The M140i five-door hatchback and M240i convertible are the newest 3-litre models from BMW's performance division
Appealing duo BMW M240i convertible and M140i five-door hatchback. ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

Martini shaken or stirred? Medium rare steak or well done? Mao Shan Wang durian or D24?

These choices are not unfamiliar to James Bond fans, steak lovers and durian devotees.

But whatever the pick in each of these instances, the base product is still the same.

This was the situation when local BMW M dealer Munich Automobiles presented The Straits Times a delectable pair of M cars - the M140i five-door hatchback and M240i convertible - for back-to- back test drives. One is an entrylevel M car, the other a gorgeous convertible.

Underneath the sheet metal, both cars have the same engine and gearbox. The performance differs slightly only because they have different body styles and weights.

The "40" on the badges is confusing because the cars do not have a 4-litre engine. They are still powered by a 3-litre engine, like the previous M135i and M140i they replace.

But the engine is new. It has a slightly larger displacement (2,998cc versus 2,979cc), more power (340bhp versus 326bhp) and significantly higher torque (500Nm versus 450Nm).

Unusually, the 500Nm of torque in each of the cars surpasses that of the current M2 (465Nm or 500Nm with overboost).

The same power plant is also found in the new 340i M Sport saloon and 440i Gran Coupe sold by Performance Motors. What is different in the M cars is that the engine has a higher output and correspondingly better performance.

Of the pair, the M140i is the more practical vehicle. It has five doors, decent legroom for two adults at the rear and a useable boot space. I used the car for Christmas shopping and it did not feel too loud in the quiet Ang Mo Kio neighbourhood carpark.

The only thing on my Christmas shopping list that I could not lug home was a 1.5m-tall Christmas tree. Actually, I could have done that if I folded down the rear seats and tilted the front passenger seat forward, but it was too much of a hassle, so I did not bother.

But when I took the car for a night drive along the East Coast Parkway, it revealed another side of its character. The engine is so delightful to rev and the gears shift so smoothly that I kept going faster and faster. If I did not exercise restraint, I would have been slapped with a speeding ticket and demerit points.

While the M140i hatchback encouraged me to speed, the M240i convertible did the opposite. I took the car a day after the hatchback and I drove slower than I usually would, to savour the feeling of piloting a topless car.

It rained the only night that I had the convertible. But I discovered that the National Environment Agency has a mobile-device-friendly website that tracks the live movement of rain clouds, so I used it to plot my route that night to areas that were not raining.

Over three hours, I drove the car, with its top down, to Mount Faber, Changi Beach Park, Orchard Road, and Swee Choon Tim Sum Restaurant in Jalan Besar for supper at 3am before heading home.

The next day, I ferried two newsroom colleagues - with the top down through city traffic on a cloudy day - to Maxwell Road for lunch.

My colleague took a wefie and posted the photo on Facebook with the remark: "Travelling in borrowed style."

Over a 24-hour period, I drove more than 300km in the convertible and emptied close to three-quarters of the 52-litre petrol tank. An employee at Munich Automobiles said to me in jest when I returned the car: "Wow, that's the distance from Singapore to Malacca."

Besides the five-door hatchback and two-door convertible, the M140i three-door hatchback and M240i Coupe round up the local stable of new 40-series M cars.

Of the quartet, the M140i five-door is likely to fare better in sales, with its lower price tag and greater practicality.

It nips the heels of the Mercedes-AMG A45 and Audi RS3, coming close to the performance levels of its German rivals, but at more than $50,000 cheaper.

The M140i and M240i can even chip away sales of the M2.

The M2 has the older engine found in the M135i and M235i, albeit in a higher tune, and it has a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox. It clocks the century sprint in 4.3 seconds, only faster than the M140i five-door by 0.3 of a second and the M240i convertible by 0.4 of a second.

The fraction of a second gives the M2 driver boasting rights and a faster track time. But in real-life driving and daily use, the performance gap is largely inconsequential.

The pair tested here may be slower than the full-blown M2, but they are still awfully fast sub-five-second 0-to-100kmh cars. And more significantly, they cost a hefty $79,000 and $53,000 less than the M2.

The savings mean more martinis, steaks and durians. How can that not be appealing, whether in performance or price, or both?