When I look back at my first real car I wonder how much influence that model has in the way I view cars today.
That car was an early F-series Holden, and up until the time where vee engines were introduced into the Commodore in the late 80s, most Holdens sold up until then had an in-line six-cylinder engine.
I remember mine for its smooth, uninterrupted flow of power, and every time I drive inline sixes I relate to the feel and sound, even today the experience is not dissimilar. Given that my wife and I own two cars with that configuration, there must be some long-lasting effect.
The latest inline six to come my way for evaluation was BMW’s M340i and it represents everything I like in a driveline. What’s more, its body style was another plus - it was a Touring wagon, all-up the package is something I see as being very desirable – definitely a Lotto-winning dream car
The 3-Series is my favourite BMW car line, it is traditional in many ways, and with an M badge you can bet the 340i has something special on offer in terms of performance. Of course, you don’t have to go high power, the 3 Touring is also available with two diesel engine options, four and six-cylinder. The range starts at $85,100 for the 320d, the 330d adds $14,700, while the M340i as evaluated sits at $129,300, and for my money it’s worth every cent, it is a fabulous all-round vehicle and certainly a compromise if you don’t want to join the masses and buy a sport utility vehicle.
The heart of the M340i is its engine, not only does it have all the traditional BMW hallmarks of efficiency and sultry smooth behaviour, it is turbocharged, and that adds to the unfaltering delivery that makes this design so desirable. If you are wondering if this engine just arrived out of nowhere, it’s been around in the BMW Z4 for a few years now and, of course, it’s the same as that is fitted to Toyota’s latest Supra.
BMW rates the 2998cc unit at 285kW with a beefy 500Nm of torque available at just 1850rpm. The result is a potent flow of force from idle through to red-line. These outputs are enough to produce a standstill to 100km/h time of just 4.5sec, while its mid-range acceleration is extraordinary with a blistering 3.9sec time to make 120km/h from 80km/h.
Drive is transmitted through a quick-shifting eight-speed automatic gearbox. In typical BMW fashion, power is then directed to the rear wheels, and herein lies another surprise, all 3-Series Touring wagons get xDrive, BMW’s power proportioning four-wheel-drive system. When the electronic traction control devices deem more grip is needed, drive is then transferred seamlessly to the front.
Purists need not worry, the M340i still feels like a rear-wheel-drive car, and if you like it to be playful you can adjust the traction control settings so that bias to the rear is predominant.
I didn’t alter the settings at all, I simply don’t drive to that extreme any more but it is nice to have that feel and knowing that if you do present a corner too quickly, or that there is a slippery exit, the systems are in place to keep you out of trouble.
Drive is forceful, the engine reacts solidly to throttle request, providing instant acceleration along with a tantalising sound, there is an angry bellow out of the exhausts, although that only manifests under a heavy throttle, otherwise the engine has a sweet aural tone and only lets you know it is enjoying its work.
That feel is transmitted throughout the entire car, not only is it exciting in terms of power flow, the M340i handles like a traditional sports sedan, the wagon section is no handicap in terms of how it feels in a corner, it has impeccable handling manners with high grip levels and a feel at the steering wheel that is natural, yet involving.
The M340i sits on high performance, 19in Bridgestone Turanza tyres, there’s more rubber at the rear than there is at the front (225/40 and 255/35), steering feel is sharp and accuracy unsurpassed. It can be forced into corners quickly, rewarding with its balance and directional stability, the suspension is sublime, creating athleticism along with balance.
A lot of the latter is due to a marginally lowered ride height from that of its stablemates, at 1.4m it sits low meaning gravitational movement is negated to full effect. That’s something you get in an M-Sport car, the chassis mechanicals are engineered for performance, there’s also a premium brake package which provides immediate surety when speed needs to be chiselled off quickly.
Not only does the M340i reward the driver with its high-speed capability, it is also the everyday car which does its best to look after the occupants. Ride comfort is superb and it is amazingly practical, the rear load section isn’t cavernous, but it is deep and easily took care of the hefty Kiddie-family grocery haul.
The cabin is plush and the seats are formed brilliantly to contain the body. Seat adjustment is vast, there are several applications to suit the driver and most are done electrically. There are also heated seats for when winter bites. Other features include head-up display, satellite navigation, electric sunroof, paddle-shifters, automatic stop-start, and comprehensive infotainment network, many of these functions can be controlled by voice activation.
As part of the on-screen displays, the M340i has a comprehensive trip computer and fuel usage readouts, bearing in mind there are economical drive modes if the driver wishes to select them through a console-mounted switching system.
Against BMW’s eight-litre per 100km combined cycle claim, I recorded a 9.6l/100km figure along with a 5.8l/100km instantaneous figure travelling at 100km/h on the highway with the engine turning over relaxed at just 1400rpm.
How BMW make this engine so relaxed yet so forceful is a constant source of amazement, the M340i is a car for those who want everyday relaxation in their travel, yet know that there is power in abundance for the highway overtake and for speed when conditions allow.
The 3-Series in total is a range of vehicles engineered for driving pleasure and I’m really smitten with the concept, the M340i has road feel, power and handling that makes you feel so much part of the car.
I didn’t win Big Wednesday last week, but when the right balls eventually roll out the BMW dealership can expect a visit from me.
- Ross Kiddie