When we were growing up, my mom would occasionally accuse my brother and me – half jokingly, of course – of suffering from selective hearing.
How was it, she’d sarcastically wonder, we’d hear her loud and clear when dinner was ready, yet her calls to do our chores would conveniently go unanswered. (I’m no audiologist, though I’d hazard a guess that my brother, now a proud parent of three, might have some sympathy all these years later.)
It seems the same could be true of the decision-makers at BMW, who have a habit of picking and choosing what they hear and what they don’t. Take the rumours the brand was planning to move away from the manual transmission like rivals Mercedes-Benz and Audi had already done years earlier. As quickly as word spread of this potential faux pas, the automaker assured us it would do no such disservice to its most popular M performance models.
Yet when it comes to its design decisions, the folks in charge are suffering from some serious selective hearing, ignoring widespread outcries over the objectionable snouts they’ve been slapping on the brand’s vehicles as of late. Among the unfortunate few is the redesigned 2021 BMW M440i, which easily counts as one of the most, um, stylistically challenged cars on the market.
The chorus of boos over what’s been done to the 4 Series coupe (and its sibling sedan) isn’t just coming from auto media types like me; no, a quick check of any one of the countless BMW forums or even a simple search on social media reveals a relentless wave of criticism the automaker has faced since this pair was unveiled. And it’s only continued as the automaker sticks similar fascias on upcoming vehicles like the iX SUV and i4 sedan.
It wasn’t long ago that Chevrolet, in the wake of a similar verdict rendered in the court of public opinion, reversed course on a facelift it bestowed upon the Camaro SS. Rather than do the same here, BMW seems steadfast in its commitment to the oblong grille openings that look like Bette Midler’s pursed lips in the movie Hocus Pocus.
It’s a shame, too, because this is a seriously stylish coupe otherwise, with near-perfect proportions and an outstanding stance. In keeping with tradition, it’s slightly lower, longer, and wider than the 3 Series sedan and absolutely looks the business. Inside, this tester’s cabin is set off with swathes of red leather upholstery that should be all but mandatory for a BMW in my books.
Those seats are thickly padded and supremely supportive, while adjustable bolsters ensure even oversized occupants like me can settle in for the kinds of long-distance drives this car was built. But the build-and-price tool on BMW Canada’s website did reveal a shocking – and shameful – detail: front-seat ventilation (a $900 upgrade) can only be optioned with black or brown leather. Sadly, that means saying goodbye to the sultry red that’s a BMW signature. Three-stage heat, however, is standard regardless of upholstery hue, while a heated steering wheel can be added through the options list.
This tester was also fitted with optional adaptive dampers that transform the M440i into a genuine grand tourer. While there’s an underlying firmness to the ride quality it’s far from uncomfortable, and the adjustable suspension is simply spectacular for its ability to absorb road imperfections while preserving the kind of poise that makes this coupe plenty playful when the road starts to wind.
Driving Feel: 9/10
There’s a tremendous balance to the way this Bimmer drives that makes it as addictive as anything else on the modern market. No, it’s not a hardcore performance car, but that’s what makes it so enjoyable. It’s not about pure muscle – though there’s lots of that, too. Instead, it blends an agility that’s almost akin to the smaller 2 Series coupe with a cruising acumen that’s a little bit like that of the large-and-in-charge 8 Series.
Toss it into a turn and this 4 Series is about as composed as they come while providing all kinds of room to play, the rear-biased all-wheel drive system working with all manner of electronic nannies to keep it on its intended line of travel. While the steering isn’t exactly oozing with personality, there’s enough artificial feel from the electrically assisted system to provide as much confidence through switchbacks and esses as it does when slogging along on the highway.
Should it be driven with some enthusiasm, the M440i’s engine bay is brimming with personality and performance. It gets its giddy-up from a silky straight-six-cylinder that uses a single turbocharger and the same 3.0L displacement as its M4 sibling to spin up 382 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque. A keen eye will note that those numbers are up substantially compared to the previous iteration of this car, while that torque count is a helluva lot higher than the last time the full-blown M version of this car – still called the M3 back in 2013 – was motivated by a monstrous V8 engine.
Of course, any battle of brute strength would surely be won by that full-fledged M car, but this inline-six is a spectacular engine in its own right, with outstanding smoothness and barely a whisper of turbo lag as all that torque comes online at just 1,800 rpm. That’s the stuff that helps this version of the 4 Series hustle to 100 km/h in a claimed 4.5 seconds – a figure that there’s no denying based upon the way it slings occupants into their seatbacks with the throttle pedal pinned and the all-wheel drive system clawing forward.
Much like the BMW-built Toyota Supra that shares this engine, the transmission is an eight-speed automatic that’s lightning-quick in its responsiveness. Merely think about adding more momentum at cruising speed and it drops a cog to spike the revs, while it’s happy to let the engine wind itself end all the way to redline before snapping off yet another speedy gear change.
The M440i also employs a 48-volt mild hybrid system that BMW says chips in when accelerating aggressively, while also smoothing the auto stop/start system that shuts the engine off when stopped rather than idling needlessly. The system can also power the car’s electronic systems with its standalone battery, thus reducing the load on the powertrain.
Fuel Economy: 9/10
How much any of that directly impacts fuel consumption is tough to determine since this version of the 4 Series can’t be had without the hybrid stuff, though it’s impressively efficient nonetheless. Setting out on a 250-km test loop that features a nearly equal spread of city, rural, and highway stretches, it was only when the tarmac got twisty that I drove with zeal; otherwise, serenity was the name of the game (this is a GT car, after all). Yet I managed to match its official highway rating of 7.7 L/100 km.
The rest of the week-long test skewed closer to its official combined rating of 9.2 L/100 km, which is still impressive given the full day of filming in the cold, and the winter tires this tester was shod in. Officially, the final tally was 9.3 L/100 km over the course of 620 km. For a bit of perspective, that’s still better than what I managed during a summertime test of the Volkswagen Golf GTI, not to mention the Supra that put back premium-grade gas at a rate of 11.0 L/100 km during testing.
Of course, both of those cars – and particularly the manual-equipped GTI – have a way of encouraging enthusiastic driving that’s absent here. Make no mistake, the M440i is a capable performer in its own right that’s ready to play when prodded; but its grand-touring demeanour means it’s just as happy to gobble up hours of driving on a weekend tour of wine country, or even the weekly commute.
The trunk is somewhat surprisingly spacious, with plenty of room inside for luggage and a 40/20/40-split folding rear seat to make way for golf bags or skis (the roof also features fixed mounting points for a set of crossbars to be installed). Those rear seats are slightly more spacious than the ones in a Porsche 911, though this certainly isn’t the car to drive with more than a pair of occupants – at least not with much frequency. Sadly, headroom isn’t especially impressive up front, requiring a bit of a slouch to fit my 6-foot-3 frame inside.
The M440i has a decent selection of standard features for its starting price – $67,430 with freight but before tax – though to transform this into a proper dual-purpose GT car takes some considerable upgrades. On the performance side, the so-called M Enhanced Track pack adds adaptive suspension, upgraded wheels and tires (not seen here because of the smaller winter setup), bigger brakes and an oil cooler, and some black and carbon-fibre exterior bits ($4,950). Then there’s all the good stuff that comes with the Premium Enhanced package like “Laserlight” headlights, a head-up display, interior ambient lighting, an upgraded stereo, a heated steering wheel, wireless phone charger, and built-in Wi-Fi hotspot, among others ($9,095).
That premium package also adds to the already robust advanced safety suite that’s standard in every 4 Series. Stuff like forward collision warning and automatic braking, lane-departure warning and keep assist, and blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert is supplemented by a driving assistance suite that adds automatic lane-change functionality to the adaptive cruise control.
While something of a gimmick the feature works well, smoothly steering the car into an adjacent lane on the highway when the turn signal is activated (and assuming the lane isn’t occupied by another vehicle). While even the narrowest of the four preset gaps the adaptive cruise keeps from preceding vehicles is perhaps a little too wide, allowing other motorists to squeeze in without invitation, the system applies both throttle and brakes smoothly and integrates itself seamlessly with the flow of traffic.
Other fancy features include a self-parking system that works with both perpendicular and parallel spots, and a so-called back-up assistant that records the last 50 metres of low-speed driving (below 35 km/h, according to BMW) and can automatically have the car reverse down the same path. BMW claims it’s handy for navigating narrow driveways, though it seems like one more piece of tech to show off to friends.
User Friendliness: 9/10
The M440i employs a few other gimmicks, too, like optional gesture controls that allow functions like stereo volume to be adjusted by waving a hand in front of the head unit, or voice recognition that can respond to commands for adjusting cabin temperature, activating the heated seats and steering wheel, or even opening the windows without lifting a finger – simply say “Hey, BMW” to wake the system up.
The cabin is full of all sorts of physical controls, too, including a familiar bank of programmable memory buttons and the brand’s console-mounted infotainment controller. It is, however, made redundant by the 10.25-inch touchscreen mounted atop the dash.
BMW’s interface is perhaps a little more convoluted than it needs to be, though it’s easy enough to get the hang of – particularly when using the touch display. However, hooking up to the wireless Apple CarPlay connection isn’t quite as simple as it should be, and I spent nearly 30 minutes in the BMW Canada parking lot trying over and over until it miraculously worked (wireless Android Auto is included, too). To the system’s credit, though, it was all but perfect from there, causing no further problems during testing and connecting on its own each time I got in the car.
Next to its two most obvious competitors, the coupe versions of the Mercedes-AMG C 43 and Audi S5, the BMW M440i is priced well and delivers lots to like for the money. And while it’s easy for the pre-tax total to climb with the options seen here, even the $81,475 asking price for this fully loaded version seems reasonable next to both of those rivals with similar equipment, not to mention others on the market like the Infiniti Q60.
It’s not just its newness that makes the 2021 BMW M440i feel like it’s worth the price of admission – though that certainly doesn’t hurt. No, it’s the way it combines more than enough performance prowess with outstanding cruising comfort and all kinds of luxury amenities that makes this such a fantastic GT car all around.
The longer I spent behind the wheel the more I enjoyed it, with this version of the 4 Series supplanting some six-figure sports cars on its way to finding a special place in my heart. Except there’s just no way I could ever park something so aesthetically offensive in my driveway. Nice car, but it’s a damn shame about that face.
|382 hp @ 5,800–6,500 rpm
|369 lb-ft @ 1,800–5,000 rpm
|10.5 / 7.7 / 9.2 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb
|2021 BMW M440i
|Price as Tested