BMW M340i Xdrive is a fast and luxurious drive
By Jim Bray
It may not be the fully blown sports sedan known as the M3, but BMW's M340i is still a very compelling vehicle for those who value performance and the driving experience.
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It's also a fine-looking sports sedan, returning the iconic vehicle to the handsome roots it kind of eschewed during the Chris Bangle design reign of terror. Alas, it's still a bit of a dog's breakfast when it comes to its interfaces, but at least it offers so much choice in its customization abilities that you could spend quite a bit of time tweaking the vehicle so it best fits your driving style.
That said, either I'm finally getting used to the BMW interfaces or they're getting better at making it understandable to mainstream humanity without forcing trips through the owner's manual to learn how to operate the stuff.
Still, I love driving BMW's. Their "the ultimate driving machine" may not be quite as true as if someone like Porsche had snagged the slogan, but it's certainly nicely descriptive of what it's like to be behind the wheel of one of the German company's offerings. I've enjoyed driving every BMW I've ever tried, because they're nimble, usually quite fast, and they have the same ability to put a smile on the driver's face as other performance-and/or-sport-oriented brands do.
The heart of the M340i is a twin turbo inline six-cylinder engine that pushes some 382 horses and 369 lb.-ft. of torque through an exquisite eight speed M Sport automatic transmission and M Sport differential. That's more than 120 horses more than the base 330 gets from its two-litre turbo-four. Inline sixes are an endangered species these days, being replaced by V6's or turbo fours; I can only think of BMW when it comes to such a configuration these days, though Toyota is getting back onto that bandwagon with its new Supra, which from what I've read is basically a BMW Z4 under the skin, and Mazda may be prepping a new inline six – but other than that, you'll look long and hard to find such a power plant these days.
That lovely engine also makes a lovely growl when you press it. And the slick eight speed tranny can be used in manual mode either via the shift lever itself or, much more enjoyable, paddles mounted behind the steering wheel. Sure, I'd love a manual transmission – and BMW's are lovely – but such a shifter is not offered on this car. Fortunately, the manual mode is very good.
I loved its power and smoothness during my week with BMW Canada's sample all-wheel drive M340i xDrive, a car that's fast, comfortable, and fun. And it's luxurious as well, as one would expect from a vehicle in this particular niche of the automotive marketplace. After all, if you're going to compete with the likes of Audi, Mercedes-Benz, Jaguar, Lexus, Infiniti and Genesis, you have to offer more than just performance.
You may notice the luxury most via the car's very comfortable, leather and power-operated seats, which are good for all day driving and flexible enough for (I speculate here) just about every size and type of buttock. But luxury touches are everywhere inside and outside, from extensive creature comforts to state-of-the-art performance stuff like a lovely, configurable suspension, laser headlights, a head's up display, lots of connectivity, an upscale Harman Kardon audio system, etc. etc. etc..
BMW's centre stack LCD is a touch screen, but I found it too far away for my stubby little arms and that forced me to use BMW's iDrive knob-like thingy on the centre console. As mentioned above, this interface seems to make more sense than it did years ago, but it still leaves a lot to be desired and that means I had to spend more time paying attention to operating it than I wanted to.
One feature the BMW didn't support as well as I'd have liked it was its voice recognition. I've spent many years in radio and so know how to speak clearly (if not sensibly…); despite that, the M340i had real issues recognizing my voice, making the feature pretty well useless. Your mileage, of course, may vary.
But that lack of voice recognition also contributed to my interface angst, because it again sent me back to the iDrive.
Ah, but what a great vehicle to drive, sporty, nimble and very up to the task of putting a smile on the driver's face! And that's very nearly enough to make me overlook my other whines. Nearly. And I love how you can configure the driving experience to suit your own wishes and style – from basic comfort mode to sport modes that are among the better ones I 've experienced on anything but "pure" sport cars.
The BMW feels like a rear wheel drive vehicle under normal circumstance, which is just how it should be, but it can send torque to the front wheels when necessary, which should provide really nice security when you drive the beastie during northern winters.
The seventh generation BMW 3 series starts at about $49,000 CAD, but if you want this higher performance version it's going to cost you substantially more: BMW Canada's website says it starts at $64,450. Of course, you're getting a lot of goodness for that extra 15 or so grand, including an advertised Zero-60 mph time of 4.3 seconds versus 5.6 for "lesser" 3 series.
Going up market also gets you stuff like an advanced driver package that consists of high beam assist, driving assist, and parking assist stuff. You can also add a couple of premium packages that will add just shy of $13,000 more if you opt for both. There's some good stuff in these packages – including such things as "gesture control" (I've tried this in other vehicles, but it just seems to annoy other drivers; perhaps I'm using the wrong gestures), an automatic trunk, the laser headlights, etc. etc. etc.
I don't get to drive a lot of BMW's out here in Calgary, but every time the company sends a vehicle I start to salivate, and as mentioned I have yet to drive one that wasn't a very engaging experience. I repeat my angst about actually living with the car, though I daresay that if I actually lived with one for more than a week, I'd have it all figured out before too long.
Maybe they should leave one at Chateau Bray for a long-term test…
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