But the Jaguar’s V6 has more rousing tonality. There’s slightly less outright performance, yes, but still plenty in isolation. With its low-level supercharger whine and building power delivery, the XE S’s motor growls and warbles and worms its way under your skin. After a day or so at the wheel, you’d forgive it the rather un-21st-century fuel economy, because it’s got soul. The 340i’s demands huge respect, but it could do with a bit more intangible allure.
Next: the mountain pass
So far, so evident the difficulty of the task before Jaguar’s executive debutant. But everything we’ve covered thus far can be established long before you run out of continent-crossing main arterial roads on your way south through the Oberbayern district and begin to climb up onto
a more testing, higher-altitude
To learn more, you need corners: second-gear hairpins,
fiddly cambered sequences of
twists and faster, open, sweeping
bends with crests and bumps and changing gradients all thrown in. The Namlos Pass has them all.
And here, over a few hours, you realise that what you imagined would be a close-run contest between two of the best-handling four-doors of the moment isn’t quite so close at all. One of these cars has perfect cornering balance, a nuanced and fluent ride and beautifully consistent steering. It has sporting poise baked into its every move. The other car feels heavy on its front wheels, reluctant to turn in, difficult to guide down the road as precisely as you’d like and, although very stable, peculiarly straight-laced.
Our ‘other one’ is the BMW, which, by this tester’s estimation and albeit on the evidence of this first test only, has some improving to do before it’s even at the dynamic level of its predecessor, never mind back at the top of the class.
Before we get stuck in, there’s a certain amount of couching that must go on here, and it’ll prevent us from being too critical of the new
3 Series at this early stage. We know, for example, that the bigger-engined, bigger-wheeled examples of the BMW have historically handled a bit less sweetly than their lighter-nosed, skinnier-wheeled siblings.
We also know that modern BMWs are notoriously sensitive to the wrong optional specification. The 340i about which you’re reading has a Variable Sports Steering system that we’d have warned against fitting to the previous 3 Series. We are duty-bound to do the same again now, but it should come as no surprise.
It’s also true that our 340i test car was lent to us in lower-level Sport trim. UK-market 340is will all be
M Sport trim with different wheels and tyres, although they’ll get the same chassis tune if you opt for adaptive damping.
Still, all this really proves is that road testing can be a tricky old game and that all you can do is compare the cars at your disposal – as they are, not as you’d like them to be. Doing that unquestionably casts the BMW in
an unflattering light.
The 340i’s biggest and most recurrent problem is that steering. Like all ‘active’ variable-ratio systems, the BMW’s is designed to make the car feel more wieldy at lower speeds by making the steering gear more direct, only to do the opposite at higher speeds to the benefit of directional stability.
As evidenced earlier, it seems to work okay on the autobahn. But using such a system to tackle a mountain pass, corner by corner, is a bit like trying to hammer a nail home into a delicate setting – but blindfolded and, between every stroke, swapping
your hammer for a new one of unknown size and weight. Steering wheels are just levers. With this one, you’re never quite sure how much leverage you’re going to get.