If there are three aesthetic rules to live by, they could well be that style is subjective, strong designs soften over time, and it’s rude to comment on other peoples’ nose-jobs. Pity, then, the 2021 BMW M440i xDrive Coupe and its love-it-or-(more-likely)-hate-it grille, as bold as the automaker’s boasts of driving prowess and lashings of technology.
The Ultimate Driving Machine has received the Ultimate Nostrils in this latest generation, and to say that hasn’t met with universal acclaim is to flirt liberally with understatement. Like most of BMW’s recent launches the front grille is more than oversized; no longer a functional element with a twist of chrome, but a dramatic styling exercise that just so happens to do double-duty for cooling.
Honestly, if you turned up in the emergency room with kidneys this size, doctors might diagnose a case of hydronephrosis. BMW’s design team is confident you’ll grow used to it. Until then, owners of the M440i Coupe should probably expect, well, let’s call it “enthusiastic feedback” from their friends and neighbors.
I think, ironically, it works best when viewed from dead-on. Stare the 4 Series down and the vast maw and narrow headlamps look bold and futuristic. As soon as you start to see the more subtle contours of the sides, though, the grille feels more slapped-on. Think along the lines of a smaller 8 Series Coupe, no bad thing in and of itself, but lacking the experimental scale of the front fascia.
The side view is more elegant, and the tail inoffensive. The Arctic Race Blue metallic ($550) paint and 19-inch M wheels are a classy combo, while the flash of blue in the Icon Adaptive LED Laserlight headlamps – part of the $3,700 Executive Package – add a zip of visual interest. As with any BMW, the options add up fast. A base 2021 M440i xDrive Coupe is $58,500 (plus $995 destination); my review ride had swollen to $70,470 all-in.
Some of your money goes on the 3.0-liter BMW M TwinPower Turbo engine, a 6-cylinder mild hybrid paired with an 8-speed automatic transmission. $700 had added the Adaptive M Suspension. The result is 382 horsepower and 364 lb-ft of torque, routed to all four wheels.
0-60 mph is quoted as 4.3 seconds though feels faster, and BMW employs the 48v mild hybrid system to pump a little extra power in at the low end; the result is less intrusive turbo lag. There’s a whole lot to like about this engine, from the way it surges forward with a judicious stab of the gas pedal to the noise it makes as you do so. Is there a little digital trickery to enhance that soundtrack? Yes, maybe, but unlike in some cars it never feels too much like fakery.
The transmission, meanwhile, lacks the rifle-bolt sharpness of a DCT but I’m not sure that matters. It’s content to slur through the ratios in regular Drive mode, or speed things up – including eager downshifts when you’re pushing it – in Sport.
Elsewhere, though, the M440i Coupe errs on the touring side. It’s flat and composed in the corners, even with the drive mode set to Comfort to soften out the bumps, but doesn’t feel entirely eager or playful. Instead the standard all-wheel drive keeps the power in check: you’ll get around the corners just fine, with understeer telegraphing when things are getting hairy, but there’s none of the RWD-aping that other M-badged cars deliver.
It’s not to say this feistier 4 Series is dull, only that it takes its dual personality seriously. Sure, there’s speed when you want it, but it also makes for an excellent long-distance cruiser. Settling both those extremes is a tall order, and usually requires choosing one side to err on or the other. The slightly distant wheel feel, for example, leaves the M440i xDrive pleasant on highway jaunts but less engaging on backroads. The brake pedal grabs hard at first graze, but then the long travel is better suited to subtle modulations while cruising rather than instilling maximum confidence when you’re looking to change direction in earnest.
For all the brashness of the exterior, the interior is oddly familiar. You could mistake the cabin for one of any number of BMW models: the generous might say that there’s no need to fix what doesn’t need it, but it’s a reminder all the same that there’s less distance from the 3 Series than the outside might suggest.
A leather-wrapped M Sport wheel with paddle shifters is standard, as is an 8.8-inch central touchscreen, an analog cluster with 5.1-inch display, 14-way power front seats, a power glass moonroof, wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and navigation. That Executive Package throws in heating for the wheel and front seats, ambient lighting, a head-up display, gesture control, and a full digital instrument cluster along with a larger 10.3-inch central screen. There’s also auto climate control, WiFi hotspot, parking sensors, and keyless entry; $500 adds a wireless charging pad, and $875 upgrades to the Harman Kardon audio system.
It’s a clean, easy to use dashboard, and everything feels screwed together nicely. The iDrive system has matured into something surprisingly straightforward, usable with either the touchscreen or the control knob in the center console. I wish BMW’s drive mode buttons were a little easier to find without having to look down at them next to the shifter, though time and familiarity would probably ease that headache.
As for driver assistance, blind spot warnings are standard, and you get frontal collision warnings and rear cross-traffic alerts too. The Drivers Assistance Pro Package throws in, for $1,700, BMW’s Extended Traffic Jam Assistant and Active Driving Assistant Pro, with adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping. They work well for those highway long-hauls.
In the rear, meanwhile, there’s a surprising amount of space. BMW’s decision to throw in some creature comforts back there – including dedicated USB charging ports and air vents – suggest it’s intended to be more than just a leather-lined parcel shelf. I wouldn’t want to spend extended time back there as an adult, but older kids should fit just fine. The same nod to practicality goes for the 12 cu-ft trunk, which has a decent amount of space even if the opening itself is on the tight side.
Finally, there’s economy. The EPA quotes 22 mpg in the city, 31 mpg on the highway, and 25 mpg combined, and they’re unexpectedly achievable numbers too.
2021 BMW M440i xDrive Coupe Verdict
Would the 4 Series Coupe be an easier sell with a less-ostentatious schnoz? Almost certainly. I’ll say that – consistent with those aesthetic laws – my attitude toward it did soften over the course of the week, though I’m still not sure it’s entirely in keeping with the rest of the M440i Coupe’s style.
The rest of the two-door, too, feels a little at odds with its badging. That bronze “M” is right on the nose when it come to straight line speed, but even in its most aggressive settings there’s the sense that the M440i xDrive would be a little happier playing grand tourer. If you expect viscerality from your coupe then this isn’t quite it; if you’d love your budget to stretch to an 8 Series, however, but you just can’t dig deep enough, the 4 Series could be a welcome compromise.
Time will tell if BMW’s polarizing design is one day seen as classic or caustic. From the inside, though, the 2021 M440i xDrive Coupe is far less challenging, and more than suited to the task of road trip companion.