BMW takes 3-Series and reinforces its staple proposition
With more emphasis on ‘M-Sport’ elements than ever, writes Iain Robertson, BMW already knows how to turn a cute profit but, with the launch version of its new 340iX, limited to 340 production versions of either saloon, or estate, models, it has yet another ‘winner’ on its hands.
Do you know what is the overarching similarity between a loaf of bread, a quart of milk, 10kgs of potatoes and the BMW 3-Series? They are all staples. They are components of modern living. To all intents and purposes, we can survive without any of them. Yet, life somehow feels more fulfilling, should we elect to live with them.
Observing the ‘power games’ being played by both Audi and BMW, to a lesser extent Mercedes-Benz, which is playing a more traditional (and potentially better for the brand) hand, is fascinating at this time. Having already supplanted the traditional volume cars in several territories, not least the UK new car scene, the world according to BMW is a fascinating place that opens its arms to the next development opportunity of its most popular model line.
The 3-Series has been a mainstay for 44 years. Readily recognisable, eminently handsome and responsive to a market’s demands, it is of little wonder that it outsells the ‘everyman’ Mondeo and its former mainstream rivals, even carrying a significantly heftier price tag. Naturally, it is one that the omnipresent company car sector is prepared to wear and the light years difference between the middle manager punting around in a Mondeo, or benefiting from a BMW, has been explored to distraction by fleet managers for the past three decades. However, BMW knows its customers and restricting the numbers of the 340iX launch edition, which will see a potential 100 of each variant being imported from Germany in early-2020, is a measure of teasing success (no prices, as yet, but you can reckon on around £50,000, as a ballpark figure).
Powered by a straight-six turbo-petrol engine that displaces 3.0-litres capacity, its power output of 374bhp provides an unsurprising turn of supercar performance. This is markedly more potency than the first-generation M3 could muster. It can despatch the 0-60mph sprint in just 4.1s, with the top speed limiter kicking-in at the customary and Euro-politically insistent 155mph. Driving all four wheels through an optimised 8-speed fully-automatic gearbox, with steering wheel-mounted shift paddles for manual over-ride, its CO2 emissions rating of 160-168g/km and a potential fuel return of up to 40.4mpg only serve to underscore the efficiency of the drivetrain. However, these are also numbers consumed readily by the fleet market, which needs every tool in the box to justify BMW acquisition.
Its M-Sport qualifications start with the ‘form honed’ engine, an M-Sport differential, M-Sport suspension, with variable sport steering, M-Sport brakes, complete with enamelled blue callipers, and a number of carefully designed M-Sport aerodynamic addenda on the already svelte bodywork. However, the personnel at BMW’s in-house tuning department have also ensured that the exhaust note (an M-Sport standard) is as sonorously and engagingly vibrant as it can be, within the constraints of drive-by noise regulations, naturally. It can be enriched further by depressing either Sport, or Sport+ buttons, when using the Driving Experience Control, despite the twin-pipe system also featuring particulate filters to ensure that the cars meet Euro6d emissions legislation.
The 4WD system is designed to maximise the handling capabilities of the 340iX. It dispenses engine torque (368lbs ft) variably front to rear and can maximise traction, handling balance, stability and precision within milliseconds. However, as it is a BMW, the system is biased towards the rear, a factor that can be emphasised by selecting Sport/Sport+ for an even more focused driving experience. Fiddle around with the various ‘nanny’ programs and tail-out delights can be dialled-in for those back-doubles moments that are all too rare these days. However, indulging in dynamic derring-do is not a given; the driver has to work at it and there is a massive reserve of horns-drawn-in potential to syphon, without breaking sweat and inducing bottom-clenching instants.
A new electronic damper control system has the effect of reducing any extraneous body movements and provides a reassuringly comfortable ride quality that is adjusting to conditions constantly but imperceptibly. There is an optional M-Sport package that offers even more adjustability, albeit within much sportier confines. The 340iX runs on standard forged 18.0-inch diameter alloys, with 19.0-inch optional alternatives using mixed size tyres (225/45 front; 255/40 rear).
Cabin comfort in the hip-hugging M-Sport seats is exquisite and customers have optional bi-colour trim and stitching to choose from, which can vary the cabin ambience from smart and business-like to ‘tart’s bedroom’, although the red hide and Alcantara, while appealing initially, may become wearing after recovery from early shock has subsided. BMW’s attention to connectivity creates a level of easy living that the Bavarian company took time to acclimatise but it is appreciated by both driver and passengers. Needless to state, the various lane-change, blind-spot, traction, stability, crash mitigation and other ‘safety’ programs are all part of the package.
Personally, I have a long-held 3-Series affectation. BMW has been ingenious enough to incorporate much of the sheer wieldiness and chuckability of the model lineage into its latest and marginally larger model. The estate variant is practical and the build quality of both it and saloon is exceptional. Driving a Three infers a degree of status, despite the greater volumes of them on our roads and in the corporate car parks. Yet, the car is durable and moderately dependable, even though BMW’s garage labour rates are astronomical.
Conclusion: BMW may have exceeded itself with the latest 340iX models, which herald M-car performance characteristics within a top-of-the-shop package that defines the entire 3-Series and its model history. Its new heartland is the business transport scene; but it is adored on the used car market too.