Sometimes we think that BMW invented the 4-series just to complicate comparisons to the previous, much-revered incarnations of the two-door 3-series. Which would be silly, because the new 2021 M440i convertible doesn’t play the same role as the droptop 3-series of yore. Just as the 2021 M3 sedan now has the rough footprint of a 2001 E39 M5, the M440i is nearly the same size as a mid-2000s E64 6-series convertible. The M440i is almost exactly the same width as its boulevardier predecessor and rides on a longer wheelbase, but it’s slightly shorter overall and weighs about 100 pounds less. Taken a step further, that 6-series is similar in size to a 1989 Chevrolet Camaro convertible, if you’re looking for a more Bon Jovi-ish frame of reference.
The point is that this convertible BMW is no longer a cozy four-seater. The car once known as a 3-series is now a big, powerful, luxurious droptop, unabashed in its opulence. Yeah, those vents beneath the front headrests gently waft warm air to protect your vulnerable nape from the impudent tinge of an autumn morning. What of it?
The 382-hp six-cylinder M440i convertible slots in above the 255-hp four-cylinder 430i model and below the forthcoming M4 convertible, which is on hiatus for 2021 but will be back next year with up to 503 ponies. All droptop 4-series cars feature a new fabric roof, which is BMW’s first soft top in the segment since the 2006 E46 3-series. It’s available in black or, for an extra $150, Moonlight Black, which adds a subtle sheen. So, no taupe top—yet.
The previous folding metal hard top had a good run—even the Chrysler 200 and Pontiac G6 got in on the act during Peak Hardtop Convertible in the late 2000s—but it’s funny now to see BMW tout all the advantages of the soft top as if the company didn’t abandon it for 15 years. Those pluses include less weight—although with the continued creep in size, this new 4 is no lighter overall—increased headroom, and an extra cubic foot of cargo space in the trunk when the top is stowed. The new top can be either raised or lowered at speeds as high as 31 mph, while the old hard top could only be lowered, not raised, when the car was moving, and then only up to 11 mph. The soft top also goes up and down quicker, stowing or deploying in 18 seconds versus 20. There’s also the obvious fact that with a fabric roof, everyone knows your convertible is a convertible, regardless of whether the top is up or down. This satisfies the “don’t hide the thing that costs extra” maxim of luxury-car design.
As for one of the main selling points of hardtop convertibles—roof-up interior serenity—we recorded 70 decibels inside the M440i at 70 mph, which is actually quieter than the last folding-hard-top 4-series we tested—which, granted, was an M4. When the M440i’s roof is up, you quickly forget that it’s not metal. When it’s down, you hear some excellent noises from the turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six—turbo whine and chuff from the intake and belligerent blats from the exhaust. (If it sounds like a Toyota Supra engine, that’s because it is.) And the acceleration numbers back up the six’s braggadocio. The M440i requires only 4.1 seconds to dispatch 60 mph, with the quarter-mile clocking 12.6 seconds at 111 mph. Top speed is electronically limited at 155 mph, but the M440i is still pulling hard on the way there, requiring less than five seconds to close the gap between 140 and 150 mph. That’s a lot of thrust for a not-quite-M car.
But as with the M440i coupe, the rest of this convertible’s personality doesn’t quite align with its ferocious straight-line speed. As the M-adjacent 4-series, the M440i gets an M Sport differential, upgraded brakes, and an adaptive M Sport suspension that basically firms everything up and adds more negative camber. The $1300 Dynamic Handling package includes 19-inch, non-run-flat Michelin Pilot Sport 4S summer tires and, in lieu of a spare, a handsome “mobility kit,” also known as tire-inflation gunk. So equipped, the M440i clung to the skidpad with 0.91 g of grip, which sounds impressive until you consider our long-term 2017 Chrysler Pacifica minivan on all-season tires pulled 0.87 g. Moreover, the M440i exhibited a decidedly un-BMW-like appetite for understeer. This is a Bimmer that prefers the drag strip to the Tail of the Dragon.
But then again, this is a four-seat convertible, a genre fundamentally at odds with corner-slaying handling antics. If you buy a car like this, you might hustle it now and then, but that’s not really the design brief. A four-seat convertible is for heading out with friends on an idyllic summer night, taking the long way to get ice cream. The M440i’s mood board includes the Pacific Coast Highway and maybe some traffic, but you’re not sweating it. What’s the rush? The four-seat convertible is the official vehicular format of parades. This kind of car generally exists to lower your blood pressure, not raise it.
And in those kinds of roles, the M440i excels. Because of its 48-volt electric assist, the M440i can seamlessly kill the engine once speeds drop below 9 mph. You glide to a stop, silently. The optional $700 Parking Assistant package uses the car’s cameras to record the last 50 yards of your drive, which the car can then use to back itself out along the same path. When you climb in, a little robotic arm deploys to hand you your seatbelt. No need to strain those rotator cuffs.
The M440i is so comprehensively equipped that you could stick very close to its $64,995 base price without experiencing much automotive FOMO. Nonetheless, our test car wore a $73,120 as-tested price, including the aforementioned option bundles and the $3700 Executive package that adds a heated steering wheel and seats, upgraded LED headlights, and a head-up display. Among standalone options, the $500 neck warmers seem like a must-have bargain.
Given the 4-series ragtop’s relaxed mien, you might wonder why the $53,850 430i convertible doesn’t make more sense than the M440i version. It also will do 155 mph, should that need arise. It’s more powerful than an E36 M3. And it costs $10,900 less—which will buy a lot of ice cream.
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