2021 BMW M440i xDrive review: Stuck in the middle with you

About that face…


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You can’t please all of the people all of the time, but that won’t stop some folks — or cars — from trying. Take the 2021 BMW M440i xDrive, for example. The latest iteration of 4 Series still prioritizes on-road sharpness, but in a continued effort to infuse as much refinement into the experience as possible, some parts of the script get lost in the shuffle.

Like

  • Quick as heck
  • Neutral handling
  • GT-style interior comfort

Don’t Like

  • Rocket J. Squirrel face
  • Front-axle heft
  • Hypersensitive brake pedal

Why the long face?

There’s no sugarcoating it — the 2021 BMW 4 Series looks weird as hell from the front. Its newly bucktoothed countenance is sure to polarize Thanksgiving Zoom conversations, but if sparking conversation is the goal, then mission accomplished, BMW. Yes, the honkin’ new grille provides a cooling benefit when its active shutters are wide open, but it’s still an acquired taste. Thankfully, the rest of the exterior is quite pleasant, borrowing the silhouette and various shapes from the larger and prettier 8 Series.

The 4 Series’ interior strikes a contrast to its shell, because it’s… well, it’s the same cookie-cutter interior seen on any other modern Bimmer, which seems surprising for something with such a unique face. Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean it’s bad, because it isn’t. In fact, it’s plush as heck, even with the standard vinyl topping on the door panels and dashboard. The leather surfaces are soft and warm, contrasting the colder aluminum on the beltline and center console.

For a coupe, the M440i is plenty useful. The rear seats, while a bit tight on headroom, are capable of holding grown humans for longer stretches of time, and they’re pretty comfy, to boot. Both door panels have large pockets with extra cup holders, the glove compartment is decently sized and the cubby under the armrest is good for pocket tchotchkes. An optional wireless charger ($500) lives behind the console’s cup holders, which isn’t my favorite spot from an accessibility standpoint, but it’s a good utilization of the available space. Pop the trunk and you’ll find a 12-cubic-foot cargo hold, which is less than a 3 Series but more than the two-door competitors from Audi, Lexus and Mercedes-Benz.

A sports car heavy on grand touring

Sports cars gather praise for bringing the driver in tight connection with the vehicle and, by extension, the world around them. By contrast, grand tourers are meant to be plush, comfortable hustlers that can pile on the speed, but in a way that prioritizes effortlessness and disconnect from all those little annoyances. The 2021 BMW M440i tries to be both, which means it succeeds in some places but falls short in others, leaving me a little confused as to its true intentions.


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From the sports car side, the M440i packs a helluva lot of hustle. Its 3.0-liter turbocharged I6 produces 382 horsepower and 364 pound-feet of torque, enough to rip to 60 mph from a dead stop in about 4 seconds, which is as quick as some fully fledged M cars. I feel every bit of it on the ol’ booty dyno, too; it’s fun to smash the gas and let the eight-speed automatic quickly find the correct gear for maximum motive force, with a little kick in the back when upshifting under heavy throttle. Unlike the most recent iterations of M3 and M4, the M440i actually sounds good while it’s ripping around, too. When thrown into a corner, this all-wheel-drive coupe exhibits starkly neutral handling, never really feeling discombobulated or ready to kick the arse end out at a moment’s notice.

In fact, that’s the point at which I start to see the lines blurring from sports car to GT. Instead of wanting to engage in lurid drifts, the M440i’s profound front-axle heft incurs more than a hint of understeer. Composure isn’t limited to the traction, either; the optional adaptive suspension ($700) numbs the driver to the road beneath even in its most aggressive Sport Plus setting, only ever hitting hard over potholes that should really just be avoided in the first place. In Comfort mode, it’s downright luxurious — great if you want to forget your cares, but not so much if you want to throw the thing around some forest switchbacks. The steering is a little sleepy and light on feeling, too.

There’s one part of the car that best exemplifies the M440i’s inability to figure out what it wants to be, and weirdly enough, it’s the brake pedal. A hint of foot will induce a head dip as the brakes immediately bite down, which is great for quick reactions needed during spirited driving but pretty annoying when puttering around town. However, after that initial grab, the pedal throw is long and easy to modulate, which is great for smooth stops but not the feeling (or lack thereof) you want when you need a lot of stopping power in a hurry.

Despite the car’s desire to torque its way to the horizon, it’s pretty easy on the gas tank, and by extension, your wallet. The EPA rates the M440i xDrive at 22 miles per gallon city and 31 mpg highway, numbers that I had no issue meeting and occasionally beating. Some of this thrift comes from the 48-volt mild-hybrid system, which can deliver little power boosts but is mostly meant for expanding stop-start capabilities and improving overall efficiency. You’ll never know it’s there.

The 4 Series’ interior is decidedly less polarizing.


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Familiar, welcoming tech

The M440i’s exterior might be like nothing else before it, but the tech inside the car is blissfully familiar — and pretty great, to boot. The dashboard sports a touchscreen running BMW’s iDrive infotainment system, which despite its information density is pretty easy to get used to. It’s responsive, whether or not I’m using the touchscreen itself or the rotary dial on the center console, and if the standard UI isn’t your cup of tea, both wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are standard. Analog gauges are standard, but my tester’s Executive Package ($3,700) adds a 12.3-inch digital cluster, in addition to expanding the middle screen from 8.8 inches to 10.3. The map in the middle of the IP is largely useless, unless I have turn-by-turn directions running, but all the information is displayed cleanly in a way that minimizes distraction. A head-up display included with the package further reduces wandering eyes.

The Executive Package also contains BMW’s gesture control, which is consistently more annoying than it is useful. Why would I spin my finger around in circles, wildly varying the speakers’ volume, when I could just slightly adjust the dial right next to where my hand already is? If I dare talk to my passenger, an errant right-hand expression usually changes the channel or mutes the audio. Since nearly every audio control is already available on the steering wheel, it’s only more distracting to start waving my digits all willy-nilly. Just… put this one to rest already.

Since the rear seats are actually somewhat tolerable, it was very nice of BMW to include USB charging ports back there, in addition to the USB-C port under the center armrest and the USB-A port just ahead of the cup holders.

On the safety front, standard kit includes automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning, blind-spot monitoring and a rear cross-traffic alert. This M440i also carries the $1,700 Driving Assistance Pro package, which beefs up the driver aids with a radar-based adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping combination that permits brief stretches of hands-off driving in traffic jams, with LED indicators on the steering wheel telling me when to retake control. It’s a great system, and it truly reduces the tedium of stop-and-go highway traffic.

The M440i looks much better from the rear.


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Down to brass tacks

Despite crossovers and their sloped-roof crossover-coupe brethren, there’s still an active community of two-door buyers, so the M440i isn’t exactly alone in its segment. The Mercedes-AMG C43 offers a little more luxurious experience — until the standard suspension rattles your bones into dust, that is. The Audi S5 Coupe isn’t as new as the Bimmer, but it’s attractive and properly kitted out with both fancy appointments and some proper tech. This isn’t exactly a bargain-friendly segment, though; with only a handful of options, my $59,495 M440i xDrive Coupe swells to a yikes-inducing $70,470.

The 2021 BMW M440i xDrive Coupe is an impressive car, even though it’s a bit confused. It can tackle many grand-touring duties with aplomb, and it’s not half bad in switchbacks, but in trying to appeal to so many different corners of the industry at once, it ends up being a jack of all trades but a master of none.

source: cnet.com