A few years ago, BMW stopped selling two-door versions of its 3-Series by calling the two-door version of the 3-Series, the 4-Series. When you add an M to 4, you get a high-performance two-door version of BMW’s 3-Series sedan, which isn’t an M4, the much more expensive but fairly similar-otherwise two-door ultra-high-performance two-door version of the 3 Series BMW also sells.
Confused, yet? Let’s try to unwind that!
What It Is
The M440i is the high-performance version of BMW’s 4-Series coupe, which is based on the 3-Series sedan.
It is similar in looks and under the hood to the BMW M4, which is an extremely high-performance coupe that’s also based on the 3-Series but differs in being much less expensive—$58,500 to start vs. $72,795 for the M4.
Both have BMW’s legendary in-line 3.0-liter six-cylinder engine with a pair of turbos under the hood, but the M440i’s version is mildly hybrid. It has a 48-volt electrical system designed mainly to reduce emissions by enabling the engine to cycle off and on more often and less noticeably.
Also, the M440i is an automatic-only and comes with all-wheel-drive standard, while the M4 comes standard with a six-speed manual and offers AWD as an option.
And, you can get the M440i without a roof or rather one that folds.
It is available in both hardtop and convertible versions, while the M4 is only sold as a hardtop, at least for now.
The ’21 M440i is all-new.
- The straight six survives!
- Less pricey than a new M4 and almost as quick as last year’s M4.
- Functional back seats, serviceable trunk.
What’s Not So Good
- Price has gone up a lot. Last year’s M440i stickered for $51,350 to start.
- No more manual option and no more option to not buy AWD.
- Mild-hybrid system adds considerably to the car’s cost to buy without greatly reducing its cost to fuel.
Under The Hood
Like the M4, the M440i comes standard with BMW’s 3.0-liter DOHC in-line six, goosed by a pair of turbochargers. Unlike the M4’s version of the six, the M440i’s six is also supplemented by a 48-volt mild hybrid system—something you’ll be seeing a lot more of in future BMWs as BMW incorporates partial electrification in most if not all its vehicles on the way to making mostly electric vehicles.
The idea here isn’t so much to save gas (a silly concept when we’re talking about an almost $60,000 high-performance car), but rather to reduce the emissions of a gas, as carbon dioxide “emissions” are now styled.
It is not an emission in the air quality or public health sense, but BMW and every other car company is under great pressure to build vehicles that emit less of it, even if only at the tailpipe. The 48-volt mild-hybrid system that’s paired to the M440i’s straight six does this by shutting off the engine as often as possible and not just when the car isn’t moving. During the course of driving as well, as when coasting downhill, for instance. The more the engine is off, the less it “emits” in terms of C02, and that is how BMW manages to continue selling the straight-six rather than a smaller turbocharged four.
There is also the upside of an 11 horsepower goose—bringing the total output of the combo to 382 horsepower and 369 ft.-lbs. of torque, a significant uptick from the ’20 M440i’s 326 horsepower and 330 ft.-lbs. of torque. Though, it’s still well shy of the new M4’s 473 horsepower version of the BMW six, sans the hybrid assist.
Performance is also upticked.
The new M440i gets to 60 in just over 4 seconds, which is not too far off the capability of previous-generation M4.
The main difference now is that the M440i is automatic and AWD only, while the M4 comes standard with a six-speed manual transmission, with the option to buy AWD.
What about gas mileage?
The mild-hybrid system bumps it up from last year’s 19 city, 27 highway to this year’s 22 city, 31 highway. Whether that hardly noticeable 3 MPG uptick is worth the uptick in the car’s price is debatable, but what’s not debatable is that the new M440i is much quicker than it was before. More to the point—quick enough to make paying the additional $14,295 it’ll cost you to get into the new M4 more questionable.
Unless, of course, you prefer to shift for yourself.
On The Road
The definition of a gentleman is a guy who is nice but doesn’t have to be. In other words, he has the capability to not be nice, but keeps it in check, unless being not-nice is what is called for in the situation at hand. He is the mild-mannered fellow who can become Superman when the occasion arises.
The M440i is the gentleman of high-performance cars.
It idles authoritatively but not abrasively—just enough to let you know what it is capable of, should the need arise. And when it arises, you can almost see the “S” on the M440i’s hood or would, were it not for the blur of instant speed this thing delivers.
BMW was among the pioneers of the close-mounted “twin-scroll” turbo, which nearly eliminates the momentary flat spot you used to feel in a turbo’d car when you floored it. That was before the turbo began to boost, which happened because it took a moment for exhaust gas pressure to build sufficiently to spin the turbo to make the boost. BMW figured that by mounting the turbo as close to the exhaust port as possible and by feeding it exhaust gasses from active exhaust ports (the ones exhaling at any given moment in the combustion cycle), the problem of turbo lag could be solved.
And so it has.
Even more so with the mild-hybrid, which spins the flywheel/generator simultaneously as the boost builds and, just like that, off you go.
You also go in a more controlled manner, courtesy of the automatic and the AWD. Just punch it and let the car take you for a ride. Of course, there is a subjective loss in not being able to shift for yourself, even if the eight-speed automatic shifts faster and better than you ever could or at least, better than you usually could.
Sometimes, it is fun to bump the rev limiter or hold a gear for a little longer than optimum when the metric is achieving the quickest possible lap time around a track. If you are on a track, then, of course, the numbers don’t really matter. The whole point of the thing is to win, even if only by tenths of a second.
How you do it always takes a back seat to doing it.
On the street, other intangibles come into play. You’re not being timed. You’re having fun, or trying to. And it is less fun when there is less to do—when the car is taking care of most business.
The M4 still has a big advantage here, if what you’re looking for is more in the way of intangibles. It is quicker by the numbers, but it feels even faster because it’s more on you to make it so. At least, if you order it with the manual and don’t order it with the optional AWD. It isn’t as easy to control, with the traction/stability control off, at least which you should do if you enjoy the kind of fun that’s hard to find in anything new. The rear tires slip; it’s up to you to perform a Frankenstein (Death Race 2000 reference) and shift in 1/25th of a second, just right.
You probably won’t, but it’s a hoot to try.
The M440i counters with different merits, though. These include being easier to drive closer to its limits without exceeding yours. The AWD system sets the net that keeps you out of real trouble unless you really want it, and that’s unlikely to happen anyhow because the M440i’s limits are so high that few without the training and experience of pro drivers will ever dare to approach them.
At say 80 percent of its limits, the M440i practically coasts through corners posted 35 at 60.
The other thing is, it’s easygoing. BMW tuned it to be more a gran touring car than an all-out car, which the M4 is. You can drive either car every day, in traffic.
But if you drive both, you’ll likely prefer driving the M440i as your everyday car.
At The Curb
The fact that this is a car and not another crossover is itself remarkable given how rapidly the ranks are dwindling. It’s also a good-looking car, except for the overdone front end with the oversized double kidney grills, which are also over-exposed to damage. A parking lot bump could cost you dearly if that fragile plastic cracks. This is a general problem with modern cars, by the way, not just BMW’s.
But there is compensation from the side and behind; these are views that entice rather than puzzle. Also attractive and unusual is the frameless door glass, which improves the view as well as the aesthetics.
Inside, you’ll find a functional, close-fitting but not confining cabin.
The trapezoidal digital dash layout is a little funky, especially the tach, which hockey-sticks up in double digits from 00 to 10. Below this is the “charge tach,” the meter that tells you how much juice is being added to the mix.
Other than this, the layout is direct and operative, with redundant knob/button controls you can use to not have to use the LCD touchscreen while driving.
It is also a space-efficient car for the type of car it is.
The M440i is almost exactly the same overall size as another high-performance two-door with four seats, the Ford Mustang GT. It is 188 inches long vs. 188.5 inches for the Ford. But the BMW has rear seats that can be used for carrying passengers, with 34.5 inches of legroom vs. a scanty 29 inches in the ‘Stang.’ It’s even worse for the back seaters in other two-door/four-seater performance coupes like the Chevy Camaro.
GM doesn’t even publish the rear seat legroom specs—they’re that embarrassing.
The Camaro and Mustang are, of course, much less expensive cars so the comparison isn’t exactly fair even though, in general terms, the cars are similar. Besides which, there isn’t much else that’s similar. The Porsche 911 has rear seats and a rear-mounted engine. It starts at $97,400 with some $22k higher than the MSRP of the M4. An Audi R8 costs almost twice as much as a 911.
The Mercedes E53 AMG, which is the high-performance version of the Benz E-Class coupe, is a larger car (190.6 inches long) with a much larger base price of $76,250. Besides which, this burly bruiser isn’t the athlete the BMW is. Despite having more power (429 hp from its turbo and electrically supercharged straight-six), it needs 4.3 seconds to get to 60, chiefly because it is so heavy. The 4Matic AWD-equipped Benz weighs an astounding 4,341 lbs., almost 400 pounds more than the lithe in comparison BMW (3,977 lbs.).
The Infiniti Q60 probably comes closest in layout, size, power, and price. The Red Sport version has a turbocharged V6, AWD, and stickers for $60,100. But it’s getting long in the tooth, last having been updated back in 2017.
Interestingly, this BMW has a small gas tank (15.6 gallons), which makes it appear to use more gas than it does.
The best thing about the hybrid/48-volt system isn’t that it saves gas but rather that it saves aggravation — by muting the obnoxious engine stop/start cycling that almost all new cars have. This shaker effect of the engine being stopped/restarted perhaps a half dozen times on the way to where you’re headed gets old, especially in a luxury car you paid with the big bucks.
By upping the voltage and using a flywheel starter system, the BMW’s engine can be restarted almost instantaneously and without these perturbations. Of course, the price you pay for that is the cost of the hybrid/48-volt system itself.
In its defense, the hybrid/48-volt system makes it possible for the brilliant DOHC six to continue singing its song. And that’s something you can’t put a price on.
The Bottom Line
The government is doing everything it can to make it harder—ideally, impossible—to continue making cars like this. Gratefully, BMW has found a way.
Eric Peters lives in Virginia and enjoys driving cars and motorcycles. In the past, Eric worked as a car journalist for many prominent mainstream media outlets. Currently, he focuses his time writing auto history books, reviewing cars, and blogging about cars+ for his website EricPetersAutos.com.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.