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    Shane O’Donoghue
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    Shane O’Donoghue
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    An updated version of BMW’s excellent turbocharged ’six keeps the 4 Series Coupé fresh, even before its #2017 MY updates. Words: Shane O’ Donoghue. Photography: Nick Maher. The Definition of a BMW Behind the Wheel. The 4 Series might be about to be face-lifted but we couldn’t resist the charms of the 440i.

    While I know I’m preaching to the converted on these pages when advocating the advantages of rear-wheel-drive, we must remember that there are many drivers, a very many, that see it as a negative. One such person is part of my extended family and he describes BMWs as ‘skittish’ – tarring them all with the same broad brush. The less charitable among you might suggest he gets some driving lessons, but the sad truth is that the majority of motorists have zero interest in which axle is driven. That’s probably why we’re seeing a slow but sure move away from focus on the layout from BMW. The 2 Series Active Tourer kicked things off and there’s more than a slight rumour that the next generation 1 Series will adopt a front-wheel drive set-up. On top of all that, xDrive four-wheel drive is being made more prevalent across the #BMW line-up, as evidenced by the focus on it at the launch of the G30 5 Series.

    So it was a pleasure to return home from that event to an awaiting car that, in reality, should be considered old-school-BMW. The model in question was a 440i Coupé, pre-LCI, in M Sport specification, which (if you know your BMW-flavoured onions), you’ll know is only offered in rear-wheel-drive guise. Ah bliss. None of your diesel or namby-pamby four-wheel-drive here thanks, just the latest iteration of BMW’s creamy smooth turbocharged straight-six, a hike in power to 326hp coinciding with the name change from 435i to 440i, accompanied by a solid 332lb ft of torque from just 1380rpm. It warms my heart that there’s still a manual version of this car on the BMW UK price list, but most will pay the one-and-a-half grand more it takes to upgrade to the eight-speed ‘Sport’ automatic for future resale value. It also drops the carbon dioxide emissions considerably, reducing VED tax and, if you’re fortunate enough to be buying a car such as this through a business, Benefit-in-kind taxation – the latter by a significant four percent. Theoretically the auto is more economical too, though we suspect there’s little in it in the real world.

    Although the 4 Series is undergoing its midlife nip and tuck soon, and this car’s analogue instruments and non-touch iDrive screen appear old-fashioned next to its newer big brothers, it’s still a remarkably good cabin. It’s simple to use, well laid out, tactile to the touch and, perhaps still of some surprise to many, quite spacious inside. Sure, the rear seats aren’t as capacious as those up front, but the boot is large by any measure and the generously glazed areas make the whole car feel airy in any case.

    Oddly, the ‘old’ 4 Series cabin has, in my book, one preferred item over the new 5 Series, and that’s the indicator stalk. The new G30 reverts to a simple ‘stays on in position’ stalk, while the 4 Series has what I consider to be a more modern design and operation. Strange.

    And while I love a manual gearbox as much as the next petrolhead, BMW’s eight-speed auto is, as I may have mentioned once or thrice on these pages, an absolute gem. The characteristics change brought about by selecting the various driving modes is very well-judged. By default, the transmission is smooth, comfortable and quick to use the higher gears in a bid to improve economy. Choose the Sport mode, however, and it helps the car come alive. Leave it to its own devices and the shifts are snappier and precise, while the engine is allowed to rev for longer before the next change up. It’s still silky-smooth, mind, even if there is a gratuitous flare of revs accompanying each down-shift. We approve.

    Now go for Sport Plus and take control for yourself via the deliciously metallic gearchange paddles; that’s the 440i at its best. The upshifts are more assertive and response to the paddles is instantaneous. At the same time, the engine becomes more audible, though, I confess, I’d like it to be considerably louder again when in this setting. Response to the throttle is sharpened, the power steering assistance is reduced (shame the good-looking steering wheel is so large though) and by default the stability and traction control systems are switched into a mid-setting. This is wonderfully useful for within-the-law public road driving on interesting roads, especially when it’s a little damp underfoot. It’s possible on tighter corners, exiting in second, to provoke a momentary rear slide that the electronics then allow you to gather up intuitively for yourself, or, if your brain was otherwise occupied, intervening to prevent embarrassment. At higher speeds, this leeway translates into a lovely rear-led stance out of curves as you unwind the steering and let the rear axle do part of the work. You don’t need to be on track or at licence-shredding speeds to enjoy the delicacy of this chassis in a highly rewarding fashion.

    With the #DSC and #DTC system full engaged, it’s a completely different sensation. In the dry there’s so much grip and traction available that the electronics have little to do unless you’re being a complete hooligan, but in the wet they are simply brilliant, cutting power almost presciently before loss of traction at the rear wheels translates into even the slightest of ‘moments’. It’s virtually fool-proof, and I reckon even my aforementioned ‘skittish’ family member could be talked into giving it a go. The best news of course is that you, the converted, don’t lose out on what makes a #BMW coupé like this special in a bid to make it safe and sanitised for the masses. Hallelujah to that.

    TECHNICAL DATA FILE #BMW-F32 / #BMW-440i-Coupe / #BMW-440i-Coupe-F32 / #BMW-440i-F32 / #BMW / #BMW-4-Series / #BMW-4-Series-F32 / #BMW-4-Series-Coupe / #BMW-4-Series-Coupe-F32

    Engine: Turbocharged straight-six, 24-valve
    Capacity: 2998cc
    Max Power: 326hp @ 5500rpm
    Max Torque: 32lb ft @ 1380-5000rpm
    0-62mph: 5.0 seconds
    Top speed: 155mph
    Economy : 42.8mpg emissions (CO²): 154g/km
    Weight (EU): 1630kg
    Price (OTR): £43,755
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    Shane O’Donoghue
    Shane O’Donoghue is now friends with Mark Dixon
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