You probably really ought to be going electric, especially considering that the excellent new BMW i4 M50 is cheaper to buy than this M440i. But the big six is still mighty tempting...
In the Metal:
The 4 Series Gran Coupe is a bit of an odd machine if you actually stop to think about it. It's a 4 Series, of course, which means that it's a slinky, low-slung coupe based roughly on the same package of mechanical parts as the more upright, more practical 3 Series saloon. But, in being a Gran Coupe, BMW has given this 4 Series two extra doors, turning the saloon-turned-coupe back into, effectively, a saloon. Call it a four-door coupe all you like, but it's essentially a fairly practical, fastback saloon.
While that is, as I say, odd, it's also a formula for success with BMW's customers. The 4 Series Gran Coupe is the best-selling version of the 4 Series by far, taking half of the 800,000 or so sales the 4 Series model line-up has managed since it was first introduced. Clearly, what BMW customers were waiting for all these years was a slightly less practical 3 Series.
So, this car has success baked into it, which is probably why BMW felt brave enough to try messing with the grille. While the 3 Series continues with a more conventional wide-and-shallow kidney grille, the 4 Gran Coupe - as with the two-door and the convertible 4 Series models - gets the controversial new grille, which is narrower and upright. Ugly? Well, that's down to personal taste, but I have to admit it's growing on me.
The Gran Coupe is more universally successful around the back, where it manages to sidestep the excess bulk of metal that plagues the two-door 4 Series, although I do feel that this generation's more rounded shape is a little less pleasing to the eye than the sharper lines of the old 4 Series Gran Coupe.
Inside, there's little difference between this Gran Coupe and the rest of the 4 Series range - in the front at least. You get the same digital dials, the same 10.25-inch touchscreen atop the dash (unless you've gone in cheap and bought the one with the basic 8.8-inch unit) and the same buttons and switches. If it's familiar, then at least it's beautifully made, and wonderfully comfortable too, in spite of a slightly offset driving position.
In the back, this generation of 4 Series Gran Coupe is much improved compared to its predecessor. Before, the Gran Coupe really was just a 4 Series with extra doors, and you could feel that in the lack of rear legroom. Now, the wheelbase is some 46mm longer than before, and 5mm longer than that of the two-door 4 Series. Which definitely helps with rear space, even if it's now just not-cramped, rather than actually roomy. There's also a central rear seat, which means this is the only current 4 Series model that you'll be able to fit a fifth passenger in, although with the big transmission tunnel robbing foot space, they're not going to be hugely comfortable.
Out back, the new Gran Coupe is actually a little less practical than before - it has lost 10 litres of boot volume, both seats-up and seats-down, but with a seats-up space of 470 litres on offer, it's still at least reasonably useful, and the fact that it's a giant hatchback makes it a touch more versatile than the 3 Series saloon (albeit not the 3 Series Touring estate, of course).
Our test car represents the pinnacle of the new 4 Series Gran Coupe range - it's the 374hp M440i xDrive, which comes with mild-hybrid power, four-wheel drive and a standard-fit eight-speed automatic gearbox, as well as 18-inch alloys all-round (with 19s as an option).
The whole line-up has been given an infotainment makeover too, even though it sticks with BMW's slightly older generation '7.0' software. There's built-in Amazon Alexa and Spotify, as well as BMW's own digital voice assistant, which can now do more for you (opening and closing the windows, for example, or turning the cabin temp up or down), and there's more connectivity through the myBMW smartphone app, including the option to use your Apple iPhone as a digital key.
Unsurprisingly, it's the engine that dominates proceedings here. I know, with the COP26 conference going on as I write these words, that I really shouldn't be getting excited about a big, thirsty petrol engine, but this 3.0-litre turbocharged unit is a reminder of what we'll miss when everything's electric (unless someone can scale-up e-fuels rapidly...).
It's actually the torque rather than the power that you use most. With a huge 500Nm on offer from as little as 1,900rpm all the way to 5,000rpm, the M440i should have its picture in the dictionary next to the word 'effortless.' Not being a full-on M car, but a more sedate (if that's quite the right word...) M Performance model, the M440i lacks the sturm und drang of the 510hp M4, but it's also a much more useable, much more exploitable car on the road.
While 374hp doesn't sound like much compared to the M4's power output, it's far, far more than you can ever really deploy on the public road. The M440i is more than quick enough for anyone, in real terms, and because it takes fractionally longer to reach licence-losing velocity (it'll still beat five seconds to 100km/h though), you get to enjoy the (artificially-augmented) straight-six soundtrack that little bit more. It is, quite simply, an astonishingly good engine (thirst, emissions and COP26-unfriendliness notwithstanding). Mind you, it's not actually that thirsty - 8.0 litres per 100km is easily do-able - and it's also a mild-hybrid, using a 48-volt electrical system to allow the M440i to glide in neutral at high speeds and save extra fuel around town by getting more out of the stop-start system.
The M440i's chassis is equally accomplished. Borrowing the steering rack from the 3 Series was a good start - few electrically-assisted systems offer this much feel and feedback, nor its spot-on weighting and accuracy. The M440i's role, really, is that of relaxed grand tourer, with a side-line in back-road enjoyment, and it fulfils that brief to perfection. The ride quality has just the right amount of firmness in it and, on the whole, it's a car that glosses away the worst excesses of a journey.
Find the right series of corners, though, and it can still entertain, swooshing through them with regal authority. The xDrive four-wheel-drive system is rear-biased (and it's effectively a rear-wheel-drive car until the system detects that the tyres are starting to slip), but don't go expecting wild sideways antics. The rear of the M440i can be brought into play with the accelerator, but it takes effort, or a very low-grip surface, to get it moving more than a degree or two. The watchword here is stability, but there is playfulness too.
Problems? The visibility's not great, neither over your shoulder nor when you're trying to peer around the big windscreen pillars in long corners. And then we come to the problems of comparing it to the all-electric i4...
What you get for your Money:
Standard Irish specification for the regular 4 Series Gran Coupe range includes 18-inch alloy wheels, M Sport suspension, M Sport spoiler in body colour, M Sport exterior styling, high-gloss 'Shadowline' exterior trim, 'Vernasca' leather upholstery, aluminium 'Tetragon' interior trim, ambient lighting, anthracite headlining, BMW online services, digital instruments and smartphone connectivity.
In addition, M Sport Pro Edition models include 19-inch alloy wheels, black-surround headlights, M Sport seat belts, sun protection glass, M Sport rear spoiler, M adaptive suspension, M Sport brakes, M Sport differential, black mirror caps, individual metallic paint and individual piano black interior trim.
Optional packs include the Comfort Pack (including steering wheel heating, electric rear hatch, comfort access and extended storage), Comfort Plus Pack (including comfort access, heated steering wheel, electric memory seats and front lumbar support), Technology Pack (including gesture control, head-up display, enhanced wireless charging and Harman Kardon surround system), Technology Plus Pack (includes parking assistant plus, driver assistant professional, enhanced Bluetooth and wireless charging, drive recorder, gesture control, head-up display and Harman Kardon surround system) and finally, Visibility Pack, which offers Laserlights and high-beam assistant. A number of single options are also available.
For a price tag of €87,055, the M440i comes with most of that as standard, but that's not what makes it bad value for money. What makes it bad value for money is that the electric i4 M50 has a price tag of €78,315, has a one-charge range of 510km (not all that different to the M440i's full-tank range...) and can hit 100km/h from rest in just 3.9 seconds. Which is game, set, and match to the electric car, isn't it?
Is the BMW M440i a dinosaur? Yes, of course it is and the proof of that is sitting just across the showroom floor in the shape of the i4 M50, which generates no emissions (aside from those used to build it and its battery, and to keep said battery charged of course) yet is faster, cheaper and not much less useable day-to-day. The M440i is handsome, stunningly rapid, brilliant to drive and usefully practical. But it's already past its sell-by date.