I’ve owned more than thirty cars in my lifetime, more or less evenly spread among domestic models from Detroit, Asian imports from Japan and Korea, and about a third of German brands that include both BMW and Porsche. (For the moment I’m listing BMW in alphabetical and chronological order so as not to disclose a preference just yet.)
While each of these vehicles served a specific purpose, not all of them were particularly good at it. When it comes to quality, I have come to the conclusion that there really is something to be said for the old notion of German Engineering. Doors close with a thunk, panels and seams are flawlessly aligned, and the selection of materials denotes a singular focus on quality. Even my two VW Beetles and a Ford Fiesta imported from Deutschland were built with similar tolerances, if not comparable net worth. I’ve learned to appreciate these attributes in the cars that I have driven, and respect the manufacturers that made sure that they held themselves to the highest of standards.
But my love for serious German cars began in the early ’70s. My father was an architect in a small but locally prominent firm, and his boss would occasionally stop by to give him a lift to the jobsite in his new 1972 black-over-orange Porsche 911 Targa.
At thirteen, I’d thought I’d never seen a machine so incredibly beautiful.
But I was one of six kids in a middle-class family firmly planted in the suburbs, so I accepted that our driveway would never be graced with the likes of a BMW or Porsche of our own. I could only read about these cars in magazines, see them in movies, and perhaps witness an occasional example on the streets of our town.
In high school, I was known as a motorhead—completely engrossed in everything with wheels. Although I would drive anything I could start with a key, I was especially drawn to unique design. My favorite job (even to this day) was as a valet during the summer season at a posh golf club on the money side of town, where I was handed keys to the most extraordinary vehicles.
Many years later, on a hot August afternoon in 2003, while driving my Plymouth Breeze, I stopped by a BMW franchise just off a major interchange to meet a friend for lunch. I was habitually early, and the sales team allowed me to wait in the air-conditioned showroom while I watched for him to come off the exit ramp. On a monitor in the lobby, the dealership looped a series of short films entitled The Hire starring Clive Owen (this was just before he achieved his eventual acting fame). These short films featured BMW cars in thrilling chase scenes choreographed by some of the best-known action directors of their time. It was then that my eye caught the BMW 3 Series sedan.
And I started doing the math.
I had just paid off the Breeze, and at that time BMW lease rates were very aggressive—which is how I ended up in a 2003 325xi acquired from that same dealer. This was not only my first BMW, but also an introduction to all-wheel drive. The following three years and 30,000 miles would change my driving perspective forever.
I discovered that by paying a bit extra, you could get a lot more. This sporty sedan was a blast to drive, and was easily the best-handling car I had owned to that point. We were introduced to the Steptronic gearbox, which allowed manual control of upshifts and downshifts. My wife also loved this car, and I like to think that she knows excellence when she sees it.
But all great things come to an end. My job changed, and I was driving 20,000 miles annually, which would have been foolish in a leased vehicle. I’m ashamed to admit it, but driving almost exclusively on Interstates, I purchased two Hyundai Sonata sedans back-to-back. My defense was practicality, but I was deservedly bored out of my mind.
Eighteen months into my second Hyundai, the economy collapsed around the world, and in July 2009, Porsche dropped their monthly lease rates by precisely $200 in order to boost sales. It worked, and the brand that sparked my life-long interest for exceptional vehicles in the first place was now within my reach. I was desperate to get one into my garage.
It took several weeks, but it was actually my wife who convinced me that if I walked away, I would regret it. So I flipped my second Sonata on the cheapest coupe you could buy from the Porsche lineup: a base-model six-speed Cayman with few options. (The decision was easy, but the transaction was painful: A high-mileage Hyundai does not command top-dollar trade value.)
For more than ten years, I immersed myself in the Porsche culture. Joining the regional chapter of the Porsche Club of America (PCA), I served on the board for six years. I was introduced into a world I could not have imagined when I was parking them at the country club, and our calendar was perpetually full of activities. It was enormously fun.
But it was not all was a bowl of cherries. I bought the Cayman off lease, and experienced firsthand what Porsche ownership meant to our savings. Upkeep was expensive—really expensive. After cresting 70,000 miles on the odometer, being out of warranty was keeping me up nights.
Driving with an ear tuned to every suspicious sound can take the fun out of it.
With a surprising residual value, I exchanged that car for a 2016 Porsche Macan S. The Macan had just been released, reinventing the SUV market. It was a fantastic car, but I really missed driving the Cayman. Less than two years later, I traded in the Macan for the next generation Cayman, a 2017 718—one of the best designs to come from Porsche, it was equipped with a scandalous four-cylinder turbo.
With a year left on the warranty, I began planning its replacement. This was January 2020, the very beginning of the pandemic. We had recently added a third car, upgrading our Honda HRV to an Audi Q3. The Cayman was to be my first garage queen, and I would drive the Honda to the office. But we were both working from home, and none of the cars was getting much exercise.
I started to rethink our vehicle investment strategy.
I used to brag that both of my Caymans were daily drivers. But in reality, any more than an inch or two of snow here in the Northeast would keep them home. The more I thought about it, the more sense it made to revert back to the two cars that served us throughout the year—which meant giving up the Cayman.
Months before the pandemic isolation began, I was completely taken by a Midnight Black late-model BMW M4 Competition while cutting through a municipal parking lot on my lunch walk. It sat low and lean, and meaner than a hungry badger. I walked around it slowly, Eric Clapton’s Crossroads streaming through my AirPods.
That image stuck with me like a premonition.
I began researching the BMW M4 as a possible replacement for the Cayman, and that’s when I stumbled on the rumors of a newly designed 2021 M440i. When the contentious styling was no longer an artist’s rendering, and pre-production factory models emerged, I became obsessed, and spent the next several weeks searching for more information and release dates.
Now, I fully realize that on paper, the only similarity between these two cars is that they are coupes designed and built in Germany. And they’re really not even in the same genre. But while the M440i does not compete as a classically trained sports car, it’s athletic and purposeful, and it has tremendous power for a car in which all-wheel-drive comes standard.
In October, I configured and ordered my 2021 M440i, and it was delivered two days before Christmas. Driving was one of the only truly safe and satisfying activities during this time, and we took advantage of any opportunity to stretch its legs. It is difficult to describe what it feels like behind the wheel of this car; its behavior relies heavily on how hard it is driven.
The M440i is frighteningly powerful, coming on instantly with not a hint of turbo lag. Forced-induction performance is brilliantly supplemented by a pseudo-hybrid battery system. Handling is predictable and surprisingly balanced, considering that the engine is in the front with a rear-wheel bias. Passive during mainstream driving, it can be a monster when you slack the leash!
It wasn’t until a late-winter day with spring on the horizon that my wife finally got behind the wheel. Once she wrapped her fingers around the M Sport steering wheel and mashed down on the pedal, there was no doubt that a BMW was in her future. The question was, which one? She has always been ecologically minded, so I had assumed the X3 hybrid.
But what I didn’t know was that after driving SUVs for the last twenty years, she had been pining for our 325xi from almost that long ago—so the BMW 330e plug-in hybrid was now in her crosshairs. To be certain, we test-drove a range of models at our local dealer. She ended up ordering a 330e that afternoon, optioning extras that included the M Sport package.
We left them with the keys to the Q3, driving home in what was now our only car. Waiting the interminable eight to ten weeks it took to build, she hoped a delay due to shortages of parts or factory closings would not affect delivery. On June 18, exactly nine weeks from placing the order, she took possession of her personally appointed BMW 3 Series sedan.
I dropped a 110 line down the wall in the garage and mounted the “occasional use” charger for overnight replenishment. With thoughtful selection of driving mode, she has achieved just over 90 miles per gallon with electric assistance. In two months of ownership and nearly 1,000 miles on the odometer, we have visited the gas station exactly once. She truly loves this car.
One day I hope to drive it myself.
I am permitted to back it out of the garage to wash and detail it. Considering that it has always been either our car or my car, now it was time she had her car. Having just joined the BMW CCA, we are looking forward to driving tours and events; I guess we’ll taking turns with which car to bring.
Now that I’ve brought this narrative to the present, the question you might ask is which of these manufacturers I prefer, BMW or Porsche? That’s a simple question with a complicated answer. We have now owned three vehicles from each of these carmakers. You could argue that my preference should be whatever is sitting in my garage, but it’s more complex than that. These two brands deliver a similar driving experience (within the limits of sanity). But with very different approaches, a head-to-head runoff would be unfair, if not intriguing. While Porsche builds other models, the soul of their portfolio is sports cars. BMW, on the other hand, targets a broader market with high-end performance sedans at the heart of their catalog.
It is true that Porsche is the marque that introduced me to a love of exceptional automobiles, and my ten years with the PCA left me with lots of memories that I continue to build on. I’ve never driven any Porsche vehicle (sports car or otherwise) that wasn’t breathtaking in negotiating an apex.
But while I love the fact that Porsches are singularly focused, they demand to be driven that way full-time. Sometimes I just want to meander aimlessly, and other times I want a more spirited experience—and a trip back to the house to swap cars would just spoil the mood. Owning a Porsche has always been that double-edged sword.
Meanwhile, BMW was the first truly special car I had ever owned, and although they behave quite well in the corners, their power delivery is astonishing in a car that is considerably heavier. They are discreet until you jump on them, reserved until you demand that they become more involved—which makes them better suited for everyday driving.
When I realized that I wasn’t using the Cayman because of weather and peripheral influences, I determined I wanted something equally entertaining that didn’t care. I knew I wouldn’t ultimately replace the handling characteristics of my Cayman, but the M440i is no slouch in a corner, and nearly 400 horsepower coming out of that corner can help you forget the margin. At this time in my life, BMW offers me the best of both worlds in virtually any driving environment.
I suppose that’s why I have two of them in my garage.—David Newton
[Photos courtesy David Newton.]