Here’s something I hear often: “Modern BMWs don’t feel like older ones”. It’s true, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing, and I’m going to use my recent drive of an M440i xDrive at the Ultimate Driving Event to explain. The M440i isn’t a real M car, but does it deserve an M badge?
How fast do you need to go?
Speed is relative. If this was 2004, and I was writing about an E46 M3, it would be considered fast. The M440i simply destroys that fabled M car in every measurable sense. Now, think about what the E46 is missing in comparison to the M440i – iDrive, xDrive, driving aids, safety features…you get the point. Objectively, the new 4 Series is a better car. You could even stretch this to include the E92 M3 – the 4 Series is as fast as that M car was as well.
But M cars are more than outright speed. It has to feel intimate as you drive down the road. The steering should give you minute feedback, the rear should be playful but stable, and the car should feel smaller the faster it’s driven. Can the M440i compete here?
Waiting for weight
My E92 had a sunroof. While the carbon roof looked cool, I figured I’d get more enjoyment out of the sunroof. I was right.
“But you save 40 lbs!” says the M bro. True, but in a car with a big back seat, 19-inch wheels and Nappa leather, does a 40-lb roof really make a difference?
The M440i is an entire car built around this premise. It’s big, almost as big as an 8 Series Coupe, and thus feels heavy. But when you push it hard, it feels smaller, like an M car should. It deftly handled the autocross setup at UDE with a playful rear-end. At the limit, the car is prone to understeer, but that’s typical of any BMW. It’s a safety feature designed to keep the car under control in an emergency situation.
As far as chassis setup, the only niggle I found was traction control too eager to cut in on the fun at the limit. M cars come with MDM, or M Dynamic Mode, that allows for more tail-out driving antics than a Series car would. The M440i is no different. Ask too much of the car in a situation and the traction control kicks in, even in SPORT+ mode. So then you must wait, and wait, and wait some more for the power delivery to come on. On the track, it feels like an eternity.
Traction control is there to protect you at the limit, but here it’s cutting you off at 80% of the car’s ability, whereas an M4 might stop the fun at closer 90% or 95%. You might not notice this on the road, but if you’re a more experienced driver with some track time behind you, you’ll notice every time you’re on a back road.
I do think it’s important to keep in mind, however, that it’s a poor craftsman that blames his tools. If you provoke traction control all the time, you’re simply asking too much of the car. Dial it down a notch.
I’m not sure why modern cars feel that substituting heft for feel is the right thing to do. The G chassis cars are much better than their F chassis predecessors in terms of steering feedback, but it’s no Porsche.
It’s not a mystical sensation – you’ll know it right away. Imagine driving in a straight line as fast as you can. A turn comes up, you step on the brakes, and the weight of the car transfers to the front wheels. You turn the car into the turn. An E46 gives you a push back – the more you turn the wheel, the harder it becomes, and the more the sensation of grip decreases. Sometimes, little vibrations make their way up the steering rack.
On this M440i, once you turn off-center, it’s still kind of a guessing game. Did I turn enough, or not? Then you adjust, too much. Now you’re sawing at the wheel – not the best way to drive smoothly.
It’s better than an F30, and the G80 is better still, but I think it’s time to throw in the towel. Old BMW steering feel isn’t come back for many reasons, so it’s time to accept what it is.
If there’s turbo lag in this B58 motor, I couldn’t feel it. It’s just a great motor that gives you creamy smooth throttle response in any condition. Do I miss the S54 and S65? Sure, nothing thrills like an 8,300 RPM red line. But gobs of torque are fun in their own way too. If you’re sad now, wait till the ICE is gone. Better grab one while you still can.
The M440i can be considered a grand touring car, best suited for long highway stints. It’s got M Sport seats, a nice large iDrive screen and all the creature comforts you could ask for. I found the headliner too low for my 6’1 frame, but like any car, try one on to see if you fit.
Compare it to an M3/M4
I think these are different cars for different people. An M car, no matter how refined, is always ON and always asking “Why aren’t we going faster?” It’s an acquired taste that doesn’t suit everyone.
The M340i and M440i offer great power and comfort, but feature less feedback, making the driving experience less visceral.
When I test drove an M340i back-to-back with an M3 before purchasing my G80, I found the 340 to be a bit aloof out on the road. You’re in a normal BMW that gets a bit rowdy if you put it in the SPORT settings. It felt like a newer version of my 335, which it very much is.
The M Performance series are still a hoot to drive, and can get very fast – in my eyes, they earn that ///M.
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