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By Mark Jones

Road Test Editor

Civilised and potent side of BMW M Performance arrives

M340i xDrive jumps off the line without a hint of drama and hits 100 km/h in a mere 4.64 sec, quicker than it took you to activate launch control.

BMW quietly snuck a few M Performance models into South Africa near the end of last year and we recently got two of them on test – the M340i xDrive and the X3 M40d xDrive. You could arguably say the perfect ‘‘his and hers’’ BMW garage.

I threw the word ‘‘arguably’’ in there because the out-and-out power-mad would say the X3 M Competition is the perfect choice, but those of you who read my road test of the full blown X3 M a few weeks ago will know that I found this model a little flawed. And of course, the all-new M3 is not here yet, so I will stick to my guns and say this is ‘‘arguably’’ the perfect BMW garage, with a ‘‘right now’’ tagged onto the tail of my statement.

We had the 330i and 320d, then the 320i and now we have the M340i as a precursor to the various horsepower M3s later this year. By now there is not much that you wouldn’t know about BMW’s latest 3 Series range, or the locally produced X3, so the talking points are the powerplants and how they provide for M Performance excitement.

BMW and performance are synonymous with the 3.0-litre straight-six engine and for both the M340i and X4 M40d, this basic architecture is retained. The turbo petrol engine in the M340i has been extensively redeveloped, renewed and updated and now offers 275 kW of power and 500 Nm of torque. This is a proper 35 kW and 50 Nm more than the outgoing 340i could muster. Yes, I know you need a PhD in mechanical engineering and a photographic memory to keep track of what capacity engine goes in what model and how many turbos are then fitted to each.

A 330i is not a 3.0-litre, but a 2.0-litre, the 320i is also a 2.0-litre and the 340i is 3.0-litre with a single turbo and the first 335i models were 3.0-litres with two turbos. But spin it any way you want, these engines just keep getting more powerful and this translates into more urge and better performance numbers. The irony of today is that there is no wheel-spin to go with this extra performance.

The M340i comes with an intelligent xDrive all-wheel drive system married to an M Sport differential, running on a trick M Performance chassis to keep the car and its wheels firmly on the tarmac. Pay attention now, as this is not an M car with the M1 and M2 button functions that can do all your pre-launch configuring for you at a push of button. Okay two pushes of the same button to be honest, the second time to confirm that you really want all the modes you have pre-selected.

For the M340i, you have to use the Driving Experience Control switch located in the centre console, hit the Sport+ button, then put the traction control system into Dynamic Mode, move the gear lever of the eight-speed Sport Steptronic transmission over into Sport mode, hold the brake, plant the accelerator pedal, the launch control flag comes up while you let the engine build boost and only then can you let the brakes go.

Then the car jumps off the line without a hint of drama and hits 100 km/h in a mere 4.64 sec, quicker than it took you to activate launch control. The quarter mile is run down in under 13 seconds, the 800 m and 1 000 m marks are crossed at 217 and 229 km/h respectively. These are numbers that are not far off the soon to be replaced M3 and certainly quicker than the previous generation naturally aspirated V8 M3. Thanks to the rear bias of the xDrive system, you can still have your tail wagging fun, but with a much higher dose of safety and control now.

The downside for me was that even though the M340i comes with an M Sport performance exhaust as standard, there was never enough bark to back up this bite. The car sounded almost too civilised. And now we have the X3 M40d, a model which brings model-specific design features to the exterior and interior that leave no doubt as to its sporting M Performance credentials.

You get the eight-speed Sport Steptronic transmission, an M Sport suspension tuned specifically for an SUV, M Sport brakes, variable sport steering, 20-inch light-alloy wheels and the M Sport differential as standard. You could say that this X3 is everything the M340i is in dynamic terms but only in a more family-friendly SUV guise. And of course, this X3 burns diesel and not petrol (there is a X3 M40i available for those who prefer petrol). Their standard suggested retail prices are also very similar with the X3 M40d coming in at R1 065 000 and the M340i at R995 000.

The car is powered by a stonking 3.0-litre straight-six turbo diesel engine running two turbos and the mathematical stuff is just as complicated with the X cars. The 30d has the same 3.0-litre engine but with a single turbo. If you go to the X5 range, the M50d is also a 3.0-litre but with four turbos, when it used to have three in its previous generation. Even the trusty stalwart of the brand, the 20d, which was always a single turbo unit, has now gained a second turbo. Maths class is not over yet.

The M40d produces 240 kW of power and a stump-pulling 680 Nm of torque from just 1 750 rpm. This for me translated into a brilliant everyday car and the never-ending supply of torque that makes for effortless cruising and overtaking prowess almost overshadows just how quick this car is off the mark.

I know you think SUVs are not about going fast, but in this day and age everybody is building faster and more dynamic family movers. The M40d does both in spades. Go through the exact same launch control activation sequence of the M340i and the M40d hits 100 km/h in 5.5 sec, the quarter mile in 14 seconds and the 1 000 m at more than 200 km/h. Both cars are electronically limited to 250 km/h, which is way faster than you ever want to drive with your family on our roads.

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