Numbers mean everything, especially when dissecting automobiles-and BMW's new 340i xDrive is a confusing and sometimes nonsensical number-fest.
First, the nomenclature is all numbers, but both BMW and Mercedes have spent so long tweaking their numbering schemes that nothing adds up like it used to. The 1984 BMW 318i actually had a 1.8-liter engine, but now the 2016 BMW 328i has a 2.0-liter engine. The 1998 Mercedes-Benz C43 AMG? A 4.3-liter V8. Mercedes' 2016 C300? Two liters. These manufacturers abandoned the meanings behind those numbers for market positioning, designating a 2.0-liter that performs like a 3.0-liter, for example.
So this year, BMW revamped its 3-series lineup and changed the names again. The former 335i becomes 340i, even though its engine displaces the same 3.0 liters and is still turbocharged. But it generates an additional 20hp (14.9kW), now up to 320hp and 330ft-lb of torque (239kW and 449Nm), while on paper returning 22/33/26 mpg city/highway/combined. We saw 24.4 mpg over the course of our time with the car.
It's still a good engine, right?
BMW 3 Series: 40 years old, and still the ultimate driving machine
Since the company's middle name is "motor," you'd expect BMW would get that part of the car right-and it did. Not only is the 340i's engine more powerful than the outgoing turbo inline-six, but it's got grunting low-end torque that hits you immediately no matter what speed the engine is turning. It helps that the automatic transmission (a conventional torque-converter affair) has eight forward speeds-an embarrassment of riches to keep you in the powerband. Manual gear changes can be selected through steering-wheel paddles or the console shifter, but it's almost not worth the effort. Get into anything beyond a walking pace in the 340i and the automatic essentially reads your mind. A six-speed manual is available at no cost for the purists out there, but, sadly, we suspect the manual's days are numbered even for the Ultimate Driving Machine. The percentage of manual takers across the globe today is in the single digits.
For decades, BMW's signature has been the inline-six engine layout, with its inherently smooth, virtually vibration-free operation (up to about 7,500 rpm, that is) and an often-mellifluous song. Sadly, the 340i is now the only 3- or 4-series with a straight six cylinder layout (excepting the M3/M4 variants, of course). All the others use four-cylinder power plants. There's even a three-cylinder base model for thrifty EU buyers. The 340i's motor pulls sweetly to 7,000 rpm in fully automatic mode, though you can twist an additional-but quite meaningless in terms of thrust-400 rpm out of the engine in manual mode.
And then there's the 340i xDrive AWD variant; its numbers say one thing, but it makes us feel something else altogether. Curb weight is a zaftig 3,820 pounds (1,733kg)-heavier than a 1975 Chevrolet Malibu Classic Sedan-but the car is quite light on its feet. More deceptiveness? The thing rockets to 60 mph from a dead stop in just 4.6 seconds. It's genuinely fast.
While the 340i's 3.0-liter six is actually a new design, it's part of a family of modular engines in three-, four-, and six-pot engines, in both gas and diesel versions. And you would never suspect the 3.0-liter iteration has lesser-cylinder siblings; it's as silky and vibration-free as any of BMW's best of the past.
Our test model had the xDrive all-wheel-drive system, a $2,000 assemblage of additional parts and shafts that make the car even more surefooted in winter and bad-weather driving. Few will notice the extra 125 pounds (57kg) or the slightly higher ride height. It's still a fine back-road partner that shrugs off most challenging twisties like it has driven them a hundred times before.
Audi's new 2017 A4 is for nerds, by nerds
The current generation 3-series that has been around since 2012 (internally designated "F30") has had some detractors who have thrown accusations of numb steering and suspension at the car. This year BMW has made several changes meant to cure those ills, including new suspension geometry, stiffer front shocks and springs, revised rear shocks, and reprogrammed electrically assisted steering. While we did not have a pre-update car on hand to compare directly, the new model steers, brakes, applies power out of corners and deals with off-camber, unsuitable transitions in a properly BMW-ish fashion. Although it can be somewhat understeer-fixated and dull on-center, due as much to all-wheel drive as basic, smart chassis tuning. BMW also offers a track handling package with even stiffer springs, shocks, and anti-roll bars that turns the 340i itself into a nibbler of M3 heels, should buyers have the urge.
Wait, it costs how much?
And that's an elegant segue to the problem with the 340i xDrive. It's another bout with numbers-this time with a dollar sign ahead of them. Equipped as ours was with packages of Driver Assistance (lane-keeping, blind-spot warning, multiple camera views to assist parking), Technology (including navigation, head-up display, and some semi-useless BMW apps), and normal options like leather, the total financial commitment reaches $60,000; $59,920 to be precise. This, for what was once BMW's entry-level nameplate.
Granted, it's not entry-level anymore, but at $60,000, which is 5-series and E-class money, the 340i xDrive had better be brilliant beyond measure. And it's not. Very good? Yes. Excellent? Borderline. Indeed, it does the job it is supposed to do: offers acceleration, driving fun, and connectedness to the road that most purists will enjoy; provides room adequate for four adults; and does all of the above with a reasonable consumption of the Earth's resources. But $60,000 for a non-M 3-series is, well, sobering. A 328i with its overachieving, 240hp four-cylinder engine and the same exact options might develop only three-quarters the power on paper, but it's also $10,000 less. Exercise caution with the option list and it could be even cheaper.
Is the 340i xDrive better than anything else in its class? With the aforementioned competitors nipping at the former standard-bearer's heels, it very well may still be, but only by the slimmest of margins.
Listing image by Jim Resnick
Who knows, I will also look at the 2107 Ford Focus RS
75.9 KB Views: 1,508