While I was on a road trip in the Karoo, Corona happened. So I spent five weeks of lock down in Prince Albert with BMW’s 3-series flagship, the M340i, flattening the curve in a parking lot. Finally I was allowed to go back to Cape Town. On a deserted Route 62.
There are worse places to spend five weeks of lockdown, than in the quaint hamlet of Prince Albert, at the bottom of Swartberg Pass in the Karoo. When the lockdown happened, I was visiting my Swiss friends Michi and Renate, who own the best place to stay in town, the beautiful Bergkant Lodge. And my ride, BMW’s most powerful 3-series ever, the M 340i, was restricted to their parking lot. The (very) short shopping trips to Spar in Church Street turned into the most exciting outings imaginable at the time.
The rest of the time, I helped in the lodge and regularly hand-washed Karoo dust and dead leaves off the magnificent Tanzanite Blue Metallic paintjob (R29 900 extra) of my fellow Bavarian inmate, while admiring its longer, taller and wider body and its more masculine looks.
But don’t get me wrong, it is not in your face, despite the enlarged, rather impressive air intakes and the 10mm lower stance. It’s more of a subtle, underlying aggressiveness. A powerful sleeper, especially while resting idle in the parking lot.
The 7th generation 3-series is a complete redesign, with the M in the name not just cosmetic, but with direct input and some real Magic. Like M Sport suspension, M Sport differential & variable steering and M Sport brakes. The M exhaust pipes are fitted as standard, which they should, as the new Beemer’s price is just on the wrong side of R1 mil.
At the moment the M340i is the flagship of all 3-series derivatives. Until the M3 arrives in 2021. Engine-wise it is back to the glorious, classic past. The ‘M3 light’ once again features an old school straight six powerplant, albeit turbo-charged, but nevertheless with the glorious and typical BMW six-cylinder sound symphony. It’s the beefed up engine, that also powers Z4 and Toyota Supra.
And just, when you think five weeks of lockdown are an eternity, they end. And while stage 5 changed to stage 4, I had one day to go back to Cape Town. I chose scenic instead of fast, preferring Route 62 to the N2.
I encountered the first road block in the next village, after leaving Prince Albert early in the morning, in Klaarstroom. The windy road through Meiringspoort was as deserted as the entire Route 62. The 19inch Pirelli P Zeros were gripping the tarmac with newly found passion, after not getting any heat into them for weeks. The powerful sleeper awakened to the joy of drive. The straight six groaned with pleasure. Encouraged by all those empty roads, I once again deterred from the direct route home and chose Franschhoek pass to end this rather special post-lockdown road trip. Thanks to a rear-based four-wheel drive, it is almost impossible to unsettle this Beemer. That’s when both Bavarians realized that South African roads will never be that empty again.
BMW M340i x-drive
Engine 3.0-l. 6cyl. twin-turbo, paired with an 8-speed auto
Power 285kW and 500Nm
Top Speed 250 km/h (electronically limited)
0-100km/h 4.4 seconds
Price R1 006 211