ROAD TEST: BMW 440i the stylish and swift GT
ANY driver who has ventured to a track training day will know instructors constantly badger about "looking up the road”. The rationale is to see what's coming well ahead of time so you're prepared for it.
Car makers follow the same approach by envisaging what their buyers will want and what their rivals will be delivering into showrooms in the near future, then planning accordingly. Given the five to seven-year cycle of most models, if they get it even slightly wrong sales suffer.
Which brings us to the midlife makeover of the BMW 440i. Good looks, phenomenal pace and a quality interior mark the turbocharged six-cylinder as a true grand tourer.
Despite that, it has two strikes against it, compared to the obvious opposition. The 440i is not new and buyers who can afford to drop six figures on a car want the latest, shiniest toys. It also isn't as sporty as the marginally ($8000) dearer models from Mercedes-Benz and Audi in the form of the AMG C43 coupe and S5 respectively.
That's why BMW hasn't gone down the established path of fitting a new front and rear bumper, changing some interior trim and declaring this an overhauled car ready to tackle the latest and greatest.
Instead it has had a serious crack at improving the existing vehicle and adding more gear to buttress the coupe against the inevitable onslaught.
The engineers were given licence to change hardware - never a cheap option - by fitting stiffer springs and roll bars, adding more range to the adaptive dampers' software-controlled settings, recalibrating the power steering and adjusting the traction control and anti-lock brake intervention.
The aim was to create a more nimble and sporty driving experience to match the performance of the newer rivals. They seem to do the job, with the Beemer now sitting flatter through the turns in sports mode without upsetting the coffee when traversing a speed hump with the setting tuned to comfort.
Beyond the under-the-skin updates are adaptive LED headlamps, the latest infotainment update - though we're still not huge fans of the wide but shallow screen - and a digital 8.8-inch driver's display that changes according to the drive mode but doesn't show a digital speedo in the default comfort setting. Thankfully the head-up display takes care of that.
ON THE ROAD
A new steering wheel reflects the 440i's character: it's chunky, tactile and reacts to a twitch of the hands. It is an engaging car to drive through high-speed sweepers or tight turns and the 3.0-litre turbo is still one of the smoothest and strongest six-cylinders yet installed under a bonnet, propelling the coupe from rest to 100km/h in 5.0 seconds.
Right-foot pressure and driving mode dictates whether the gear changes from the eight-speed automatic are subtle or savage. In either case they're fast and aimed at keeping the engine in the peak torque band - rather more than a sweet spot as it stretches from 1380rpm to 5000rpm.
The suspension is firm without being harsh around town but it's on the back roads where the 440i feels a much more competent steerer. Body roll has been toned down to the point where you can carry enough corner speed to appreciate the need for those big bolsters on the heated front seats.
The Beemer's shape ensures it is a head-turner and the trait is accentuated by the Snapper Rocks Blue paintjob introduced with the midlife update. Rear headroom is pretty good for a sloping-roofed coupe and, let's be frank, you don't buy a coupe to carry bodies in the back.
The adaptive cruise control with stop-go is a blessing for city drivers until a car decides to drop in between you and the vehicle ahead.
That's more a criticism of the Australian driving habit of trying to jam a car into a barely existent gap than a gripe about the software - the BMW tries to provide a buffer so it doesn't have to slam on the brakes when the car in front slows down.
As a stylish and swift grand tourer, the 440i hits the target. As a rival to the sportier but still-comfortable C43 and S5 rivals, it's just wide of the mark.
PRICE $110,526 drive-away (so-so)
WARRANTY AND SERVICING $1440 for 5 yrs/80,000km (good); 3-yr w'ty (average)
ENGINE 3.0-litre 6-cyl turbo, 240kW/ 450Nm (solid)
SAFETY Not tested, 6 airbags, Lane departure warning (not great)
THIRST 6.8L/100km (not likely)
SPARE None; run-flats (bad)
BOOT 445L (mid-range)