Of flying foxes and spirited driving by Richard Webb

BMW 340i

One in four new BMWs sold globally is a 3 Series. So when they recently refreshed this best seller, Richard Webb signed up to give it the once over. instagram.com/richardmarkwebb 

My first experience of the current BMW 3 Series was at its global launch in Munich - the city of pealing cathedral bells and playful high-tech architecture. The seat of a seven-century Bavarian dynasty, Munich seduces me with its contradictions, but for now, this city - on the banks of the Isar River - would have to wait as I ease out in ‘my’ new BMW . 

Earlier, I’d contemplated packing a felt hat, Lederhosen, and a velvet jacket to help me assimilate with the locals. But, no matter, I blend in quickly enough in this, the latest in the forty-year lineage of the 3-Series. 

The crisp head-up display easily directs me out of the busy city bustle, sending me South East from Garching on the E45 towards Feldkirchen. The 340i’s cabin feels warmly familiar. So familiar, in fact, that I barely notice the difference between it and the first fifth generation car. No matter, as all is well in my world, and everything falls to hand, my fingertips falling to each control as if welcoming an old friend. 

Concentration makes its demands upon me as I thread the car through the immaculate roads lined with Gothic architecture and bustling commerce. Soon, the city traffic recedes, and gives way to the occasional tractor and country lane flanked by fields of sunflowers. I pause to admire the Rococo-style Kloster Altenhohenau Monastery in Griesstätt, and press on hard towards the Austrian border. 

It’s here that the car reminds me of why so many 3 Series are sold annually. It relentlessly does everything it should without the slightest bit of fuss or drama. However, this latest one manages to do it more frugally and is even more refined than the last, with a range of tweaks that keep it competitive against any British or fellow German challengers. 

Whilst cosmetic changes to the new 3 Series are minimal, the biggest news is their range of new engines, which includes a three-cylinder turbocharged engine for the 318i model good for in a respectable 8.9 seconds. The car I am in though, has the all-aluminium six-cylinder engine, which serves up a decent dollop of drama by reaching 60mph in 5.2 seconds. Fast twisty lanes are dispatched with verve, thanks to a stiffer suspension, which is somehow combined with a high level of ride comfort. 

Often, global car launches are a blur of motion where I end up being over stimulated by the buzz of it all, but the familiar, yet new 3 Series, the simple elegance and sophisticated design of the hotel was like rescue remedy for the soul. 

Over authentic alpine inspired cuisine, BMW’s head of 3 Series project Dr. Stephan Neuyebauer told me their aim was to remain the benchmark in the sector. “By tweaking efficiency, dynamics and performance design, the 3 Series is now sportier than ever, and it epitomises the heart of BMW more than any other car we sell,” he said. There is also broad scope for customisation - with the Sport Line and Luxury Line equipment options and M Sport packages too.