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Review: Big BMW M440i Grille-zilla still has the moves

Henry Payne, The Detroit News on

Published in Automotive News

Sport Plus mode cranks up the volume, filling the cabin with fury. The 8-speed automatic throws off effortless, quick shifts. Diving into a tight right-hander, dual pipes out back bark in rev-marching unison with automatic downshifts. It's effortless, smooth, intoxicating.

Two years ago, I tested a small-kidneys 2019 turbo-4 BMW 330i M Sport against my (then) brand-new electric Tesla Model 3. Both 55-grand compact sedans. Both rear-wheel drive. Both hot-selling performance compacts.

After flogging them around M1 Concourse's 1.5-mile Champion Motor Speedway, M1 instructor Alex Della Torre and I emerged with big grins under our helmets. But the question hung in the air: which car handled better?

"The BMW, no doubt," we both said in unison.

As my 2021 M440i tester confirms, the magic endures. But Tesla has set a new benchmark in technology. The Silicon Valley maker has rewritten the rules with its smartphone-on-wheels experience: voice commands, navigation, screen graphics. Tesla has ridden that experience to the best-selling luxe brand in the U.S.

For the first time in a long time, the Germans have had to play catch up. M440i is a solid response.

 

Rather than copying Tesla, BMW has played to its strengths. The California automaker is Apple iPhone simple. The Bimmer is Neuschwanstein Castle posh.

Slip into the M440i and I was wrapped in 14-way, Cognac Vernasca leather thrones. A robotic arm handed me my seat belt ("Your seat belt, mein Herr") and Mrs. Payne's on the passenger side too. I expected the coupe's 112.7-inch stretched wheelbase to add more room to the rear seats, but my 6'5" was a tight fit — though not as tight as a Mustang that requires six-footers to first remove their legs.

In contrast to Tesla's minimalist three-button cabin, the BMW is littered with buttons. For the starter. For drive modes. Adaptive cruise control. Favorite radio stations. Lights.

Everything but that annoying stop/start button for when the engine stalls at stoplights to gain mpg credits from government regulators. Instead, M440i is equipped with a 48-volt battery (ditching the common 12-volt) to make the transition between stop and start smoother. Mostly, however, it's there to support the electronic funhouse.

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