BMW 440i Convertible: A bodacious boulevard cruiser
Drop tops are inherently compromised compared to their hardtop brethren, and generally need lots of heavy bracing to make up for their lack of overall rigidity. Does that mean you should steer clear? New Atlas spent a week behind the wheel of a BMW 440i Convertible to find out.
If you're into carving corners, we're going to give you fair warning: this isn't an in-depth analysis of the 440i at the absolute ragged edge. Not only is the Convertible around 200 kg (441 lb) heavier than the same-spec coupe, the body isn't as stiff. Rather than heading to a track and setting the car up to fail, we spent our time cruising around city streets with the top down, trying to act like someone who'd actually buy a convertible.
And when you put all pretence of sportiness aside, the 440i Convertible is a really nice place to spend time. For starters, driving a convertible in the springtime is an absolute joy. It's amazing how much more exposed you feel with the roof down. Smells and sounds that are usually blocked out in a conventional metal cocoon waft into the cabin, and drivers can see exactly what you're doing while you're sitting at the lights. Hope the top of your hair is in good shape, because anyone in an SUV is getting a crystal-clear view in the 440i.
The most noticeable part of driving a convertible, though, is the wind. I never realized how much wind there is even at walking pace, and how blustery things get as the speedo swings past 60 km/h (41 mph). The buffeting makes it hard to hear your passenger at 80 km/h (50 mph) and, for the truly brave souls who go topless beyond 100 km/h (62 mph), we'd recommend a set of earplugs.
Or, you could just pop the rear wind deflector into place. It might look like a popup beach tent, but the folding mesh shield that sits above the rear seats does a brilliant job of cutting down on uncomfortable buffeting and noise in the cabin. According to Google, it prevents the high-pressure air rushing around the car from blowing into the low-pressure zone in the cabin – and that sounds entirely plausible to us – but the only thing you really need to know is that it works, and works well.
The roof mechanism, which is activated with the push of a button, is fiendishly complex, and takes just under 15 seconds to go from down to up, or vice versa. You'll battle to get anything more than a handbag into the boot with the roof down, while the 320-liter (11.3 cu-ft) capacity with it raised is enough for your golf clubs or weekend bags, but not much more. That's probably enough if you have another car in the garage as well, but the fact the coupe holds an extra 125 liters (4.4 cu-ft) is worth noting nonetheless.
Along with the wind, the most noticeable aspect of driving with the top down is the engine. BMW, for those unaware, stands for Bayerische Motoren Werke, or Bavarian Motor Works in English. It was an aircraft engine company before it was a car company, but the blue and white roundel is now synonymous with the inline-six engine, and the engine in the 440i is a great example of why.
It shares its layout with countless great BMW engines from the past, but it has two twin-scroll turbochargers for better fuel economy and low-down torque. Peak power is pegged at 240 kW (322 hp), while peak 450 Nm (332 lb-ft) of torque is available between 1,380 and 5,000 rpm. Hooked up to the eight-speed automatic of our tester, it makes for seamless acceleration at almost any speed.
The noise it makes isn't quite the hard-edged buzzsaw yowl of old BMW inline-sixes, but the note still makes most four-cylinder turbocharged engines sound anodyne at full noise, with a pleasing combination of bassy exhaust and metallic induction roar. Anyone who read our BMW M140i review probably noticed a blatant bias toward inline-six engines and, in news that will shock no-one, I really like the engine in the 440i as well.
The fundamentals are all in the right place behind the wheel, but this pre-LCI (BMW speak for mid-life upgrade) is starting to suffer compared to its more modern rivals. BMW's iDrive infotainment system is quick and easy to navigate, even in its slightly older iterations, but some of the materials you touch are a bit scratchier than those in Audi and Mercedes coupes. That should have been fixed in LCI-models – it was a focus for the BMW design team – so don't read too much into it.
Once again, BMW has nailed the seating position. You can drop the comfy, wide leather pew right down to the floor, and the backrest can be adjusted to suit almost any body type. Our tester also came with air vents built into the neck rest, which blow warm air onto the nape of your neck in cold weather. The steering wheel is also brilliant. It's trimmed in soft leather, and is just the right size to comfortably fondle at speed.
Pricing for the 440i Convertible kicks off at AU$117,000. If you're after a brilliant wind-in-the-hair cruiser, or you're a wealthy boulevardier looking for some extra credibility at the country club, it's worth a look.
In the US, the 440i Convertible (in LCI guise) starts at US$58,500.