On The Road

Two brands of hot coupe

Photo courtesy of BMW
BMW offers its new 440i coupe in hard top and convertible models.

After driving two high-performance 2018 coupes last month, the BMW 440i with track handling package and the Dodge Challenger R/T Scat Pack, we found it hard to imagine two vehicles that could be more similar in price and performance, yet more different in terms of the customers for whom they are designed.

The Challenger is priced at $51,000 and the 440i at $58,300, both are two-door coupes capable for track-day events, fun to drive around town and rated to go 0 to 60 mph in 4.4 seconds.

But all you need to do is look at them to know that no one is going to comparison-shop these two automobiles. The BMW wouldn’t be noticed by pedestrians as anything out of the ordinary; it looks just like every other BMW on the street. Ours was painted a pretty medium blue (the other available colors are standard BMW: black, silver, red, white, and so forth).

On the other hand, the Challenger just screams, “Look at me, I’m mean and fast.” Ours was painted in the brightest yellow imaginable, with super-wide tires covered in wide-body fender flares and black stripes around the tail – befitting a car with a bumble-bee mascot on the fender badges.

If you don’t like the Yellow Jacket Yellow, the car is available in TorRed, Go Mango, Destroyer Gray and Pitch Black. We were getting waves and thumbs-up from small boys who may still believe that cars like this can transform into crime-fighting robots.

Interior styling

On the interior, the BMW is still done in shades of gray, silver and black with understated trim. We’ve been looking at that interior on all BMWs for nearly a decade, and it could use some freshening; it isn’t going to impress anyone.

The rear seating is reasonably spacious, and window design makes it light and pleasant for rear passengers. Our one complaint with the BMW was that we had difficulty getting the front seats adjusted to be comfortable and supportive at the same time.

The Challenger, in contrast, has all the pizzazz one might expect within the screaming-yellow exterior, featuring contrasting trim and houndstooth-pattern upholstery on the seats. But interior space is limited despite the size of the car; we actually had friends turn down a drive when they looked at the rear space; there’s limited seating room and tiny windows that produced a cave-like ambience.

Stimulating performance

The BMW takes a European approach to performance, with a 3-liter inline-6 engine producing 320 horsepower and 330 pound-feet of torque, pushing power to the wheels through an optional and highly entertaining 6-speed manual transmission. By keeping its weight down, acceleration is still, shall we say, stimulating.

The track package adds M-series suspension and sport brakes to the basic package for competent behavior into and out of corners. Steering has been electronically assisted just a bit in these new BMWs, so the car isn’t twitchy in regular driving, a complaint we’ve had with BMWs in the past. Even with this performance potential, the 440i manages 23 mpg in combined driving, with 19 city and 29 highway.

The Challenger R/T, on the other hand, is a much heavier car. It produces its acceleration potential in the traditional American manner – using a 6.4-liter V-8 to put 485 horsepower and 475 pound-feet of torque to the rear wheels through an 8-speed automatic transmission. We doubt if anyone who is going to be attracted to this car even remembers or ever learned how to use a manual transmission.

Fuel efficiency is also retro, unfortunately, with combined driving mileage only in the high teens and highway driving delivering in the low 20 mpg range.

But the bottom line is that both cars do a terrific job of what they’re designed to do. They’re both comfortable enough to drive on the street and each will get around a race track in a manner that thrills its driver.

So the differences between them have to do simply with what kind of an impression you want to create.

Longtime Los Altos residents Gary and Genie Anderson are co-owners of Enthusiast Publications LLC, which edits several car club magazines and contributes articles and columns to automotive magazines and online services.

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