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Steering, suspension and comfort

Uproar would probably have broken out in a room full of BMW drivers if told, 20 years ago, that the only way to buy a mid-sized coupé with ‘standard’ rear-wheel drive and a longways six-cylinder engine from their favourite firm would one day be to buy the M division version.

This 4 Series is the first BMW in its particular model lineage for which that statement is true. And yet it’s no sell-out. Although four-wheel drive is clearly part of the equation and has added mass to this car, it doesn’t particularly blunt the dynamic appeal, which, as you would expect, remains the defining selling point.

Interesting that BMW elected to take the run-flats off the biggest-rimmed 3 Series derivatives but has left them on for the 4 Series

The M440i xDrive is just that little bit more level in its body control and keener in its handling responses than an equivalent 3 Series, a car that is, let’s not forget, the best-handling executive model in its particular niche in any case.

Like all fast BMWs, this one majors on precision at first. And, sure enough, it trades on sure-footed stability and traction in circumstances where its predecessors might be shaking their hips more playfully. But it’s composed and compelling, inviting you to engage with the road in a way that few executive cars do. And, unlike other four-wheel-drive executive options, it actually feels rear driven: you can rotate and manipulate the chassis that little bit with power and interact with the handling on a fundamentally more interesting level than many modern cars allow.

That the 4 Series stops narrowly short of sports car-level agility, with its steering filtering more than a purer driver’s car would, may disappoint some. But that’s indicative of the broader dynamic brief that this car must serve than any sports car would be expected to meet. Everyday, any-weather usability and effortless high-speed, long-distance touring stability should be any BMW coupé’s meat and drink. As they are here.

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That’s largely thanks to this car’s suspension specification – particularly its adaptive dampers, without which other 4 Series we’ve tested have certainly felt firmer riding and less comfortable, as we’ll expand on in a moment. And yet it can also mix it with a front-engined sports car for grip, handling composure and driver involvement.

Purposefulness, precision and verve bubble out of the M440i when it’s cornered quickly. A measured initial steering response prevents it from diving into bends, then good inherent balance and plenty of lateral grip keep your appointment with the apex and stop the car from washing too wide even when you feed in power.

As always, BMW offers fully enabled stability control, dynamic mode and full deactivation – and you don’t need to switch it off totally to be given the freedom to move the chassis around on the power.

The suspension works the contact patches evenly, and the drivetrain keeps torque at the rear wheels when you’re accelerating out of bends, only moving it forwards in any quantity when you’re beginning to blend attitude into the car.

Outright vertical body control just begins to come into question over the most testing crests and dips, but composure is quickly restored.

Comfort and isolation

Wider test experience suggests that adaptive M suspension may be crucial to the rolling comfort of the 4 Series. We’ve tested it before on BMW’s passive M Sport dampers and found its ride, both at lower speeds and on slightly uneven UK country roads, a little restive and excitable.

But the adaptively damped M440i tested here didn’t suffer with that problem – not, at least, on A- and B-roads, whose lumps and bumps were dealt with serenely enough.

A car such as this will always feel more at home on motorways, at higher speeds and when devouring distance, and this one is no exception. Nevertheless, those who anticipate plenty of cross-country driving ought to go for the suspension upgrade if their budget allows.

Even if you do, you’ll find the car’s low-speed town ride slightly fussy. It joggles its weight between either side of its axles in a way that would amount to head toss in a taller-profiled car but, even so, it doesn’t quite pass unnoticed here.

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The car’s ride isolation, on 19in wheels and run-flat tyres, is respectable but not outstanding. There are more refined coupés out there for those who want them.