Terry Box test drive: BMW shows it can still cut and run – Dallas Morning News

Posted: Thursday, July 21, 2016

Even half-dazed Uberites know the rich purr and surge of a good BMW these days.

They settle regularly into the back seats of Bimmers on hot Saturday nights, ready for that quick $50 ride to the new industrial vodka-bar in Addison or Uptown.

“Dude, is this a Jaguar or something?”

In fact, BMWs seem so common now — particularly in car-conscious Far North Dallas — that I halfway expect to be pulled over in some affluent suburb by a black-and-white Bimmer with flashing lights.

If BMW built a full-size pickup, it would be well on its way to becoming Ford.

And none of BMW’s wide array of cars, crossovers and trucklets is more familiar than the mid-size 3-series sedan, the Honda Accord of high-end German cars.

Last year, BMW sold 140,000 of the 3-series cars, making them way less exclusive than a Chevy Camaro.

Somehow, though, volume-obsessed BMW can stamp out thousands of average white sedans day after day and still occasionally sculpt something kind of special.

That may be the case with the 2016 340i sedan I had recently, a car that apparently suffers from some sort of identity crisis despite its many attributes.


As you probably know, BMW first rebranded its mid-size coupes and convertibles as 4-series cars, leaving the 3-nameplate on the sedans.

To add to the smoke and fog, cars with the great 3-liter six-cylinder engine — the only motor to have, in my view — now get a 4 on the trunk for some reason.

C’mon, BMW. I can barely remember my own phone number.

Call it what you like, but you will still instantly recognize the 340i as some sort of 3-series sedan.

Like most modern BMWs — and people, for that matter — the 3-series is bigger now, featuring an especially long hood that kind of stretches the car’s quasi-classic lines.

In front, upright kidney-shaped grilles still proudly defy the wind, flanked now by scowling, squinty modern headlamps.

My metallic gray 340i also offered large doors on fairly conservative sides — carved by a prominent character line that ran through the door handles.

In back, as always, a short trunk and wrap-around taillamps kept the look eminently Bimmer.

Sadly, BMW has succumbed to the dark-wheel craze, wrapping the dusky-gray 18-inch wheels on my car with 235/45 tires up front and 255/40s in back.

Though I still find 3-series Bimmers really appealing, my car looked like some sort of fleet vehicle at Batman Inc. — and, darn, I no longer own a cape.

But, as the Uberites might say, not to worry. The few exterior tweaks to the new 3-series just envelop the real news — a silky, turbocharged 3-liter six with a sonorous snarl.

Called the B58, the new engine cranks out 320 horsepower and 332 lb.-ft. of torque.

Best of all, a six-speed manual backed up that lively new engine, creating what will likely be a rare powertrain for a modern 3-series. (I would bet that 80 percent or more are automatics these days).

Make your dealer order the stick. The engine spins out its maximum torque at a low 1,380 rpm, so it is always on a low boil ready to push you into your seat — and brings the heat all the way to 6,500 rpm.

No modern vehicle with six cylinders sounds better than a BMW straight six, rising from a substantial purr at idle to a deep, slightly angry growl at redline.

Row the smooth-shifting six-speed quickly enough, and the Bimmer can blast to 60 in 4.8 seconds and to 100 in less than 12 seconds, according to Car and Driver.

It also is rated at a fairly impressive 20 miles per gallon in town and 30 on the highway, which strikes me as pretty reasonable given the engine’s broad, deep range of power.

I never got tired of running it through the gears and feeling the gutsy surge of that engine around 4,000 rpm.

Moreover, the car could pull smoothly away from a stop sign in second gear, shaking off any hint of turbo lag.

The sweet engine kind of compensated for the car’s numb, thick steering, which BMW has inexplicably struggled with for years.

It feels as unreal as this year’s looming presidential election. In sport mode, the steering is quick, but seems as if it is tied to a computer game because of the near total lack of road feel.

Fortunately, the 340i moves with the rear-wheel-drive grace that once distinguished most BMWs, eagerly tearing into corners with balance, grip and virtually no body lean.

Find a tight curve and the Bimmer will seize it at twice the posted speed, drifting lightly with both ends in well-controlled chaos.

But you can also be illegal with some class in the 340i, providing your passengers with a firm but decent ride for a German sports sedan.

Luxury has never been part of the 3-series’ DNA, and the red-and-black interior in the car I had fit its rowdy personality well. But it probably won’t wow your demanding cousins in the Park Cities.

The $58,000 sedan, for example, offered a hard-plastic black dashboard and door panels.

A graceful indention in the center of the dash wrapped around a tablet-shaped display screen.

Lower in the center dash, two horizontal panels contained controls for the car’s audio and climate systems.

As part of the optional $2,750 technology package, the 340i had navigation, a head-up display, BMW apps and remote services – if that sort of thing pops your bacon.

Of far more interest to me were the lipstick-red seats with stitched bolsters and red centers for the door panels.

In addition, leg- and head-room in the mid-size sedan were surprisingly good.

The new 340i feels far more complete than the last four-cylinder 3-series sedan I had, and more like some of the great six-cylinder 3-series cars from a decade ago.

Don’t get me wrong here. BMW still deserves criticism for spreading its once-special brand too thin and letting it slide way too far into the soft mainstream.

It still builds too many overweight, overwrought vehicles that don’t feel much like ultimate driving machines.

But this is the fourth BMW I’ve had in the last 18 months — along with the M235i coupe, M2 and M3 — that rolls with Bimmer’s old road mojo.

Keep the momentum going, BMW.

2016 BMW 340i Sedan

Type of vehicle: Five-passenger, rear-wheel-drive, mid-size sports sedan

Price as tested: $58,420

Fuel economy: 20 miles per gallon city, 30 highway

Weight: 3,689 pounds

Engine: Turbocharged, direct-injected 3-liter six-cylinder engine with 320 horsepower and 332 lb.-ft. of torque

Transmission: Six-speed manual

Performance 0 to 60: 4.8 seconds

Sources: BMW of North America; Car and Driver


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