The Lake of the Ozarks winds through old oak forests and carves out limestone bluffs in endless rolling dells. Missouri’s massive man-made reservoir, at its construction in 1931 considered one of the largest in the world, has been called the Magic Dragon due to its long serpentine body.

Accessing the vast shoreline can be as fun as being on it, especially in the refreshed 2016 BMW 3-Series (base price $47,800). Two-lane highways narrow into concrete tributaries that follow the lay of the land, undulating past grazing land on one side and shady forest on the other, the crunch of acorns adding texture to the tires’ grip of the road.

The rolling roads are a joy to drive, and the new 340i makes it that much better.

The brand’s best-selling model worldwide doesn’t look much different. Why change a good thing? It has pretty much defined the compact sports sedan segment since its 1977 arrival.

The kidney-shaped grille fronts a long, low nose that appears wider due to pushing the LED headlights to their outermost edges and stretching the air intakes a bit. The Mediterranean Blue ($550) paint coat perfectly reflected ribbons of lake on our trip.

The most significant changes come where it matters most for a car like this: to the powertrain and suspension.


The top-of-the-line 340i test model with all-wheel drive (xDrive in Bimmer-speak) comes with the new 3-liter in-line six-cylinder turbocharged engine. Power is boosted to 320 horsepower, 20 over the outgoing engine, and the twin-scroll turbocharger ratchets torque to 330 pound-feet available at just under 1,400 rpm.

BMW estimates a 0-60 mph time of 4.6 seconds and we had no reason to doubt it. Pair this lighter but more powerful engine to the seamless six-speed manual, which is optional at no extra cost, and we were enjoying the last leg of a seven-hour road trip as much as the first leg.

We didn’t test the standard eight-speed automatic but the manual is so good that you just have to try it, even if the car will be your daily commuter. The clutch pedal has perfect kickback, neither too firm or too soft, and the stick has short quick throws without any notching. It knows where you want it to go and takes you swiftly and seamlessly. Redlining second gear turned those long and winding roads into Helter Skelter.

The handling was even more impressive, hugging the curves and gripping the back roads like tar. BMW says it has tightened the steering, improved rear dampers and offers a track handling package ($1,700) that in the test model came with light blue calipers. The track handling package is engaged in sport or sport-plus modes, so if track days or aggressive driving aren’t in the future for the 340i, there’s not much benefit outside of the adaptive suspension, which softens the ride at cruising speeds.

The interior hasn’t changed much, and BMW’s ConnectedDrive infotainment system is one of the best on the market once you learn its logic. The $2,750 technology package, which includes a clear but never obtrusive head-up display and navigation with the control dial doubling as a touchpad to scan maps, was well-used and appreciated during our week loan.

There are a few minor inconveniences that should be easily remedied in the next, seventh generation. Phone storage should expand beyond under the elbow rest, maybe with a little pocket on the side of the center console or a nook in the door.

The unlock button is in the center stack, which can be inconvenient if the fob is buried in a pocket while unpacking or transferring sleeping kids.

Folding rear seats is an option the test model did not have; opt for it, unless you will never have passengers and will never road trip. The trunk isn’t big enough and the rear-seat armrest porthole isn’t wide enough to accommodate any non-luggage gear.

There has been criticism from Bimmer boys that the brand has softened its once peerless 3-Series to appeal to a broader audience, but newcomers to the brand will not be disappointed, except perhaps by the upcharge of the loaded test model.

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