Mountain Wheels: BMW’s sedan family adds all-wheel drive for sporty flexibility |

Mountain Wheels: BMW’s sedan family adds all-wheel drive for sporty flexibility

Andy Stonehouse
Mountain Wheels
The least practical but most exciting of the BMW automobiles discussed this week, the 444-horsepower M2 CS competition model, tore up the road to Mount Evans.
Andy Stonehouse/Courtesy photo

BMW sedans might, for the most part, seem like a more Denver-weather option, but the proliferation of xDrive all-wheel drive systems on many of them does provide some versatility for mountain use. I will keep asking for more X-model SUVs, but in the meantime, here’s everything you ever wanted to know about their sometimes bewildering world of two- and four-door cars.

Doing this numerically, the tour begins with the new 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 sports machine.

I had two performance variants of the 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). Imagine a small two-door with 444 horsepower from a twin-turbo 3.0-liter inline-six, 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 that I saved my drives for a single late-summer jaunt up Mount Evans, cramming myself into the race seats and experiencing race car level hilarity that rivaled the output of light supercars.

The level of structural rigidity makes M2 the antithesis of a commuter’s delight, but a layer of Alcantara trim on pretty much every surface does lighten up the feel of what really is a track-centered machine. And if that’s what you desire, M2 CS delivers.

The M240i, by comparison, behaved more like a 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 on the ultra-contoured doors, 19-inch wheels and sport brakes.

I cruised all the way to Pueblo one morning in January, and the M240i’s xDrive all-wheel drive 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 rest your left knee against the door panel on longer trips.

There has been understandably polarized reaction to BMW’s 4-Series automobiles and their very unconventional front looks, but that didn’t stop me from driving 760 miles from Denver to Santa Fe and back, and enjoying the ride in the hardtop, xDrive version of the 430i after driving a drop-top earlier last year.

Yes, strange men did still 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 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.

And yes, 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.

Andy Stonehouse

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