NEW BMW M440i xDRIVE

During a week of driving E30 BMWs, we consider how the M440i is the modern equivalent of the much-loved M325i.

If the M4 is the modern inheritor of the legacy of the E30 M3 homologation special from the 1980s, then the M440i, driven here (with optional all-wheel xDrive), is the modern equivalent of the ever-popular M325i.

Of course, the cars are so different in size, specification and performance that any kind of comparison is a fruitless exercise. But in the context of the expansive, all-niches-filled, modern BMW line-up, the M440i sits where pretty much where the M325i once sat, and offers a compelling blend of straight-six sizzle, bold styling and impressive balance and control. Both cars reward keen drivers while stopping short of the full-noise M-car experience.

Our M440i was presented in Arctic Race Blue with a striking cabin comprising Cognac Vernasca leather, décor stitching and aluminium trim finishers. It sat on double-spoke 19-inch M light alloy wheels with Bicolour effect. A couple of notable option combos were the Visibility and M Carbon exterior packages, which together lift overall price by nearly $10k.

The standard equipment list is generous, however. Highlights are the Steptronic Sport 8-speed automatic, adaptive M suspension, Gesture Control, Head-Up display, 12.3-inch digital instrument display, Harman Kardon surround sound, M Aerodynamics package expressed in bumper trims and side sills, M Sport brakes and differential, and sports seats with excellent lumbar support. The terrific laser lights deserve special mention for their clear, very white beam that covers vast swathes of dark road and countryside with high-beam assistance preventing them from dazzling other drivers.

Unlike the relatively conservative body of the saloon-derived M325i, the 4-Series design is that of a distinctive coupe, and a mid-sized-plus coupe at that. It’s grown appreciably in length and width for this new generation and the brash front end and stretched rear haunches are not to everyone’s taste .

But at least this car stands out for its imposing looks and M Performance treatment, and it’s special to drive thanks to that super-smooth straight-six powerhouse. Turbocharging enables it to make 285kW. There are ample reserves of power and torque and, in Sport mode at least, an enticing and cultured straight-six exhaust note.

The ZF eight-speed torque-converter auto with alu paddle shifters swaps gears quickly and smoothly and is ultra-efficient. It suits this car. Ride isolation and rolling refinement are also top-drawer thanks to the compliant chassis tune, and you can adjust body control from cushioned and absorptive to tied-down through the driving modes.

Driven keenly, the M440i turns in sharply with the benefit of any-weather grip, which we really appreciated during our mid-winter forays. Some will say any 4-Series gives up character by not being rear-driven, like the classic M325i, but few would dispute the overall appeal and effectiveness of this machine.

Compared with the monumental M4, it may be the lesser high-performance 4-Series but its comfort and deployability are first-class. It’s one of those cases where, for 70 per cent of the M4’s cost, you get a lot more than 70 per cent of the car and won’t feel short-changed for real-world performance.

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BMW M440i xDRIVE

ENGINE 2998cc inline six turbo

POWER 285kW (383bhp)

TORQUE 500Nm @ 2000rpm

TRANSMISSION 8-speed auto

DRIVETRAIN all-wheel drive

WEIGHT 1790kg

LENGTH 4.79m

WHEELS 19-inch light alloy

TYRES 255/40 R19

0-100km/h 4.5 secs

FUEL CLAIM 7.5L/100km

PRICE from $129,900

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