Well, piqued right up to the point where we hit the road in a 430i Convertible, which left us underwhelmed. Its four-cylinder petrol engine produces adequate pace but is raucous when you try extracting any of it. It's an engine that forces you to spend time in its lower rev range just to find some peace and quiet, and has no place in a modern BMW.
Meanwhile, its eight-speed automatic gearbox is neither smooth nor responsive, and the steering, although improved, still doesn’t quite hit the spot for feel around dead centre or on turn-in. This, we were told, could be the extra flex of the tread blocks on those winter tyres. Nevertheless, we arrived at the lunch stop disheartened.
Then we swapped into a 440i Coupé; ladies and gentlemen, it is a smooth camembert to the dry, chalkiness of the 430i. Those small changes that had failed to enliven the 430i had, on the 440i Coupé, effected a genuinely noticeable improvement, to the point where it’s a belter of a car. So if you’ve ever heard whispers that BMW is losing its mojo, this car at least, is proof that it knows exactly where it's kept.
It all centres round that steering upgrade. In the previous 4 Series, you turned in to a corner and had to make little corrections, because your brain was receiving messages from your hands that were too faint for it to calculate and execute in real time the correct trajectory.
Not in the 440i, though. Now the weight builds beautifully, so not only do you see the results on the road as every further degree of steering angle is applied, but you feel it, too. The upshot is that just one smooth, fluid sweep of the wheel through every corner is all that’s required, leaving your brain to focus harder on the road ahead. And in case you’re wondering, we did ask why there was such a difference between the 430i and the 440i, bearing in mind that both were on winter tyres. There was talk of differing tyre manufacturers, but nothing more conclusive than that.
Regardless of the reason, it meant that when the long stretches of Daz-white, snow-covered roads taking us ever farther into the Bavarian hinterland gave way to occasional Macadam-grey gritted sections, we could lap up the 440i’s revised suspension, which in this case included the optional adaptive dampers. It locks down the body so it barely leans but leaves enough elasticity for the wheels to patter over any uneven ground, keeping you utterly stable and totally confident about what’s beneath you.
It’s surprisingly comfortable as well. Okay, the roads we drove were, for the most part, smooth, but not once did it bump or crash through the body. Only wind noise from the door mirrors at motorway speeds diminish slightly its ability to cosset.
Another anomaly is why the 440i’s automatic ’box is so much slicker and more precise than the apparently identical one in the 430i. As standard, the 440i comes with a six-speed manual ’box, but we have little complaint about the auto’s ability to exploit the engine’s output.
And what a peachy engine. The slightly augmented, yet still satisfying six-cylinder growl aside, it pulls hard and long, feeling as tractable as the best modern turbos out there, even with such severely limited grip.