In many ways, roadies are the unsung heroes of the rock industry. They are the people that truly put the show together (and take it on the road), they are the pack horses, the backbone of touring rock. They travel from town to town taking care of the ‘behind the scenes’ business, virtually unseen and unheard – in some respects much the same as the BMW 340i Touring – well sort of, because it’s hardly quiet.
efore SUVs were all the rage, if you wanted to take more than just passengers (and an odd bit of luggage) anywhere, you’d own an estate (aka stationwagon, suburban) or, in BMW’s case, a Touring. First taking to the road in 1987 (E30) the Touring offered all the luxury and refinement that came with the German marque, but with all the spaciousness of having a big loading bay at the back. The Touring made the 3-series large and the 5-series, which was launched in 1992, huge (in practicality rather than looks). Luxury and ‘wagon’ space is all well and good, but what about BMW performance, I hear you ask – well, I’m glad you brought that up…
In 1992, the 5-series Touring had made its way to the M facility and the E34 Touring (left-hand drive) became the first wagon to sport the M badge. In 2007, the E61 became the second model; it was relatively short-lived (2010) but at least it happened. Unfortunately, the 3-series didn’t get the same kind of M love.
“I didn’t think they were making that”, came one of the comments when I posted up a picture of the BMW 340i M Performance Touring I had the keys to, and technically the observation was correct. Although back in the E46 days (turn of the century era) there was talk of an M3 Touring (it even got prototyped, I believe), it unfortunately never came to fruition. And even today (after seven generations), from an actual ‘range’ point of view, having an M Performance 3-series Touring was not on the agenda, but that didn’t stop BMW NZ doing one anyway.
Aside from dropping in a beasty TwinPower turbo inline 6-cylinder engine – capable of 265kW/500Nm and a 0-100 time of 4.9 seconds (that should be enough right there), BMW has thoroughly plundered its parts department and added Adaptive M suspension, 20-inch black alloys, M LED pool lamps (which project from under the door), M Sport package, Coral Red leather upholstery, Panoramic glass sunroof and a Harman Kardon surround-sound system, phew… oh, and a sports exhaust with carbon fibre tips (and what an exhaust it is).
From the exterior, BMW hasn’t gone overboard. On the walkaround (or initial tour), there are hints alluding to its wrath. It has subtle M Performance badging, big alloys with wafer-thin rubber and notes of carbon fibre, but nothing overt, it could just be a BMW wagon… But open the door (or open the throttle) and it’s a totally different tune – it rocks.
The red leather is not oppressive, but you may want to wear shades; it’s rich and warm and quickly becomes part of the Touring’s personality. Although the interior styling is very familiar, look a little closer and you’ll see the differences. Anthracite roof lining, aluminium and high-gloss blacks, intricate stitching and two modes of ambient lighting. On the subject of lighting, the exterior M floor lighting at night makes you feel that little bit more special, it’s a small thing, but makes a big difference.
Aside from the cosmetics, the real change is when you push that button and start her up; the engine/exhaust note bursts into life and (joyfully) stays with you for several seconds longer than it needs to, before settling into a reassuring hum; a quick push on the driving mode settings button to Sport gets the voice back, and that’s predominantly where it stayed for me.
A cordial wave goodbye at BMW NZ’s head office was quickly followed by a less than gracious roar up the motorway on-ramp – exhaust baffles gaping open was the soundtrack for the rest of the week. The 3-series Touring felt like quite a sizeable vehicle and with 495L of luggage space in the very rear, I guess it is. However, the sporty handling and near-vicious acceleration made all the difference. In fact, I only really noticed its ‘practicality’ when I needed it. Our groceries were dwarfed in the space and seemed to highlight a cost of living argument.
I’m sure that (over time) the performance from the exhaust would lose its day-to-day appeal, (although a quick flick into Comfort mode quietens it down), but for the extent of our time together I felt the desire, nay the need, to remain in Sport (or above, to warm up the tyres). It’s a vehicle that releases your dark side when required, can be placid and kind for long runs and has the room to be a workhorse when you need it most – all without towering over other drivers.
Although it’s technically not an official 340i ‘M Performance’ Touring, all the parts are genuine and come with full warranty – so, semantics aside, this is the real deal. It’s full of testosterone-piquing performance and yet can be filled with enough gear to take you family band on a substantial road trip.
Having had the pleasure of driving the 340i M Performance Touring for a week, I can report that the ‘additions’ have been well worth the effort. All that’s left to say is: What’s gone on the Touring should STAY on the Touring.