OpinionThe Student Driver

Drive It Like You Stole It: 2017 BMW 340i X-Drive

“Drive It Like You Stole It” is a spinoff of The Student Driver where I drive cars that I cannot afford. Instead of providing a review, I offer my opinion on the car after driving it. At the end, I suggest to either steal it or forget it.


People ask me all the time: should I get a Mercedes-Benz or a BMW? I usually sum it up like this: if you plan to drive daily between 0km/h and 110km/h, get a Mercedes. (If you really want to drop that much on a car.)

It’s a more comfortable ride at the expense of raw performance. If your commute involves speeds that would lose you your license on the spot, I suggest you get a BMW. Having driven the new 2017 BMW 340i with X-Drive, BMW’s all-wheel-drive system, I can confidently say it’s fast and powerful.

The first thing you notice about the BMW 340i is its absolutely stunning exterior. It has low swooped headlights that flank the two kidney grills at the front of the car. The sides of the car look great and have door handles that opening/lock with you hand. The rear of the car is concluded by two distinct large red tail lights that glow brightly through the day. In my opinion, the BMW 3 Series is the best looking sports sedan in its class.

The same cannot be said about its interior though. For a vehicle with a starting MSRP of $55,000, the interior is lacklustre. There is hard black plastic throughout the cockpit, and it is bland and uninspiring. The 340i has a new electronic gear selector and colour infotainment screen in the centre console and tactile buttons that help the driver access radio, media, navigation and other features with their fingertips. The power seats work well with tilt and lumbar functions, but just aren’t as comfortable as those found in the newest Audis.

Also, the info-tainment system is clunkier than some of its competitors. The only real pro in an interior of cons is the fantastic Harman Kardon sound system, to the great rejoicing of audiophiles.

Overall build quality is decent but not incredible. When you start the car with what else — a push button — it roars to life like a wannabe M-series BMW. To put the car into drive, you squeeze the unlock button on the gear selector and pull it to your desired position. On the road the steering is firm and heavy but quite precise. It has a quick turning capacity with a turn-to-lock of what feels like just shy of two revolutions.

At speed the car holds well and handles with a bit of oversteer like most BMWs in general. In city driving I find the handling a tad too heavy and not as “stuck to the road” as the Audi A4 or even the Subarus I’ve driven. Granted, BMWs are best known for being fun when the back goes out thanks to its near perfect weight distribution and quick steering. Besides the engine noise, which comes through perhaps a little too liberally for my tastes, the car is still super quiet with minimal road noise thanks to acoustic glass.

The car has a holographic HUD (to keep your eyes on the road) which tells you the speed limit (a front-facing camera scans the road in search of the signs) and your speed followed by navigation instructions and radio channels when needed. Driver-assistance features include lane keep assist, frontal collision prevention and active blind spot detection. All assistance features shake the wheel when you transgress even by the slightest bit. The car has four drive options: Eco, Comfort, Sport and Sport Plus. I spent most of my time in Sport mode.

The 340i is powered by a turbocharged six-cylinder 320HP/330ft-lb torque engine that is mated to a 7 speed automatic transmission. All this engineering mixes with a large helping of German oomph to result in a mid-4 second 0-100km/h time when used in conjunction with launch control.

Well, all I can say is that stepping on the gas is like getting crane kicked in the rear end. Throttle response at the low-end is a bit sluggish, but once the turbocharger kicks in the car shreds tarmac with a monumental power band through the mid-to-high ranges of the tach. It’s so powerful that if you take a turn at an intersection with full gas you can feel the car slide across the pavement at the apex of the turn, it’s that crazy.

When I was exiting the Anthony Henday by taking a sharp curve to get back into the city, I gave it some gas to check its handling. Soon, I felt the back slip out and out of instinct I immediately counter-steered to keep control of my car. Fun, but probably not advisable in the city. To be honest, the 340i is a car tuned for the track, not the pot-hole ridden roads of Edmonton. Inside city limits I couldn’t even tap into half the car’s potential.

The car can get to 160 km/h like nothing and the steering begins to feels right just at the speed you start getting into trouble with the law. The power delivery is gritty and raw with shifts that are delivered hard and fast (it’s not a dual-clutch transmission). The car just begs to be taken onto the track, and that’s where it excels.

Unfortunately to be good at one thing there must be compromise elsewhere. If you’re part of the 99 per cent of people who use their cars as commuters, there are better choices out there. While the car is powerful, its lacklustre interior, heavy steering at low speed and power band focused at the mid to high end vs low-end torque knock it out of contention for me.

Don’t get me wrong, this is not a bad car. It’s just a car I wouldn’t buy if I had to worry about speeding tickets. While it may not be the “perfect driving machine” (that distinction probably goes to Porsche), when it comes to wanting to go really fast, it’s pretty close to perfect.

Conclusion
Steal it if you want to go fast with no regard to life or limb, forget it if you want this just for commuting day to day.

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