“Is the BMW 440i Coupe enough, or is the frothing-in-mouth BMW M4 the one?”

Words by Phuti Mpyane

The W204 (last generation) Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG sedan in front – resplendent in my favourite iridium silver colour – is finally released from the boredom of driving at 60 km/h directly behind a dilapidated truck filled with God-knows-what when an opening is presented. A convoy has already begun on this rural road that snakes its way up a hill somewhere in the Lebowakgomo, Polokwane region. He wasn’t going to hang about, and neither was I. In fact, he absolutely nailed the overtaking manoeuvre, timing the absolute last and very close moment to launch his Affalterbach athlete past that agricultural fossil. The rear valance with its quartet of oval pipes sunk a few centimetres lower, as his C63 – equipped with that glorious and discontinued naturally aspirated M156 engine – launched and sang its goodbye song as it rocketed away.

Did I stand a chance? I’m in the R859 776 BMW 440i. This is the price in standard pain, mind you. This unit is packed to the rafters with optional specs. It’s also the flagship of the 4 Series platform if you don’t consider M performance parts derivatives with their tweaked suspensions.

Back to the moment, and time to teach a Philistine a great lesson. It just so happened that at the instant that its rear axle sunk, I had long primed the BMW’s Sport automatic 8-speed transmission and activated Sport + mode, and he did the same thing. Convinced of the C63 driver unawareness of this latest 440i’s superiority, I was glued to his rear bumper as we both accelerated and jousted through at least two upper gears before reaching another slow truck.

Through third and fourth gear, there was nothing much to speak of. Back into third as we line back in formation, noses momentarily straddling the middle line as we search for another gap. Moments later, matters still hadn’t changed much. We are neck and neck and he has slowed down, perhaps a little more than agitated by now with a BMW that clearly wasn’t from the M skunk works department hanging onto his V8 powered dragster; he leaves quite a big gap between us and the offending Dyna truck.

And then the opportunity to truly gauge the prowess of the BMW appears. It’s a long, long straight and I oblige him, allowing him to torpedo past first. Still, I’m right on him as we reel in that straight. The 440i is not keeping only ground but it’s beginning to feel like it possesses the reserves to power past the Merc. But I don’t. The C63’s brake lights come ablaze as we approach Lebowakgomo CBD, signalling the end of the workout. I had learned, and so had the C63 AMG.

But I’m not surprised. The 440i engine, the same 3.0-litre straight-six equipped with a single turbo with clever variable vane angle technology that open and close depending on power load, is a nifty trick that the automotive world latched onto some years back. When fully ajar, the vanes scoop more air than a conventional turbo to pump more oxygen into the cylinders, thus creating a lot more possibility to create extra power, negating the need for two extra cylinders. It’s downsizing in a nutshell.

 

The Gentleman’s Chariot

The BMW has long proved its worth as a clandestinely dressed sporting gladiator. It’s so humbly dressed, with a standard but neat exterior – our test car was given a pinch of spice through M-specific wheels instead of the full Monty M-sports package with differently styled rear valance. Being a BMW, it’s also lavishly finished inside. There are no bucket seats nor are there metal plated pedals to suggest a naughty streak. The on-board entertainment, though not Harman Kardon or Bang & Olufsen, is also a very fine hi-fi. Despite stiffer suspension, it’s an absolutely comfortable drive, more so when you are offline and have activated its COMFORT setting on the drive mode selector. All in all, this 440i comes across as a gentleman’s chariot; a stylish two-door one where one wouldn’t look out of place in a jacket, shirt and scarf in these chilly winter days. All it needs to do is grow horns and it transforms into a beast.

 

King of the Road

Of all the questions asked where the 440i is concerned, the one that crept up more is that of its viability against the straight jacket wearing M4. That’s 240kW at 5000rpm and 0-100km/h in 5 seconds versus 317kW and 550Nm plus 0-100km/h in 4.1 seconds. This is a voluminous variance, you will agree, and should conclude the comparison however, not all drivers are cut from 100% mentalist cloth. Some persuasion can be mustered for the admittedly less frenetic 440i. Do a little mathematics and you will realize that in the real world with speed cameras, a 440i with its level of venom will suffice. BMW has somewhat nailed the characters and state of affairs in its high-performance hierarchy. Some of us will want to look like Bruno Spengler minus his actual skills, and that’s okay. You may also have the gumption to go around setting fire to tarmac but ultimately, this is more natural to the guttural M4. You can trash the 440i for all of its worth but in the end, and though it gives off brutal speeds, it doesn’t inspire much in the way of sideways action where its quicker opening LSD curbs any rear wheel dissent.

It’s just supremely competent, exploiting its deceptively robust power delivery, which I’m very keen to test alongside a peer Audi S5 and Mercedes-AMG C43. On long drives is where it really shines, instead of a race track where the M4 will overpower it with startling brutality. It’s a torque-strong motor, smooth and beguiling if you allow it and in isolation, away from the interference of BMW M4s, the 440i is King of the road. Just ask that C63 guy.