Yes, it’s the new BMW 4-series, and yes, it features a front-end treatment which has received many virtual and physical column inches. You’ve probably heard enough about its gigantic kidney grilles by now, so we’ll try our level best to focus on what the thing is like to drive.
It certainly seems to have all the right ingredients on paper. BMW has put a lot of effort into giving the 4er more distinction from the 3-series, which doesn’t only involve, erm, you know what. The rear track is 23mm wider, there’s additional bracing to make the shell stiffer, and there’s more negative camber at the front. The bodyshell comes up 57mm lower than the 3-series’ making for a lower centre of gravity, and it’s also marginally slipperier.
You know what? The M440i does feel sharper than the equivalent 3. Not by a huge amount, but it’s certainly noticeable. It has an aggressive, baby M4-feeling, and not only because the fake (and not entirely disagreeable) noise piped in sounds awfully similar to what you’d hear in M Division’s outgoing version of the coupe.
The damping is well matched for the real world - this isn’t one of those adaptive setups where the sportier modes are unusable away from a race track. You can stick everything in Sport Plus, confident you’ll have a decent amount of compliancy along with a complete absence of excessive body roll.
On a greasy day with the ESP set to its half-off mode, the all-wheel drive M440i loves to remind you of its rear-bias. The top dog of the 4er world doesn’t cover ground in rubbish weather in a resolute but undramatic way like a fast Audi - it’s keen to remind you of its BMW-ness with every slightly greedy application of the throttle. It’ll step out surprisingly quickly, but it never feels tricky to manage - the AWD setup will only let it hang on so far.
Power comes from the 372bhp ‘B58’ inline-six we’ve seen in everything from the 7-series to the Toyota GR Supra. Here, though, it has an extra trick up its sleeve in the form of a 48-volt mild hybrid system. This starter motor-generator unit gives an extra shot of 11bhp at low RPM, making it even more flexible than before.
Turbo lag is barely perceptible, and the mid-range is a force to be reckoned with. It’s not a six-pot you’ll feel inclined to rev out, but there’s no doubting its clout. In terms of numbers, you’re looking at a 0-62mph time of just 4.5 seconds. In a drag race between this and the outgoing M4, there’s not going to be a whole lot in it, even if the rear-driven M car gets a clean launch.
It’s exciting to an extent, but there is a distinct lack of engagement. Not just from the steering, but the chassis too. Even when the envelope is pushed, there’s a sense of detachment to proceedings.
Nothing out of the ordinary these days, but in a BMW, you expect the driver to be kept in the loop more than they are in the M440i. Will this matter to the average buyer? It’s hard to say. They certainly won’t find much else to grumble about - it’s exceptionally well built, quiet and comfortable to cruise around in, and the I-Drive infotainment system is better than ever.
Of the fast, compact-ish coupes from the German big three, the £53,875 M440i is the strongest option. The now-diesel Audi S5 lacks excitement, and although the Mercedes-AMG C43 makes a lovely noise, it’s getting on a bit.
And finally, if you’ll allow me to briefly talk about the front end, it’s worth pointing out that IRL, with a plate breaking up all that grille real estate, it’s far less bothersome. It doesn’t look anything like as ridiculous as the Concept 4‘s spanglier effort, and there are plenty of sillier grilles out there from other manufacturers.
Perhaps it’s a case of Stockholm syndrome, but I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t mind it. And in any case, when you’re behind the wheel and enjoying the way the 4er drives, you soon forget about what’s going on above the front bumper.