By: Denis Droppa
Johannesburg - With the arrival of Spring the urge to go topless is in full swing, with both the Mercedes-Benz C-Class and BMW 4 Series recently launching new let-the-sunshine-in versions of their cars. The 4 Series Convertible has been with us since 2014 but now ruffles your hair with more urgency after adopting the engine upgrades that were applied to the facelifted 3 Series a year ago.
Effortless six-cylinder pace
In the four-cylinder line up the 328i became the 330i while the six-cylinder upgrade saw the 335i morphing into the 440i. The latter’s engine is a 3-litre turbo as before but with boosted outputs of 240kW and 450Nm, gaining 15kW and 50Nm over its identically-sized predecessor.
The new engine is mated to an eight-speed Steptronic automatic gearbox (with paddles on the steering), driving the rear wheels.
The 440i badge promises major performance and doesn’t disappoint. Max speed is a governed 250km/h and in our Gauteng acceleration test the car did the 0-100km/h deed in just 5.2 seconds (surprisingly beating BMW’s 5.4 sec claim) and the quarter-mile in 13.4 - which is quicker even than the previous-generation M3.
What those figures boil down to is essentially effortless pace whenever you need it: whether it’s teaching a hot hatch a lesson at the traffic lights, or swiftly overtaking a long truck. The power’s always there, lag-free and easy like Sunday morning. A Driving Experience Control switch allows the driver to vary the car’s responses between the more comfortable and the sportier ends of the scale.
The double-barrelled performance doesn’t come with much of a matching blare and refinement is higher on the car’s agenda than a racy engine note. To get a hard-rock holler you’ll need to spend your money on an M4.
Fuel consumption in the 440i test car, when not chasing speed records, turned out to be an impressively frugal 9.3 litres per 100km even though it came nowhere close to BMW’s la-la-land claim of 6.8 litres.
Retractable hard top
Where Benz has stuck with an old-school soft top, BMW has opted for a hard roof in its Convertible. This three-piece retractable top folds up or down in a few seconds at the touch of a button, and can be done at driving speeds of up to 18km/h.
With the roof’s noise-absorbing headliner the car glides along with the silence of a regular fixed-roof car, and occupants get to chat without having to raise their voices. With the roof down a wind deflector helps bad hair days from becoming too extreme.
The 440i Convertible takes decent care of occupants when driving top down in cooler weather. The front seats are heated, and also have an air collar system which warms the neck and shoulders. The steering wheel is heated too, and when the top is down the cabin temperature is automatically controlled in relation to the outdoor climate and the speed of the vehicle.
With the roof up the boot’s a useful 370 litres in size which will take a couple of suitcases. Top-down driving reduces the luggage space to 220 litres but the folded roof can be pivoted upwards to accept larger items.
Adult passengers are able to fit into the rear seats in a pinch but it’s not a comfy setup. Though the legroom’s not terrible, the backrests force you to sit as upright as an army drill sergeant.
Standard spec levels in this striptease 440i include electrically adjustable front seats, cruise control, navigation, and professional Harman Kardon sound.
I would have liked a seatbelt feeder in this two-door car, though; reaching back for the belt requires quite a stretch over your shoulder.
Handles with precision
Though the Convertible’s heavier than the 4 Series Coupe, it handles with typical BMW precision thanks to its 50/50 weight distribution, low centre of gravity, and that finely-loaded steering.
The body’s strengthened to resist flexing when driving with the top down and there’s little of the driving jitter that characterised earlier convertibles. Even over bumps the Beemer feels mostly rock solid. The Convertible sits 10mm lower than a 3 Series sedan, so its belly is sometimes prone to scraping on steeply-angled driveways.
The 440i Convertible’s base price is R932 746 and our test car was specced up to R996 000 with options that among others included an M Sport styling package, front and rear park-distance control, M Sports suspension, and 19-inch wheels with mixed tyres (17s are standard).
In addition to a generous safety suite of airbags, ABS brakes and stability control, the car can also be ordered with optional driver aids like active cruise control and lane departure warning.
Beemer’s 440i Convertible delivers a fine mix of performance and top-down driving fun, while the folding hard top maintains the quietness of a regular car when you’re not in wind chasing mode. There are worse ways to get ruffled hair and a sunburn.
New 440i Convertible is powered by a 3-litre twin-turbo engine pushing 240kW and 450Nm. Top speed is 250km/h. Base price is R932 746.
BMW 440i Convertible
Engine: 3-litre, 6-cylinder turbopetrol
Gearbox: 8-speed automatic
Power: 240kW @ 5500rpm
Torque: 450Nm @ 1380 - 5000rpm
0-100km/h (claimed): 5.2 seconds
Top speed (claimed): 250km/h
Base price: R932 746 (R996 000 as tested)
Warranty: 2-year / unlimited km
Maintenance plan: 5-year / 100 000km