It’s going to take a while for us to get used to this new breed of AMG-lite. We’ve come to expect that cars from Affalterbach will be slightly unhinged, wild, tyre-smoking hooligans.
The new C43, however, feels like it’s been created by a different branch of AMG, one run by engineers who value speed and grip over enjoyment engineers who haven’t had one too many steins of Weissbier. Engineers who created the A45 AMG.
But perhaps we shouldn’t get too hung up on that, because by forgoing an exotic V8 engine in favour of a 270kW twin-turbo 3.0-litre V6, the C43 brings an AMG C-Class within reach of a wider audience.
In the UK, the 340i replaces the 335i (sadly, the 340i Touring is unavailable in Australia), and uncharacteristically for a BMW, it isn’t adorned with a plethora of ‘M’ badges. It isn’t even part of BMW’s semi-hot ‘M Performance’ range. It’s just a normal car, albeit quite a powerful one. The 340i’s new 3.0-litre, twin scroll single-turbo engine produces 240kW and 450Nm, with make it good for a 0-100km/h time of 5.1sec Not bad fora non-M model.
Its supple, cosseting ride quality certainly doesn’t make it feel much like a performance car, and when trundling down the road with the driving mode set to Comfort, the 340i a very pleasant place to be. On the move the chassis feels noticeably sharper when you select either of the Sport or Sport+ driving modes.
Thanks to a more aggressive throttle map, the engine feels more urgent too. Some of the ride quality diminishes, but the 340i now reacts more eagerly to steering inputs thanks to less body roll. The engine also makes more noise, but while the exhaust emits a deep but subtle growl for those outside, the soundtrack inside the cabin is mostly breathy. Stretch the engine to its lofty — by today’s standards —7000rpm rev limit and it begins to emit a more satisfying timbre, although it’s still far from spine-tingling.
“The BMW’s transparent rear-drive characteristics encourage you to push harder and drive faster”
The eight-speed automatic gearbox slots each gear into place almost instantly, but despite the speedy changes the drive train never feels that urgent, even when cranked up to its highest setting stand on the throttle and you have to wait momentarily for momentum to build before there’s a reaction. Once the power has found its way to the rear wheels, though, you can really feel them helping the back of the car around a corner. These transparent and innately rear-drive characteristics are so delightful to exploit that the BMW encourages you to push harder and drive faster.
Sadly the chassis begins to show its humble, wagon roots the quicker you go. The front-end doesn’t possess the sort of grip we’ve come to expect of a modern performance car, and unless you’re very careful and measured with your steering inputs the 340i readily stumbles into understeer.
Proportionally, there’s more rear-end grip than front, but that means the influence the throttle has on the back axle rarely escalates into anything very exciting. Try really hard to induce a slide and the rear feels very heavy, leaning considerably over the outside wheel. Then once grip has been lost, the body roll and lack of a limited-slip cliff mean the resulting slide is scruffy, making you feel ham-fisted.
The BMW runs on a Bridgestone Potenza S001, a tyre we’ve been impressed with on other cars. However, whether it’s the weight of the 340i or the alterations BMW has made to the tyre (the star on the sidewalls denotes it has been specifically adapted for BMW), these Potenzas feel less like an ultra high performance tyre and more like a summer touring one.