It was over two decades ago, late in winter, and the first of several memorable new BMWs made the pilgrimage to Downeast Maine courtesy of Automotion.
That first sedan was a 5-series with a sonorous in-line six-cylinder engine and a five-speed manual transmission (remember when serious cars likely featured a stick shift?). The car was quick, but very smooth. It was one of the best handling and riding sedans ever driven, and it got over 30 mpg before it was fashionable to be fuel-efficient. That BMW altered perceptions forever, creating a benchmark that lasts to this day.
Through the years several other BMWs supported those lofty initial impressions; the nerdy Z3M-coupe in alluring Estoril Blue paint that went like h-e-double hockey-sticks, the rapid yet practical 3-series M sports coupe, several 7-series luxury sedans, an Autobahn-burning 650 sedan, plus an M2 coupe that suggested the Germans were indeed building muscular pony cars — they just didn’t use V-8 engines.
At the heart of many of these enduringly successful performers was often a turbocharged in-line six-cylinder engine of roughly 3.0 liters of displacement. Using 24 valves for better breathing, variable valve timing for efficiency, plus high-pressure fuel injection with twin-scroll turbochargers, these motors were relaxed to drive and never a disappointment when the urge to accelerate was summoned.
In 2022, this includes the latest M440i Gran Coupe, an extension of the 4-series two-door model with the same swoopy lines of that vehicle extended into a four-door sedan, with a hatchback instead of a trunk. A 3.0-liter six is the beating heart that powers this fleet four-door, however it is also a mild hybrid with a 48-volt battery and small electric motor assisting with the efficiency and power delivery.
Exactly 30 years ago, our last new sedan purchased featured a 3.0-liter V-6 with 185 hp. This BMW has the same displacement but makes a potent 382 hp and gets 5 mpg more than that Asian sedan — 22/29 mpg with its full-time AWD and an eight-speed automatic. Power, grace, efficiency, plus rear-biased all-wheel drive — the Ultimate Driving Machine indeed.
As with the aforementioned BMW samples, the M440i Gran Coupe continues the tradition of providing superior handling and supple ride dynamics for all users, all in a package that dons a Superman’s cape when you find the need to tickle the nerves at the base of your spine. While critics lament the loss of the precise tactile feel of earlier BMW steering racks, this Gran Coupe remains a cut above most other cars you can buy despite adapting to electric steering. Those Germans know a thing or two about making benchmark automobiles; given the rapid decline in simple cars in the market, it is a virtue that they will surely retain during the evolution to EVs.
Light throttle settings reveal the mild hybrid’s ability to motivate the car. Step out of the throttle on rural two-lanes, and the digital tachometer reports zero engine revolutions as the hybrid system carries on — just like in a Prius. Instead of the annoying stop-start systems that proliferate, the BMW’s mild hybrid works better and saves more fuel.
Buyers can choose between two models; the 430i uses a 2.0-liter turbo-four, 255 hp, with rear drive only starting at $46,195. The AWD 440i begins at $59,195 while our M440i stickers for $67,520 with a host of additional content. Additional features here include San Remo Metallic Green paint, Active Driving Pro assist, Parking Assist, surround view camera, heated seats and steering, HID display, 19-inch wheels, Technology Package, remote engine start, Adaptive M suspension, red caliper sport brakes, Oak interior trim, moonroof, Wi-Fi hot-spot, Harmon Kardon audio and SensaTec dashboard. This year marks the 50th anniversary of BMW’s M-model vehicles.
High points include the supportive sport seats (even though they are manually adjustable) with their simple thigh extender panels; one of the best navigation screen presentations in the industry, with outstanding graphics, contrast, detail and unparalleled clarity; plus the overall responsiveness of the chassis and the athletically balanced performance over any surface. The wide screens for both infotainment as well as the driver’s instrument cluster are easy to modulate to create your favored content, plus they relay that information simply, without clutter. Add the color HID display on the windshield and the Gran Coupe can share boatloads of data.
Conversely, the rear seat is a tighter squeeze to enter and exit, due to the sloping roofline and the car’s lower ride height, yet the expansive cargo compartment compensates adequately. The car’s effortless thrust production means you must constantly monitor your velocity, placing your license in daily jeopardy. The M440i is so refined in its ability to deliver you and your passengers, normal travel seems distractingly … slow.
BMW and Tesla were the only two automotive brands to experience greater first quarter sales so far this year. The Gran Coupe is one good reason why BMW remains so popular.
Next week: Ford Maverick Hybrid Pickup