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TEST DRIVE: 2021 BMW M440i Coupe – Does RWD Make a Difference?

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When the BMW M440i Coupe was first released, it was available only with xDrive all-wheel drive. To be honest with you, I never expected there to even be a rear-wheel drive variant, as rear-wheel drive cars from BMW are so seldom bought in the ‘States that it didn’t seem worthwhile to even sell another. However, as I was on my way to return the ALPINA B8 I recently tested, I received a call, telling me there was a rear-wheel drive M440i available for when I arrived, if I wanted to drive it back. Me not being one to turn down a test drive of any car, I naturally agreed.

Despite my love for testing cars — I will literally test anything, regardless of how exciting or boring it may seem — I did struggle to see the point of testing the M440i sDrive. Reason being is that, due to the comfy and muted nature of the new 4 Series, I couldn’t imagine it being noticeably different in any way from the xDrive model I originally drove, back when it was released. Turns out, I was right. Mostly.

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Same Old M440i

The BMW M440i sDrive Coupe, mechanically, is nearly identical to the xDrive car, just without a driven axle at the front. That means it uses the same B58 3.0 liter turbocharged inline-six engine — with 48-volt mild-hybrid tech — making 382 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque. Its straight-six engine is paired with the always excellent eight-speed ZF auto but, this time, it only sends power to the rear wheels.

As always, BMW’s B58 engine steals the show. It’s such a great overall engine, it wouldn’t be out of line to call it the best six-cylinder engine in the world. I’m not sure there’s an engine on the market that can match the B58’s blend of silky smooth deliver, thrilling performance, growly sound, and affordability (the B58 can be had in very reasonably priced sedans and coupes). It’s flat-out brilliant. However, the addition of the 48-volt mild hybrid system is a bit of hit and miss.

What works well about the mild-hybrid system is the added low-down power. In layman’s terms, this mild-hybrid setup fits the engine with an electric motor on the crankshaft, capable of actually turning the drivetrain with the engine off. What that does is allow it to add power at low rpm, to eliminate the already tiny bits of turbo-lag, to smooth out acceleration and it works very well. There’s simply no lag in throttle response at all and the M440i feels even better than the already excellent M340i.

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However, the downside is the auto start/stop. Seemingly in an attempt to smooth the transition of killing engine power when stopped for efficiency’s sake, the M440i will actually kill the engine power while it’s still rolling, at only a few mph. However, it’s not as smooth as BMW likely would have hoped and is very much felt, which is incredibly annoying. Then, it’s too abrupt on take off, as the engine kicks back on. In fact, it’s infuriating.

Admittedly, it wouldn’t be a problem if you could turn it off, like in every other car I’ve ever tested, but there’s no independent means of turning the system off. Which honestly confused me at first because BMW has always had a button to turn auto start/stop off. I felt like I was taking crazy pills, not being able to find an off button for the system. I actually had to Google it, only to find there’s no such button.

In the BMW M440i,  auto start/stop is only disengaged in Sport mode. Which is mostly fine because the car drives best in sport mode but what if you want to drive in comfort mode, you have to live with the annoyance? Just bad design by BMW. Of course, this isn’t a rear-wheel drive-specific thing, as it’s the same with all M440i models, but it did annoy me during my test.

The rest of the powertrain is still brilliant, however. Power deliver is perfection, as are the shifts from the eight-speed auto. Admittedly, I’d like a bit more snap during Sport mode upshifts but I understand the smoother nature of this car’s transmission calibration.

Does sDrive Make a Difference?

Most of the time, no. In almost all driving situations, there’s no discernable difference between the two cars. Most of that is because the optional xDrive all-wheel drive system only uses the front axle when it’s needed anyway, so it never really feels anything other than rear-wheel drive. Some of the reason why, though, is that the M440i is such a muted car, in terms of driver feel, that it’s hard to tell what’s going on underneath.

That’s not really a criticism, as the M440i is a grand touring car — regardless of what BMW’s marketing department says — so the sort of vague, comfy nature of the 4er is not only understandable, it’s welcome. But that does mean the sDrive’s rear-biased nature is hidden, so don’t expect it to feel more dynamic, more balanced or purer than the xDrive model.

However, what it does to is allow it to play a just a bit more. If you flip on MDM mode, or turn traction control off completely, it will slide a bit more if you prod it. And the M440i is a dynamic, capable car, so it can slide around quite well. The only real problem is that it never really feels like it wants to. It’s not a car that begs to be driven hard, despite how fast and capable it is. Again, it’s a GT car, not a proper sports car.

Typically, enthusiasts would prefer rear-wheel drive over all-wheel drive, myself included. However, the difference for the BMW M440i, between both drivetrains, is negligible.

Worth Saving Some Money?

If you go for the standard rear-wheel drive model, the BMW M440i Coupe starts at $56,700. If you decide to upgrade to all-wheel drive, it will cost you an additional $2,000, bumping the price up to $58,700. If you live in a warmer climate and therefor don’t need the all-wheel drive, should you save the two grand and go for the cheaper model? If you want, as it would allow you to spec some other options instead. However, quite surprisingly, I can see no reason to not get the added grip and security of xDrive all-wheel drive.

Not only is the BMW M440i xDrive model faster, due to its added grip off the line, but it’s going to be faster more often and more stable in the rain. There’s honestly not enough of a dynamic difference, in terms of feel, to the rear-wheel drive model to justify not having the added grip of all-wheel drive. In climates that do have harsher winters, it’s a no-brainer, spend the extra cash to get all-wheel drive. But even in dry climates, the added grip comes with no dynamic tradeoff. The xDrive model is the one to get.

Exterior Appeal – 7

Interior Quality – 8

Steering Feedback – 7

Performance – 9

Handling – 8

BMWness/Ultimate Driving Machine – 7

Price Point – 7


What do you think?

Written by publisher

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