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BMW 440i: The perfect remorse

Childhood memories tend to be precious and vivid, especially for burgeoning petrol heads. Between my early ’80s automotive recollections of colourful Mercs, a Series 3 Landy, Diesel Golf and Venter trailer with brown vinyl top, there shimmers my aunt’s white BMW 323i Coupé, complete with BMW six-pot hum.

It’s one of the few cars that bring seller’s remorse to my uncle’s voice. “We should’ve kept that little Bee Emm… not only was it great to drive, but it would also be worth something today,” he grumbles while carefully dropping into the passenger seat of my Estoril Blue BMW 440i Coupé test car.

Although a 440 could be seen as the 323’s spiritual successor, its encounter with my car-loving uncle is a pure but happy coincidence. We have a meeting with expert restorers for one of his latest project cars, and the 240 kW BMW is perfect for our lengthy drive down sweeping B-roads to a distant town.

After an immediate agreement that the turbo-petrol six-cylinder sounds as good as it should, we also concur something else – the 440i errs on the side of uncomfortable.

Most buyers would choose the sport option because its harder suspension and 19-inch wheels suit the powerful two-door, while cosmetic enhancements included in this R31 000 option raise the car’s street cred.

With a lightning response and bewitching combination of growls and fizzing, the 3-litre turbo engine repeatedly chases 7 000 rpm through its equally eager eight-speed gearbox.

On the speedometer 120 km/h comes up in no time.

A few things we establish even before reaching our destination is that the monster engine’s torque is probably its most impressive feature, delivered through that superb eight-slot ’box in perfect harmony. Top gear at 120 km/h puts no more than 2 000 rpm on the dial and, thanks to 450 Nm of torque, there’s no real need for kick-downs.

The various drive modes can be useful, but we regard its default “Comfort” the best balance for everyday driving. Sport Plus is great for hard and fidgety hooliganism while Eco Pro retards the 440i’s spirit and considerable thirst. Drive it nicely, and you may dive under 10L/100 km.

There’s nothing like a few hours between rusty wrecks and charming classics to reset your perception of contemporary cars. Our hosts may not have been fans of modern vehicles, but they did acknowledge that a new BMW 4-Series possesses a tasteful mix of elegant lines and sporty, interesting design details.

Its interior is just as stylish, with reasonably intuitive controls and wonderful BMW hallmarks. Barring the strange gear lever and sophisticated iDrive system, we approved of the classic BMW instruments and driver-focused dashboard curve.

Prices start at R817 000 but seem open-ended when you delve into BMW’s options bin, as I did after my passenger said he was interested in the many luxury and convenience gadgets on offer. * Galimoto Media

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