Just a week after spending the day with the BMW M3 Competition Pack I got the opportunity to do the same with a BMW 440i, fitted with the M-Performance exhaust. Being cars based of the same series, 3 series and 4 series, I was intrigued as to how similar the cars would be and what extra the full M car gives you over the top spec ‘normal’ models.
I picked the car up bright and early in lovely sunshine which was in complete contrast to the torrent that greeted me when I collected the M3. However, the majority of the day was spent in sunshine with both cars and a wet spell late in the day with the 440i meant I could compare them fairly in both conditions.
Both cars have a 3.0l in line 6 engine that is turbocharged, twin turbocharged in the M3/M4. The 340/440i has 321bhp and 332ft-lb of torque compared to the standard M3/M4’s 424bhp and 406ft-lb although in Competition Pack guise you get an additional 19bhp which is the specification we’re comparing here.
So for around an extra £20000 over the M-sport 340i/440i you are getting, in performance terms, an extra 122bhp, 74ft-lb of torque and a reduction in 0-62mph time from 5.1 to 4.0 flat. On paper that sounds like an awful lot of money for a small increase in acceleration and initially behind the wheel the sensation of speed is very similar at road speeds.
The characteristics of the engines however are very different. Where the 40i motor is smooth and fairly linear for a turbocharged engine the M motor is brutal and savage. Particularly in its most aggressive setting it feels like it always wants to propel you forward, or more disconcertingly sideways, at rapid speed where the 40i is a lot more gradual in building its pace of acceleration which I found enabled me to use more of the performance more of the time. As a daily proposition the 40i is also an easier more relaxing engine to use. The M car can do slow and gentle as well as a rapid release of power but its boosty nature means it is harder to regulate anything in between. Whether that brings you excitement or fear is a fine line and probably down to your own personality and driving ability. That more brutal personality does translate in to some seriously rapid pace and despite the initial similarity in sensation of speed, where the stomach turning pace eases well within legal speeds in the 40i car the M car just keeps accelerating at the same pace to a point where you could get into a lot of trouble on the road. The M car and the 40i had near unflapable traction in the dry but given a little rain the 40i inspired confidence with progressive loss of traction where you felt the M car would spin its wheels and send the traction control light flashing in desperation at any moment.
Whilst economy might not be top of a petrol heads list of musts when buying a car better fuel consumption means you can enjoy the car for longer before your funds run out right? The 40i was well ahead of the M3 in normal driving on this front. I thought the M3 was impressive returning around 28 mpg when driving in a sensible manner but in the same driving style and conditions the 40i was returning around 37. When pressing on I found the difference much smaller with the cars returning 21 and 25 mpg respectively but at least you can get to those wonderful driving roads more cheaply in the 40i cars.
You would expect two 3.0l straight six engines from the same manufacturer to sound very similar but they are actually quite different. With the M-Performance exhaust fitted to the 440i I drove was almost as loud as the M3 in sport plus and actually had a more pleasing tone.
There were pops and crackles to be had from both on the overrun although these a little more aggressive in the M3. Inside the car the M3’s engine note was far more synthesised. Some people would complain of this but it does make the M car an event every time you drive it. The M car is never really in a quiet mood. Initially, I thought it was going to be more of the same from the 440i as it never starts up quietly either. It roars into life whether starting from cold or warm and whether in comfort mode or sport. After a few seconds though, in comfort mode at least, the revs die back and it all goes quiet and there is a huge difference both inside the car and out. In this mode the engine is almost silent at a cruise and makes a pleasing 6 cylinder growl under gentle acceleration. At the flick of a switch quite literally, with the M-Performance exhaust at least, the car transforms and can do loud and anti social when you really want it to. Whilst the M3 gets quieter on the outside if you require it is still a noisy car and inside the sound of intent is always there.
The gearboxes on offer compliment the two engines well also, with the dual clutch transmission in the M3 more suited to fast manual shifts holding onto gears for longer even in automatic mode and the smooth automatic 8 speed in the 40i suiting its more smooth and linear nature. That’s not to say the auto can’t change gears with impressive speed manually should you require. One massive frustration I had with the 40i’s gearbox however was the way it would decide to override you even in manual mode if you accelerated hard. When you wanted to change early and ride the torque it would kickdown without warning to propel you forward whether you wanted it to or not.
Ride and handling was a big surprise to me when comparing the two cars. I expected the 40i to be better riding whilst being nearly as composed in the corners as the M car. I thought it would be the best of both worlds but it turned out to be quite different. The M car was frankly in a different league through the corners. It cornered flatter and was less inclined to become unsettled by uneven road surfaces. This makes sense when you consider it to be the full performance saloon/coupe but it was the scale of the difference that shocked. But the 40i is the comfortable cruiser right? Well no, not in the two specifications tested. The 40i had the standard MSport suspension where the M3, being the competition pack, had the standard adaptive MPerformance dampers and this made the M3 firmer than the 40i but also more compliant over bumps in the road particularly around town and on bumpy B roads. The 40i seemed easily unsettled and too eager to lean in slow corners for a sporty car. In isolation the 40i is a great car to drive but compared to the M car, which is the comparison we are drawing, it was found wanting slightly. Adaptive dampers are available for the 40i models and whilst I don’t think it would draw the cars level in performance terms, I do think it would make the 40i a better riding car when you want to relax and cruise.
Aesthetically the M car, as you would expect, is a lot more aggressive in appearance with wide arch body kit and air intakes as far as the eye can see where the 40i model, particularly in 4 series form is a sleek more restrained proposition whilst still showing a sporty edge over its lesser trimmed models. Sitting in the car you immediately notice the seats are more comfortable in the 40i car yet still extremely supportive, particularly if you have broad shoulders and hips like myself. It would certainly be a more luxurious way to spend several hours. The M cars seats do keep you even more rigidly in place and suit the cars personality and they look fantastic as well. Otherwise inside the cars are almost identical to look at and similarly specified as standard.
So is the 340i/440i a baby M3/M4? I think the answer has to be no. Whilst they both offer extremely rapid performance in the same body shells, albeit with some added aggression on the M cars, they offer a very different driving experience. The M car is so far ahead in handling performance and a sense of occasion as a car to make you feel special all of the time and get you down your favourite road in the fastest and most rewarding manor when you ask it to it would be hard to recommend the 40i cars over the M3. Over is an important word however because in isolation, the 40i cars offer a sporty drive and excellent performance more than rapid enough for the road. Some people will be pleased to have the less ostentatious looks and sound of the non M cars a well. It comes down to what is most important to you in a car. If you want the best car to drive and make you feel special then the M car is for you. If you want a car that can be ‘normal’ when you want it to be but great to drive and shout loudly when you require then the 40i models may well be your choice. Just be sure to spec the adaptive dampers and more importantly that M-Performance exhaust. If you offered me the keys to both I’d take the M3’s.
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A huge thank you once again to Rybrook BMW Warwick for giving me access to the two cars. Give them a call for all your BMW needs.