The BMW 3-Series is arguably one of the most significant cars of all time. It is like a VW Golf in the sense that it is always a car you consider when looking to buy something sensible, reliable and tested by time. This is no surprise, for 40 years the 3-series has been a class leader and they are always great to drive and live with. As a result, whenever there is a new generation, there is a LOT of pressure for it to not only be fantastic, but even better than the fantastic predecessor. The bar must be raised. I recently traveled to Faro, Portugal to put the seventh generation, 2019 3-Series through it’s paces. The 3-Series range offers something for everyone. On offer for me to drive was a diesel 320d and 330i. Both are 4-cylinder, eco-friendly, tech filled machines that are still great to drive with roomier cabins and better driving dynamics than before.
They are both very accomplished and I am sure, and as ever, they will sell like umbrellas on a rainy day. What I am more interested in are the fast ones, and there was one waiting for me to have a blast in – the M340i xDrive. For now this is a potent as it gets. The M3 was discontinued a few months back and we will have to wait a while for a replacement. Until then, the M340i xDrive will top the family tree.
So what are the headlines on this interim king of the hill? Let me start with the elephant in the room – xDrive. Yes, the brand with the motto – ultimate driving machine – is going all-wheel-drive, how Audi of them, let’s not dwell on that as the M5 is already AWD and still amusing to drive (still has rear-wheel-drive mode if you’ve got balls big enough). This new, not quite full M car doesn’t have the option of sending all the power to the rear end – boo hiss. In other news, there is a developed iteration of BMW’s 3.0-litre turbocharged straight-six engine. Power increases by 47bhp compared to the previous generation 340i, up to 369bhp, while torque rises 50Nm to 500Nm. The BMW M340i xDrive Sedan completes the sprint from 0 to 100 km/h in 4.4 seconds half a second faster than the top of the range model of the previous generation of the BMW 3 Series Sedan.
It is faster than before, but is it any good? I’ve found myself on one of the greatest tracks to find out – Portimao. The cars look a bit funky as they are genuine pre production mules that are actually US spec and camouflaged…even though we all saw it in LA. Anyway, I’m leaving the pit lane behind an M2 Competition expecting to be A) thoroughly bored as the all-wheel-drive system will ruin the fun B) very jealous of the man in front of me as I LOVE the M2 Competition.
What happened next left me a little confused. I was laughing out loud. A legitimate, bona fide LOL. This, non-M car, is an absolute riot on track. With the stability control in its almost off mode the rear end swings around with hilarious abandon, then when it all gets a little too much for your (and my) weak levels of talent you feel the power shift towards the front and you fly past the apex chomping at the rear of the M2 that is spinning its wheels and dancing out of every corner. Before heading onto the track I endured a seemingly endless technical presentation, on the circuit I began to recall the few details that somehow stuck in my adrenaline drowned mind.
The electronically controlled M differential makes its presence known, as does the lowered (10mm) suspension. The steering rack is quick which is good, but it lacks feedback. The best communication from the front tires is the painful squealing they omit when you try to keep up with an M2 and lunge at an apex with too much speed for the poor Michelin PS4Ss. The other noise on offer in the exhaust that is also amusing with burbles and parps available by the dozen.
I really was expecting to be disappointed by the M340i xDrive. It is not a full blooded M car and the xDrive badge made me think that this was a car that would bore me to sleep. I was wrong, that almost never happens. I salute you for making this car such a laugh BMW. Let’s hope it is just as much fun on the street which I could, unfortunately, not venture onto on this occasion.