When you think of great driving roads, countries like Italy, Switzerland and Romania come to mind, usually. Italy’s Stelvio Pass and Romania’s Transfagarasan pass are arguably the best two driving roads in the world. However, Mexico, a country not known for its road quality, might just have a better one and it’s the road that we just tested the new BMW 340i on. And it was incredible.
BMW flew us all the way to Chihuahua, Mexico (not like the dog) to test the new 340i and X1 (that’s an upcoming article). When we first heard that we were going to Mexico, we were a bit perplexed, as it’s not the most driver-friendly country in the world. Then, once we landed, we had to take a bus 5 hours through the desert to get to our awaiting steeds. Admittedly, by the time we got there, we were skeptical of BMW’s promise of great driving roads. Boy were we wrong.
After seeing the road we were going to be driving on, we were chomping at the bit to get our paws on the steering wheel of a 340i. After hopping into a Melbourne Red BMW 340i xDrive, with a six-speed manual, M Sport Package and the Track Handling Package (which adds adjustable M suspension, M Brakes, Variable Steering, awesome 19 inch black wheels and some cool interior bits. I knew I was in for one helluva ride.
The interior is almost identical to that of the pre-LCI 335i, but with some subtle tweaks. Overall, this is still and outstanding interior.
Clutch down, thumb the starter button, hear the all-new TwinPower 3.0 liter straight-six engine rumble to life. This engine sounds better than the outgoing N55. It burbles and growls like BMW inline-six of old. Slot the shifter into first, drop the handbrake, feed in some throttle and we’re off down the twistiest, most scenic road I’ve ever seen in my life. The 340i pulls strong from 2,000 rpm and rewards revving it all the way to redline with an exhaust note that makes the M3 jealous. This could be the best sounding BMW currently on sale. It’s also one of the fastest.
Mash the throttle and the turbocharged six surges the car toward the horizon with incredible authority and it’s as smooth as silk doing it. We’re talking jet-turbine smooth. Up and down the incredible roads, which featured drastic 1,000 ft. elevation changes, third gear was more than adequate for almost all situations. The new blown-six has enough torque to punch you out of turns even at lower speed and third is tall enough to get you to the next one without needing fourth and it pulls and screams all the way there. The N55 engine will live on as one of BMW’s all time greats. This new one might be even better. The gearbox was also a gem; smooth, throws were excellent and very tactile. The clutch travel was a bit long before engagement, but overall the gearbox was a joy to use on those canyon roads.
When it came time to turn, the M Brakes from the Track Handling Package worked excellently. We really put those brakes to the test, with unrelenting hairpin turns that went on for over an hour, and they held up perfectly with zero fade. Pedal feel was superb and confidence inspiring. With nothing but a couple of rocks and a guardrail as thin as aluminum siding in between the car and a 1,000 ft tumble down to the bottom of the canyon, I never once doubted the brake’s ability to slow the car down in time. Some drivers will say that a car is only as good as its brakes. If that’s the case, the 340i is a great car.
One of the big questions I had going into the drive of the 340i was how the variable steering was going to feel. Well, it got one helluva test in Mexico, that’s for sure, and it’s a damn good setup. Is it perfect, does it drip with feedback and does it feel as natural and neutral as a more traditional setup? No, no and no. At certain times, I could feel the weighting change mid-corner, which wasn’t unnerving or anything, but definitely odd. It had better feedback than expected, actually, and is one of the better electric power-steering racks I’ve used, but it’s obviously not the pure feel many BMW drivers are used to. However, as an E36 owner, I’d gladly drive one of these everyday and have nary a complaint about the steering.
In terms of what that steering translates inputs into, this new LCI F30 3 Series is going to be tough to beat in the class. The Jaguar XE is said to be better but that’s a tough thing to believe after seeing what this 340i could do. Turn-in is sharp and accurate and the chassis responds perfectly. It follows your driving line as if it were laser-guided. The xDrive system also did a phenomenal job of feeling rear-drive but saving our behinds in some of the hairier blind corners. The super-sticky Michelin Pilot Super Sports helped quite a bit, as well.
SHOULD I BUY ONE?
Overall, the 340i is fast, fun and handles fantastically. The key metrics is fun, as 0-60 times and lateral G’s matter little in the real world, and this 340i is about as fun as it gets.
While driving through the absolutely gorgeous roads of Chihuahua, it was almost hard to concentrate on driving. The scenery was that incredible. The roads and the scenery were almost impossible to top, in terms of enjoyment and wow-factore. But the BMW 340i managed to do it. It’s proof that BMW is on top of the segment for a reason. The roads were perfect and the car was even better.