More than once, CT editor in chief Alex has boldly proclaimed the BMW M340d Touring to be “the best car on sale”. It’s hard to argue - the oil-burning Bavarian super wagon is practical, stupidly quick, very frugal and wonderfully put together.
However, there was a bit of an overlap with another diesel wagon in the CT long-term test garage - a Skoda Octavia vRS TDI being run by head of production and recent petrolhead convert Ethan. Both estates do the same thing on paper, and yet with an optioned-up price of £38,000 to the BMW’s £62k, the Skoda is a whopping £24,000 cheaper.
Can the BMW possibly justify the premium? To answer that, we have the opinion of not one but two drivers. Needing something for trailer hauling duty, Alex swapped ‘his’ M340d with the Octavia vRS Ethan was running. Here’s what they both thought:
Both cars score highly in looks and ‘undercover cop car kudos’, and first impressions of each are very good. But while the BMW continues to shine as a daily driver, cracks quickly become apparent the longer you spend behind the wheel of the Octavia.
We’ve mentioned VAG’s DSG gearbox in 2.0 TDi Skodas a lot, and the vRS is no exception. The transmission feels less than box-fresh, failing to engage gears quickly enough to get off the line cleanly. It’s caught me out a few times at roundabouts, and I’ve had to apologise to drivers for accidentally cutting them up. So if a Skoda does this to you, don’t blame the driver!
The infotainment in the vRS feels miles behind the BMW’s, too. It’s slow to respond, sometimes laggy and has crashed a few times, which isn’t what you want from a near £40k car.
Then there are the small details - the kick plates on the vRS are already faded and need replacing, the car’s pumped in engine note - which seemed cool at first - now irritates me, meaning I always take time before I drive off to switch it off, and the adaptive cruise control often freaks out on the motorway.
By contrast, everything on the BMW is on point. The quality of materials are second to none, the ride and handling are exceptional and nothing is out of place. It’s a car that’s clearly been built to last hundreds of thousands of miles, whereas I get the feeling that the vRS has been built to be replaced and chucked in an auction after a few years.
In summary, you get what you pay for, and we’re not just talking about the fact that the BMW has a bigger engine with a higher cylinder count. While first impressions of the vRS make you question why anyone would bother getting an expensive car like an M340d, time and miles behind the wheel make you appreciate the extra effort and money BMW has gone to to make the Touring nothing short of faultless. It will never disappoint or frustrate, making it great value for money for those who can afford it.
The first thing I noticed was how much more sensitive the lane assistance was in the BMW - it’d pick up lines that weren’t even road markings. I also couldn’t work out how to turn it off, whereas, in the Skoda, it’s super easy. It’s merely a couple of button presses on the steering wheel.
The seats feel a lot cheaper in the Skoda, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t good at what they do. In fact, I find them comfier. Other than that, and the lane assistance woes mentioned above, the BMW is ahead in every area.
I like the way the infotainment screen (and the whole central bit of the dashboard) is angled towards the driver in the BMW. When switching back to the Skoda, it seemed weird to have it pointing straight down the middle of the car. Great if whoever’s sitting in the middle of the rear seat wants to have a good gander at the sat-nav map, but otherwise I can’t see any benefit to shaping the dash like that.
The 340d is way smoother and more refined than the Octavia, and I preferred having proper controls for things rather than having to use the Skoda’s (not very good) screen. The interior is posher, and the extra power and torque are nice to have.
Unlike Alex, though, I find the price a bit of a stumbling block. I do prefer the BMW in almost every way, but the amount of money the Skoda would save you offsets a lot of that for me. Its flaws can be a pain, but they’re not deal-breakers - the Octavia is a great car that can do pretty much everything the far more expensive M340d can.
So, who do you agree with?