Notes from the Road, A Personal Automotive History – Issue 27: “A Year of Changes”

The last entry in this series was way back in 2019, and introduced a return to BMW. Not surprisingly, there have been some big changes since then, so let’s get into it!

The 340i proved to be solid and dependable, but ultimately a bit boring. BMW has this formula fully dialed in at this point, but each generation gets just a bit bigger, a bit quicker, a bit smoother, and a bit more… synthetic? It can possibly be best summed up by stating that the 3 series, is in some ways evolving into a smaller 5 series. This isn’t an inherently bad thing, but it does make for a somewhat less interesting prospect for the enthusiast.

Why is a good segue to what ended up nudging the BMW 340i. That’s right, the archrival from INGOLSTADT really needs no introduction:

Yep, that’s an Audi. An Audi RS3 to be exact. And it really is brilliant. A reasonable argument can be made that Audi has kept the RS brand just a bit more special than what their rivals in Stuttgart and Munich have done. Possibly because they limit production, possibly because they sorted out the hierarchy from inception (S, S Line, RS), and possibly just because they use fewer badges. Either way, the RS3 is just an incredible package all around. At roughly the dimension of the original E46 3 series, it is now considered “compact”, but really it feels “right”. It is jarringly quick, with only the faintest whisper of electronic throttle, dual clutch trans, turbo lag off the line that is such a common plague in modern cars, and the 5 cylinder power plant is sublime. It looks special, feels special, and sounds special both inside and out. Since for whatever reason size equates to quality, there are some cues that remind you this was built on the pedestrian A3 line here and there, but Audi does a much better job of masking this here than Mercedes did with the CLA45 (to be fair, Mercedes has gone a long way to fixing this with the 2020 update). Steering feel is surprisingly good for an Audi, better than the 2014 RS5, brake feedback is strong and confidence inspiring, and the car feels vault solid. Interior materials and fit and finish are excellent, and the virtual console continues to be a fantastic system. So do we end here then with a happily ever after? Well… Not so fast. But before getting to that, let’s look at the other half.

Every good horse needs a stablemate, and for a few generations now there has been relative stability in the preferences on “the other side”:

Yep, another Mini Cooper Countryman S! In this case not an All4, but rather the basic FWD, and a 2019. The interior updates on the new Mini are fantastic, with the materials and design maintaining their usual level of excellence, and BMW iDrive finally making a much needed appearance, replacing the old Mini specific system. Surprisingly, the 2019 feels much livelier off the line, with turbo lag entirely tamed and the transmission a great match to the power delivery. Overall definitely a thumbs up to this latest iteration, and fans of the brand and model won’t be disappointed! This is a good place to pause as the final update really deserves its own entry!