I’ve found it. That elusive car which can claim to be all things to all men (and women). A vehicle that excels in all situations. As close to a perfect all-rounder as we’ll probably ever get in the motoring world.
I’m talking about the M340d Touring, which might just be the best car BMW makes - shouty M stuff included. Granted, the company is arguably kicking out more performance car misses than hits right now, but we don’t mean to damn the M340d with faint praise - it’s a stonkingly good car.
It sounds plenty appealing before you’ve even got behind the wheel. The M340d Touring has a practical estate body which gives up to 1510 litres of boot space, a 345bhp, 512lb ft inline-six diesel engine, and the ability to clock over 50mpg. Yes, I know fast diesel wagons are nothing new, but this is the first one that’s genuinely shocked me with its straight-line pace.
A 0-62mph time of 4.8 seconds sounds impressive enough, but it only tells part of the story. The beefy mid-range means that on the move, the M340d is able to pick up speed with deranged enthusiasm. It has that feeling of a 500bhp+ car where full throttle is only a brief indulgence, such is the in-gear performance on offer.
The usual diesel rules apply here, so there’s a decent helping of lag and a fairly narrow powerband. The eight-speed automatic gearbox is adept at keeping you in the sweet-spot, though. It swaps cog quickly and efficiently and has a good idea of what to do when left to its own devices. It’s not a gearbox that leaves you wanting to reach straight for the paddles.
To go with the blistering pace, there’s even a half-decent soundtrack. Normally it’s a hushed, refined engine, but in Sport and Sport+, the turbo diesel engine takes on a petrol-like noise. Yes, it’s all fake and I know I shouldn’t like it, but it works nicely.
Whatever mode you’re in, the M340d is comfortable. This isn’t a car where the sportier settings for the adaptive dampers are best avoided, since the balance between ride comfort and composure are judged so perfectly. If only we could say the same for a lot of the full M cars BMW is making right now.
As denoted by the ‘xDrive’ badging slapped all over the car, BMW doesn’t expect the rear wheels alone to cope with the six-pot’s 516lb ft of torque. All-wheel drive doesn’t make the car boring, though - the M340d isn’t, as is the case with the Audi S4, a lesson in supreme but slightly dull competence.
On the greasy autumnal day, traction is impressive but not endless, and the all-wheel drive system almost always favours the rear wheels when that runs out. It’s a lot more playful than you might expect, although understeer can be an issue too. That’s an inevitable side-effect of the M340d’s pork - although most of the time it doesn’t feel it, this is a car that weighs nearly two tonnes.
As with the M440i and a lot of current middleweight performance BMWs, though, there is a sense of detachment to the way it drives. The engine and the all-wheel drive system may provide plenty of thrills, but you do feel somewhat removed from the driving experience. It’s mostly down to the steering, which is no longer Munich’s strong suit. The weighting feels a little unnatural, and it doesn’t transmit any meaningful feedback from the road.
Given how brilliant the M340d is at everything else, though, it’s not a deal-breaker. To go with all that incredible on-road competence and fun, it also has the most solid-feeling cabin of the compact execs out there right now. Yes, the design might not look all that fancy, but BMW hasn’t fallen into the same trap as Mercedes and Audi in cladding everything with flimsy, scratchy black plastic. The infotainment system is the best out there, too.
With a starting price nudging £50,000 and plenty of opportunities in the configurator to inflate this figure further (our test car weighed in at £62,615), it’s not what you’d call cheap. But for the only car you’ll ever need, perhaps that’s not so bad.