There is real strength running through the operating character of both the six-cylinder engine and eight-speed gearbox of this car. The combination is a hard one to criticise either for full-throttle power or part-throttle drivability – and it’s harder still to cast aspersions once you realise the car will also return better than 40mpg when touring.
A convincing sense of audible mechanical charm is all the M440i really lacks – which perhaps at first sounds like a trifling complaint when weighed against such objective might. But however hard it may be for today’s car makers to allow for such things, you expect to be able to hear a BMW straight six working away under the bonnet of a car like this. But, for various reasons, you just can’t hear enough of it in this one.
The engine’s power delivery is brilliant in the way it blends ample, accessible turbocharged torque with crispness and linearity of pedal response right across the rev range. It seldom seems at all laggy or boosty and it spins beyond 6000rpm with the freedom and vigour of an atmospheric unit. Of course, it never bogs down at low revs, either.
BMW quotes 4.5sec from rest to 62mph for the car. In our hands, on a slightly damp and chilly surface, it hit 60mph in just 4.1sec, which also speaks loudly and clearly of how little there is wrong with the speed of engagement of the torque converter or the efficacy of the four-wheel drive system.
The gearbox is at its best in give-and-take motoring when operating in one of its ‘sportier’ control regimes. Thus, it sets its downshifts smartly and decisively after a deliberate throttle input, and if the car’s 48V hybrid assistance adds anything to the performance, it may be to the improvement of that part-throttle, roll-on responsiveness, which is very good indeed. Unlike other modern autos, whose many ratios seem like an invitation to swap cogs almost at will, the M440i’s gearbox seldom seems hyperactive: it just grabs the right gear and knuckles right down.
There’s no escaping how synthesised the car’s audible driving experience sounds when you pay it close attention, though. It may be that BMW’s latest exhaust system and particulate trap have taken away what genuine mechanical charisma the B58 engine had left, or it may be that BMW has simply turned up the sound effects in an attempt to add more drama.
Whatever the cause, the M440i is left in a place where it will sound inoffensively sporty and authentic enough to those who aren’t paying much attention. However, those who remember so many silken 328i engines over the years are very unlikely to be fooled.