BMW used to have the lock on enthusiast vehicles — cars for people who love to drive and see every trip to the grocery store as a chance to apex some corners, every highway on-ramp as a little slice of fun. But somewhere along the way, it decided to chase volume at the expense of those enthusiasts. And while making its cars more broadly appealing has helped sales, it's also created a bunch of lackluster automobiles that sell on the old image of the brand, not their current performance.
Enter the new 2017 BMW 440i, a twin-turbo, six-cylinder, two-door version of the 3 Series sedan. It's posh, smooth, quiet, quick and comfortable. What it's not is entertaining.
The 440i got a slight update this year, including a new engine and nomenclature: What had been the 435i is now the 440i, and it comes with a 320-horsepower, twin-turbocharged inline-six-cylinder engine. It's mated to a standard eight-speed automatic transmission; a six-speed manual is a no-cost option. Rear- or all-wheel drive can be had (my test car was rear-wheel drive). Throw in a few minor styling tweaks to the lights and bumpers, and that's pretty much the extent of the updates for 2017 (compare the two model years side by side here). As before, the 4 Series can be had in coupe, convertible or four-door Gran Coupe body styles.
Classic BMW Styling Outside
The exterior changes aren't noticeable. Put it next to a 2016 model and you'll be hard-pressed to spot which is newer unless you look at the badge. But while it's not as flashy as competitors like the Mercedes-Benz C-Class or Lexus RC, it's still a handsome design — simple and understated, as BMWs have traditionally been. The brand has always been about the driving; the goal of its styling has been to not distract from the experience with anything too outrageous. In this sense, the 440i delivers — it looks like a classic BMW. Whether that will continue to be popular as competitors update their looks remains to be seen.
Boring BMW Styling Inside
Unfortunately, the classic exterior styling has been carried over to the interior materials, which include a lot of hard plastic, grained soft-touch padding and all-too-familiar shapes. My interior was devoid of any wood; in its place was faux metal trim, which did not represent the 440i's price tag very well. Other, more luxurious options are available, as are some better, more interesting color choices. The gauges aren't great, either, with light-gray numerals on dark-gray dials that make them hard to see in bright sunlight.
While other automakers have started to take some gambles or put obvious money into their interiors, BMW hasn't done much with the 4 Series' insides. (Go sit in any trim level of the new Mercedes-Benz C-Class — the benchmark for this segment — and you'll see what I mean.) The top trim of your average Mazda feels more premium than this BMW interior, and for much less money. It wasn't just me saying this, either; several passengers said the car didn't feel any more luxurious inside than your average Hyundai or Honda.
But it's not all bad in the 440i. It's still a comfortable place to be, with supportive seats, a low beltline and excellent all-around visibility. The side glass is tall and long, providing excellent views forward and to the sides. The backseat is tight, but you expect that in a coupe; you trade in utility and practicality for style when you leave the showroom with a two-door.
Headroom up front is ample, even with the moonroof. The adjustable seat goes low enough that you won't brush your head on the headliner, something the Cadillac ATS can't claim.
Controls are easily located and simple to operate even at speed. There are no tricky touchpads like Lexus, no cheap-looking touchscreens like Cadillac. Most functions are controlled through the iDrive multifunction knob and dedicated buttons on the center console. While this eats up some real estate that could have been used for much-needed storage space, it's a simple way to operate the multimedia system while avoiding smudgy fingerprints on the glass. And kudos to BMW for including an engine stop-start defeat switch that doesn't need to be pressed every time you start the car — push it once, and it stays off.
The Best Part: The Engine Still Sings
The absolute best thing about the 440i is its powertrain. The 3.0-liter twin-turbo six is fantastic, with gobs of power on demand and a delivery that can be either smooth and strong or furious and brutal, depending on where you've set the Drive Mode selector. You'll almost certainly want to keep it in Sport mode, as throttle response in Normal is less than lively. The transmission is much more eager to downshift in Sport mode, as well, and keeps the powertrain in lower gears for snappier responses. It's a shame the car is let down by its numb steering and a suspension that's geared more toward comfort than sport; the powertrain engineers really brought their A-game to the party.
It's not the most fuel-efficient beast, rated 21/32/25 mpg city/highway/combined with the automatic, 19/29/23 mpg with the manual (those two extra gears in the automatic make a real difference). If you want better fuel economy, opt for the four-cylinder 430i instead, which gets 23/34/27 mpg with the automatic and 21/33/25 mpg with the stick shift.
The 3.0-liter twin-turbo six is fantastic, with gobs of power on demand and delivery that can be either smooth and strong or furious and brutal.
My week with the 440i netted 24 mpg combined — an acceptable result given it entailed mostly city driving. That's about on par with competing compact luxury coupes like the Cadillac ATS, Audi A5 and Lexus RC.
As for crash tests, the BMW 4 Series has not yet been tested by either the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. As with most German luxury cars, there's a minimal level of standard electronic safety equipment; you can up that content depending on how much money you want to spend. Items like forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, blind spot warning, lane departure warning and prevention, and other safety systems are all extra-cost options.
Ready, Set, Lease!
The 2017 BMW 440i starts at $49,495 including destination fee, which brings it in a couple of thousand dollars more than a Cadillac ATS V-6 coupe and more than $5,000 more than a Mercedes-Benz C300 coupe. At this price, you get the standard inline-six-cylinder engine, an eight-speed automatic transmission, LED headlights, a moonroof, a Harman Kardon premium 16-speaker audio system and faux leather seating surfaces (real leather costs $1,450 extra). It's a decent level of content for the money, but you'll likely pay considerably more to add features that bring it up to premium-car standards, like a sport suspension, modern safety equipment and real leather upholstery. Even Apple CarPlay costs extra, and Android Auto is not available.
My test car came with $2,000 worth of optional Estoril Blue paint and a black leather interior, plus the $2,000 Premium Package (including navigation and heated seats) and $2,550 M Sport Package (which gets you "shadowline" black exterior trim, sport seats, 18-inch wheels, carbon-fiber trim, an M Sport suspension and steering wheel, and a dark headliner) for a grand total of $56,245.
It's not that competitors don't also charge a lot for similar content. The Mercedes-Benz C-Class coupe is an interesting comparison. There isn't a Benz trim level that lines up directly with the BMW 440i — the C300 is less expensive and less powerful, lining up better with the 430i, while the C43 AMG is more powerful and more expensive, but comes in less than an M4 coupe (the highest-performance 4 Series). The Cadillac ATS 3.6 coupe has more content for less money, plus a chassis that's arguably a better choice for driving enthusiasts than the BMW, but its interior feels even more low-rent than the 440i's. The Lexus RC coupe amps up the style factor, as does the Infiniti Q60 coupe. Both of those cars aim squarely at the 440i. Compare the latter three here.
Choosing one of these cars largely comes down to personal preferences. If you're just looking for a premium luxury coupe, any of them fit the bill. If you're looking for the Ultimate Driving Machine, however, know this BMW no longer holds a legitimate claim to that title.