i has the chassis that can grant you such antics if you so choose to exploit them.
Indeed, the suite of major controls for the dynamics is excellent, our one bugbear being steering that's a touch too heavy and sticky in its Sport+ setting - thankfully, BMW allows you to configure various parameters of the M440i so you can have it just the way you want it for driving on the public highway. Whereupon you'll love the suspension. Adjustable dampers from M Performance are properly cosseting in Comfort mode, simultaneously allowing the car to flow better over rougher road surfaces than it does in Sport or Sport+ shock absorption settings, as vertical movements of the BMW's body are sharper and more abrupt. And yet, neither of these two more focused modes for the suspension render the car unusable or massively uncomfortable to drive, so there's merit in having adjustable settings in the M440i.
It is a terrific 'mini-GT', though, in recompense. Burring along in eighth gear with its dampers in Comfort and the engine and gearbox in their most relaxed attitude, it would not be hard at all to imagine the M440i fulfilling all your grand tourer requirements at a fraction of the price of a BMW 8 Series. It's a quite wonderful car for rolling refinement and sumptuous ride quality, which is a surprising benefit considering it has a more involving, engaging chassis than a 3 Series. On the move, aside from the hefty steering and the prevalence of a bit too much understeer, the M440i is a cracking thing to drive in a wide variety of situations.
What you get for your money
BMW loads a lot of equipment into what serves as the flagship model (for now) of a prestigious coupe range, so the M440i xDrive is well-stocked as standard. This goes some way to mitigating its list price, which approaches €80,000 - a lot of money for a vehicle that is related to a BMW 3 Series Saloon that starts at roughly half that amount. Nevertheless, the M440i offers high performance for its asking price and it's also reasonably efficient.
This is an immensely lovely and seriously capable performance car, which - if you can live with the looks - will make you very happy indeed. It is, though, as with all BMW 4 Series models, down to that highly controversial and difficult front-end styling to determine what you think overall of the M440i xDrive Coupe. If you can live with it, great; you'll find much to enjoy with this 374hp BMW.