Over the last five years, I’ve owned four different varieties of new-ish BMW. No, this isn’t an article about my poor financial decisions, nor is it a confession of a habitual lack of turn-signal usage; it’s an article comparing the differences between all these cars and why I believe one of them deserves to be crowned the winner. The common theme here is that each are/were modern 3-series BMWs, but they have all been so different, it’s almost like they weren’t even related.
We can start things off with my 2009 335d. The “D” was awesome because of the torque. Also...because of the torque. Did I mention the torque? I suppose it’s ability to consume so little fuel was also a pretty amazing feat. But thanks to its lack of “spark” (get it? Dad jokes for the win), it lacked that excitement you get from winding out a motor to redline. Five thousand revs is a lot for an oil burner but it’s pretty abysmal for a gas motor, and let’s face it...revving a BMW straight 6 is supposed to be pure joy. It also had a very heavy-feeling front end; certainly more cruiser than canyon carver. Plus the 6 speed auto was nothing to brag about...luckily the car didn’t really care what gear it was in. I never enjoyed the diesel quirks, either. the particulate filter re-gen cycle would start-up whenever it felt the need to, with no user control or indication it was doing so, and it sucked power out of the car while it did this. Plus it kind of smelled like toxic BBQ. The exhaust fluid situation was a non-issue while I owned the car as it was under BMW maintenance, but that too would be another annoyance as time went by. In fact, it was the complexity of the whole diesel setup that was the true turnoff. Thanks mostly to emissions, my car was in the shop a lot more than I preferred. And it was a driving factor in why I got rid of it before the warranty expired.
The next in line was my 2011 M3 Competion Pack Sedan with DCT. The M3 wins on sex appeal. Both in looks and sound. I mean, just look at those fenders! It could also stir up the most excitement when driven hard. The best race car of the bunch, but as a street car the lack of torque meant soccer moms in SUVs could boss you around in traffic unless you were trying. I had never owned a DCT before this and thought it might be fun for a bit. Confessions of a manual purist: this transmission was a gem when you were carving canyons, auto-crossing, or just in the mood to startle your passengers. Still though, it didn’t offer the connection of a true manual and in slower driving situations and traffic, it wasn’t as smooth as a properly driven 3-pedal car. The car was always comfortable, but the seating position was higher than it should be in a sports car. If it didn’t drink fuel like a Saudi, cost so much to maintain, or have potentially bankrupting engine failure worries, it would have been easier to keep around. But oh...the sound of that v8 at 8300RPM will never be forgotten. Splooge.
Who isn’t a sucker for wagons? Nobody I want to associate with, that’s for sure. This is our 2015 328i xDrive Wagon in the lovely Estoril blue. It’s great and I’m glad we have it as a family car. It’s also the wife’s daily driver and she absolutely loves it. Step on the right pedal and there’s plenty of pep. But don’t worry too much because you won’t be at the gas station often. Oh and it’s plenty comfortable to drive and ride in, and I love the way it looks. The 4 banger won’t ever bring a tear to your eye from emotion, as it feels like an appliance of an engine. Amazingly competent, yes, but it sounds pretty generic and even at full beans it won’t scare anyone. The 8 speed auto is a gem though. Can automatics get better than this? Handling is good enough for a family car, as are brakes, but really this just feels like a nice ride to haul everyone around in, not something I want to slide all over the place...the AWD would likely prevent that anyway. Well, except on surfaces like you see above. ;)
Finally, we get to the 340i...with a traditional manual (high-five). The 340 is stealth. It doesn’t say “look at me” anywhere, though when you do look at it, you’re glad it doesn’t look like a base model F30. The M-Sport body and wheels help to allude that this car means business, but without any offensiveness of a real M-Car. I guess you could say, it’s more elegant than it is angry. But hiding behind the anonymity (at least in Southern California) is a true dual-purpose weapon. With the suspension in comfort mode, this thing rides like a 5-series with big sidewalls. Bumps are soaked up with ease yet the body control is still excellent. It doesn’t roll around like Amy Schumer with her legs cut off. The throttle in comfort is also relaxing, reminding me a lot of my diesel, with waves of torque pushing you anywhere you need to go, faster than the guy (or soccer mom) next to you. You’re always in the right gear because A) the torque curve is impossibly generous and B) the shifter is so perfect you don’t even notice you’ve been moving it around all day. The clutch too, is so easy to work and wait a sec, I’ll be damned if I don’t love auto-rev match. Dial the throttle, suspension, and steering into Sport or Sport+ and suddenly the car is hunkered down like an M-Car of yore, but with so much more power to use without resorting to revving the snot out of it. If you do still want to rev the snot out of it, by all means it loves that too. The straight 6 is smooth as it ever has been and the turbo isn’t running out of breath even as you approach redline, at 7k RPM. And it makes a great sound too! The 6-pot screams like an old school BMW. This B58 motor (we Bimmerheads use engine and chassis codes more than Lindsay Lohan uses cocaine) is the bees knees.
Is the 340i without flaws? No, it’s not perfect. The steering feel still doesn’t match BMWs with hydraulic setups. It’s gotten better (a lot better), since the original steering setup in the 2012 3-series, but they haven’t matched Subaru or Mazda in ability to communicate through the wheel. Considering BMW’s sales numbers, it would seem most consumers prefer the isolation though. Such is life. It’s also a tad BIG. The e90 was probably the perfect sized 3-series. But I must admit my passengers have welcomed the additional leg room, and it’s not like the car doesn’t enjoy being tossed around. It also doesn’t have the lovely M-differential, so while I’ll happily wag the tail around for fun, this wouldn’t be my first choice as a drift car. It’s still plenty hooligan, but as a self-proclaimed sideways-enthusiast, it would be THAT much better with a proper Limited Slip.
But it’s the balance of the pros and cons that makes the 340i the true winner for daily-driving, street duty. Especially for someone that is fortunate enough to have miles and miles of wonderful, Southern California, canyons as part of his commute. I’m just glad BMW builds something like this. Mercedes, Audi, Lexus, Infiniti, Acura, Cadillac, even Volvo; they all try to build something competitive in this space. One could argue the Lexus is more reliable, the Caddy has better steering, Audi has the better interior, etc. But there’s one glaring deficiency they all have...none will let you row your own gears anymore.
So thanks BMW, I think I’ve found my perfect 3-series. For now...