By Andy Stonehouse
BMW sedans might seem best suited for more warm/dry-weather, but the proliferation of xDrive all-wheel-drive (AWD) systems on many of them does provide excellent versatility for anyone needing mountain and wintry use. I keep asking for more of BMW’s X-model SUVs to test but in the meantime, here’s everything you ever wanted to know about their sometimes bewilderingly expansive world of two- and four-door cars. At least it’s not as complicated as the Mercedes-Benz catalog.
Doing this numerically, the tour begins with the new BMW 2-Series, a diminutive but striking model that looks perhaps a bit like a slightly larger Subaru BRZ, but does not behave (or cost) anywhere near that recently renewed, low-priced sports machine.
I had two performance variants of the petite 2-Series, the very exclusive and utterly fantastic/terrifying M2 CS edition ($95,545), and a more grounded but still enthusiastic M240i xDrive ($57,295). The very small two-door M2 edition (rifghr) included a 3.0-liter inline-six, twin-turbo with 444 horsepower, hellaciously wide race tires, gold 19-inch wheels, and $8,500 carbon ceramic brakes, plus a real six-speed manual transmission.
The M2 was frankly so vivid and vicious and outright scary that I saved my drives for a single late-summer jaunt up the winding highway to Colorado’s 14,000-foot-plus Mt. Evans, cramming myself into the race seats and experiencing race-car-level hilarity that rivaled the output of $150,000 supercars.
The level of structural rigidity makes M2 the antithesis of a
commuter’s delight—or any all-season practicality—but a layer of Alcantara trim on pretty much every seating and elbow/wheel surface does lighten up the feel of what really is a track-centered machine. If that’s what you desire, the M2 CS delivers.
The M240i, by comparison, behaved more like a traditional small car, although it is not slouchy in any way, compared to its race-car edition. The 3.0-liter here still produces 382 horsepower and with metallic purple and red paint jobs as options, it’s one very striking little coupe. Mine was a more sedate Mineral White but the M-level trim here included such details as white, blue, and red digitized bursts printed on the insides of the ultra-contoured doors, plus sporty 19-inch wheels and sport brakes.
I cruised all the way from Northern Colorado to Pueblo one snowy morning and the M240i’s xDrive AWD system and some real winter tires made it seem like a safe and pleasant experience, and plenty fast when you want it to be. Simply do not plan to ever access those tiny rear seats, and be prepared to continually rest your left knee against the door panel on longer trips.
There has been an understandably polarized reaction to BMW’s 4-Series automobiles and their very unconventional front looks and gawd-awful gigantic nostrils (grille), but that didn’t stop me from driving 760 miles from Denver to Santa Fe, New Mexico, and back, and enjoying the ride in the hardtop, xDrive version of the 430i.
Yes, strange men did frequently yell at the car in the parking lot (maybe that’s a New Mexico thing), but the $60,520 coupe was often the classiest car in the county. While it lacked the pure cataclysm of power found in other models, I also got a real 42 miles per gallon (mpg) over my entire trip, and had to be just a tad more vigilant while doing two-lane passing jobs.
A somewhat more practical and perhaps less visually divisive version of the 4-Series, the quasi-hatchback M440i Gran Coupe model ($67,520) seemed like an entirely different animal, though that vexing, digitized calamity of a grille remains. It comes with a 3.0-liter turbo tuned to 382 horsepower, like the M240i, but the additional real estate here, including a full-sized back seat and almost SUV-styled storage in the rear, makes it feel like a much more substantial kind of deal. The most surprising thing is how competently this fuller 4-Series behaves, with an elegant, upscale expansion of the 3-Series package, including bits like ultra-aerodynamic side mirrors, beautiful highlight-painted wheels, and performance brake calipers. That cut and curved rear roofline does eat into rear visibility.
Finally, after a sea of somewhat smaller options, the grandeur and the style of the 540i xDrive sedan ($77,935) truly stands out. Power here is right in the middle, with 335 horsepower and standard light-hybrid boost from a 48-volt electrical system, but I was impressed by the 34 mpg I generated and the vehicle’s responsiveness.
It definitely felt like a whole different class of car after those New Mexico miles in the basic 4-Series, with a more spacious and nuanced experience accentuated by optional roll stabilization and dynamic damper controls. Anything constrained or squeezed in the smaller models gets the fuller treatment here, including the talk-to-me Intelligent Personal Assistant system on the gloriously wide and bright navigation display.
If you feel a little cheated on the power but love the space, the new M5 packs 600 horsepower. Let us save that for summertime.
Si: If you want responsivity and sport appeal, BMW’s M family still reigns supreme, with upgrades available at almost every size in the car (and SUV) family.
No: Base price is pretty much a non-concept with BMW; unlike Kia, your list of options and add-ons, some not that exotic, can dramatically boost the cost of any Bimmer.
Andy Stonehouse is a guest contributor to Latino Traffic Report and a freelance automotive journalist based in Lakewood, Colorado. All photos are stock, not as-tested, and feature European models.