BMW M340i First Drive | The perfect afternoon
- Mar 5, 2021
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The BMW 3 Series has always been known as a sports sedan. Great from behind the wheel, but as a family car it left a lot to be desired. It wasn’t as spacious as the competition and even the suspension setup was tilted more towards corner carving than comfort. Hence, it never appealed much to families or to owners who are mostly chauffeur driven. Now however, BMW has an answer. Say hello to the BMW 3 Series Gran Limousine. With it, BMW is trying to find the perfect balance between sports and comfort. Has it succeeded?
In terms of design the 3 Series Gran Limousine looks identical to the standard car as far as the front end is concerned. Even the rear is identical except for the ‘L’ in the badging, which has a significant effect in the way this car looks in profile. The ‘L’ stands for long wheelbase and as you can guess the Gran Limousine’s wheelbase is 110mm longer than the standard 3 Series’. The longer length not only helps make this car look sleeker in profile but also has a positive effect on this car's number one priority: rear seat comfort.
Rear Seat Focus
The rear seat experience of the Gran Limousine is a huge step up from the standard Three. Once seated, you realize that it has a lot more knee room (43mm to be precise) on offer. And the softer cushioning makes the rear bench feel more plush and accommodating. Even headroom is more than enough for a 6 footer and combined that with the supportive bench, the 3 Series GL now leads the way as far as rear seat comfort is concerned in its segment. Not just that, but it is also wide enough to accommodate three people at the back in decent comfort. Yes, the large transmission tunnel does make getting in the middle a bit of a challenge, but once seated, you get more than enough width, headroom and knee room. You also get pampered with rear-occupant-centric features like ambient lighting on the back of the front seats, three-zone climate control and two USB type-C ports to charge your mobile phones. However, features that would have elevated the rear seat experience even further are rear sunblinds and a reclining backrest.
The Gran Limousine is not only bigger but is big on practicality too. There are loads of storage spaces up front but it’s the rear seat that really impresses. The rear door pockets are huge and can easily accommodate two big bottles and there is still space remaining to fit your wallet. The seatback pockets are generously sized but the really interesting bit are the centre armrest-mounted foldable cup holders. Once open they look like the eyes of a robot and because they are adjustable they can fit different sizes of coffee cups securely. If we have to complain then it's about the boot. It is the same size as the standard Three and that means the boot opening is small and the high floor makes fitting big bags a pain.
Like the rear, even the front seats are very supportive and finding an ideal driving position is easy thanks to the range of seat and steering wheel adjustment on offer. While the diesel will only come in the Luxury line, the petrol 330i will also be offered in the M Sport variant. We have the diesel car on test and even in this variant the Gran Limo feels very premium. Everywhere you touch or feel, the quality feels astonishingly good and hard to pick flaws in. Build quality too feels BMW tough and the satisfying thunk from the door shut is a testament of that. The overall dash design remains the same except you get more silver inserts to help this car’s interior stand out. You also get a great sounding Harman and Kardon sound system, more ambient lighting and a panoramic sunroof over the standard Three. In the higher M Sport variant you get additional features such as a heads-up display, sportier steering design, a 360 degree camera and gesture control for the infotainment system. The iDrive system as ever is fantastic to use and now you also get wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility for added convenience.
What’s it like to drive?
The increase in dimensions has also taken the weight up by around 70-80kg. Does that affect its engine performance, ride and handling?
Engine options are the same as the standard 3 Series. It is powered by a pair of 2.0-litre engines, with the turbo petrol making 258PS of power while the diesel is good for 190PS. We drove only the diesel on our test. And like in the standard Three, this motor feels extremely refined and smooth. It feels punchy too and combining that with the fantastic 8-speed automatic the 3 Series Gran Limousine never feels short on power. Even out on the highway it cruises in a relaxed manner, and overtaking is just a flex of the right foot away as the potent engine and quick shifting auto makes your life easy.
You get three drive modes. There is Eco Pro to boost fuel efficiency by coasting when you go off the throttle, which can be switched off if you want some engine braking. Then you have Comfort and Sport modes. Even in the sportiest setting, the car never feels jerky or snappy. In fact, it is perfectly usable for everyday driving. Yes as compared to the standard car the Gran Limo is around a second slower to 100kmph but from behind the wheel the difference is hardly noticeable.
To go with the comfortable character of the car, BMW has also softened the suspension. As a result, over bad roads, the Gran Limo shows remarkable poise as it gobbles up imperfections with ease. We feared that the soft suspension might affect this car's high speed ride and stability but to our surprise it doesn't! Thanks to its well judged damping, the Gran Limo remains flat over undulating surfaces and the overall ride feels plush and luxurious. Combine the plush ride with the silent cabin, the Gran Limo might just have the most comfortable ride quality in its segment.
The downside of that comfort is that handling obviously takes a hit. Because of the longer wheelbase it doesn't dart into corners with as much enthusiasm as the normal 3 Series and because of the softer suspension it does roll into corners. But even when pushed hard it feels safe and predictable and for most people the dynamic ability of this car will be more than enough.
Has BMW found a good compromise between comfort and sportiness with the Gran Limousine? In short, yes. It handles well enough, has a plush ride quality and the comfortable rear seat elevates its luxury quotient. Prices are expected to start a little upwards of the standard 3 Series’ M Sport variant, which means it should cost around Rs 51 lakh - 54 lakh ex showroom.
The 3 Series family has become richer with the standard car being suited to the keen driver, and the Gran Limousine being the family man’s car. But honestly, the Gran Limousine has such a great mix of fun and comfort that it will appeal to most Indian buyers. So if you are looking to buy a 3 Series or any other car in this segment, the Gran Limousine should be at the top of your list.
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