What is it?
Car journalists sometimes talk about the ‘50-yard handshake’. This simply refers to the various sensations – some unmissable, many subtle – that a car gives off between the time you open the door and the moment after you’ve shifted into second gear. It's a short and uneventful period that is, superficially, quite boring, but the reason the process has an informal name is because cars with good handshakes tend to be good to drive across the board and vice versa.
The Birds BMW M140i has an unusually good 50-yard handshake. Anyone familiar with the name Birds won’t be surprised by this, but for those who aren’t, don’t be taken in by the dealership-spec exterior. Underneath it, you will find tweaked suspension geometry, painstakingly revised springs and dampers, BMW’s B58 3.0-litre straight six massaged to release 424bhp and more than 400lb ft (all warrantied by Birds) and the open differential removed and replaced with a Quaife torque-biasing limited-slip diff.
The point of the endeavour has been not to create some monstrous would-be Porsche-slayer but simply to unfurl the potential of an underwhelming factory-standard effort regarded by many as an opportunity missed. But more so than performance, the new formula is about mechanical involvement, precision handling and improved year-round usability.
Birds now fettles AMGs too, but it has been upgrading BMWs from its base in Slough since the mid-2000s. What makes the previous-generation M140i so pertinent is that it’s among the last sub-M BMWs with rear driveshafts only, three pedals and six cylinders. At the time of writing, it looks likely that the next-gen 2 Series will follow suit, but even the latest 1 Series is now front-driven and four-cylinders-only. Birds’ attempt to buy and convert every F20-gen M140i in the UK dealership network is therefore understandable.
They make fine drivers’ cars, rich in capability and character – if you know how to unlock it.