When you reach the stage of life where you need a small executive saloon the chances are you’ll be pointed towards the BMW 3 Series. For decades, the BMW has been the go to motor for freshly minted execs given access to an expanded company car list. It has the right badge, the right toys, the right image, and the right amount of space for a young businessperson on the go. Chances are they’ll be told that they can have a 3er, but for it to be remotely manageable they’ll need to spec a 320d.
This news may make our protagonist feel a touch dejected because they wanted an M3, but when they turn to the myriad BMW 320d review pages out there they’ll be told exactly what they want to hear: It’s all the car you’ll ever need.
Its 2.0-litre turbodiesel will sip fuel, it’ll crack 0-62 in a pleasingly quick 6.8 seconds, can hit 140mph, and, so say the reviews, it’s fun to drive so middle managers needn’t worry about getting their kicks.
And that’s all 100% right. The BMW 320d is A Good Car. It does everything you need a car to do and does so with typical Bavarian style. But few will look back and remember the majesty of their 2.0-litre diesel. While there are gazillions of the things out in the wild, tales of crazy acceleration, derring-do, and unexpected fun aren’t dripping out of every pore of the internet. The 320d is an affordable, wonderfully upholstered tool to get people around in cars their mums will be proud to see them in.
There are also loads of them around, after all they’re everything a driver could ever need. Jonny Execuson will blend in with the crowd in the car park, their car in a line up of identical motors. Nothing says ‘I’m my own person’ like having the exact same thing as everyone else.
Thankfully, BMW doesn’t only build a 2.0-litre diesel version of the non-M3 3 Series. There are plenty of different engines and power outputs to play with. The one that is the closest to ‘all the car you’ll ever REALLY need’ is the M340i. This is because it comes with bits breathed on by the people who make the M3, a car that’ll be undoubtedly ballistic to drive but has the face of a beaver so you won’t want to be seen in it.
The M340i gets a 374bhp 369lb ft turbocharged 3.0-litre petrol engine. While it won’t sip fuel quite as frugally as the diesel, BMW still reckons it’ll get you more than 35mpg. That’s not so bad you’ll wince every time you go to the pumps, and you’ll likely coax a little more out of it by driving sensibly. No, it isn’t as efficienct as the 2.0-litre diesel, but that’s kinda the point.
The power will get you from 0-62mph in 4.4 seconds, a time so quick that a few years ago that would be considered M3 pace. Top speed is, as you’d expect, limited to 155mph. Power, and low-down torque aside, the reason it’s so chuffing quick off the line is BMW’s xDrive all-wheel-drive set up.
On nasty damp roads it comes with all the grip a normal human could need – you can bury your foot and know the motor’s got your back. Of course, there are plenty of drive modes to choose from while you’re chuntering around. Sport makes things stiff but urgent, comfort is squishy (ish… squishyish), and others do… other things. Adaptive is the most impressive though – it figures out how you’re driving and adjust the car’s damping, steering, transmission, and drivetrain set up to suit. It’s remarkably intuitive, and means you can go from gently cruising through town to making noise on a b-road without having to press any buttons.
The ‘M’ in the name means that the team from BMW had a hand in making it a reality. That means tweaked… everything to give it a more sporting edge. That, in turn, means it’s more exciting than the car the bean counters would rather you had.
There are, obviously, some drawbacks to stepping away from the crowd. The steering on the M340i isn’t as sharp as you might like, but that’ll be down to the all-wheel-drive set up. It’s expensive to buy at nearly £49,000 before options. And while it is very different under the skin to the smaller engined car, it doesn’t look hugely different until people have a proper nose around, or have a go in, it.
Standing out with your wheels is becoming increasingly difficult. Plenty of people want a slice of German premiumness on their drive, and don’t mind if that means they have the same thing as half their street. Some of you, though, can still have the badge, but a whole heap more fun in the process. It’s not all the car you’ll ever need, but probably all the car you’ll ever want…