You’d have to be a particular kind of moron to not be able to baby with a sedan the size of a BMW 3 Series. Or maybe a Duggar. But can you consciously buy one with a six-speed manual and the track handling package if you’ve got a baby on board? Yes. Hell yes. Don’t buy any other BMW 3 Series.
(Full Disclosure: BMW wanted me to drive the new 34oi so badly they left the car with me for a week as I’d requested.)
Everyone used to have kids and everyone used to drive cars with manual transmissions. The concept that people can’t own a car with a stick once they have a baby is a bit of propaganda brought to you by marketers, wimps, and I’m pretty sure, the same people who catch the parallelogramical fish they sell at Long John Silver’s.
It’s simply not true. If anything, life is better with a manual transmission and an infant. Everyone knows most babies like being in the car and my daughter Bette is no different. The catch there is that babies like being in the car when the car is moving. When it’s suddenly non-locomotive they realize they’re strapped into a cramped seat in a small place with no one right in front of their face.
Therefore, in order to for a car trip to be a palliative, you’ve got to keep the car moving, and in a big city with lots of traffic this isn’t always possible. With a stick this is less of a problem as you can engage the clutch and, assuming a slight angle to the road, rock the car back and forth like some sort of giant Bavarian glider. Try doing that with your CVT.
So, already, by having a six-speed manual the BMW has a leg up on a lot of cars in this class that don’t even offer them. But what about a car with the Track Handling package?
Like all autojournalists I have a soft spot for for complex flight arrangements that augment my frequent flier miles, free shrimp, and 3 Series BMWs. There was an advertisement a while ago that said more Car And Driver writers owned the little Bavarian sedans than any other car, though I’m guessing what they meant was that staffers owned a collection of truly beat-to-hell E30s and track ready E36s since your average car writer can call up a Bentley SUV on short notice and thus has no need for a new car.
Not that I blame them. When you drive everything it becomes like driving nothing, with this week’s numbly-steering crossover bleeding into next week’s mildly-but-not-too-mildly sprung midsize sedan. Many hacks, I suspect, give into a sort of descriptive somnambulance at some point. I can just look at a new Hyundai and, without driving it, pretty much give you an accurate review of it that’ll align with every other review.
The same can’t be said for the 3 Series. Not only can you feel the 3 Series when you drive it, but BMW has done an admirable job of making each generation and each trim level of the 3 Series feel a little different, if not always better. An E92 does not feel like an E36 and the gulf between an E36 M3 and an E36 318ti is roughly as wide as the gulf between people who think Mexico will build a wall to keep themselves contained within their border and the rest of us.
To be honest, I’ve liked but not loved the last few new 3ers I’ve driven. They’ve been good cars that I could happily recommend to anyone who wanted a driving experience they actually experience, but I think access to older models and the onset of electric power steering sort of colored me against the later generation cars.
I’d become smitten with the 2 Series coupes which, frankly, felt like they had more of a legacy claim to the “ultimate driving machine” slogan. Years from now, when the kids are out of the house, I’m going to be browsing BringATrailer.com on my holo-watch for a 228i with a stick.
So when I went to the garage to pick up the shiny Melbourne Red 2016 BMW 340i I expected to like it well enough, write about putting a baby seat in it, and call it a day.
I was wrong.
While there was no Paul-on-the-autobahn-to-Damascus kind of moment, I’ll be damned if the little thing didn’t grow on me. I found myself looking for reasons to drive even short distances “Do you want a ride to the subway stop, honey? As your loving husband I will oblige.”
I think what tipped it was a moment out in the ‘burbs when I had to yield onto a parkway using an onramp roughly the length of one of Katy Perry’s skirts. I plan to do many burnouts with Bette in the car with me. The key word there is plan.
I got on the gas with a litttttttle more energy than normal, let out the clutch a litttttttttle faster than maybe I’d been expecting to, and maybe, just maybe, precipitated a littttttttttttttttttle bit of wheelspin with Bette in the backseat. Maybe. I don’t know. You can’t prove it.
It was excellent. After a quickly held breath to make sure Bette wasn’t going to scream I could only smile when she took in stride. A real Hardigree, that one.
As Patrick pointed out in his review of a similarly equipped car, the name 340i essentially means nothing other than it’s the top-level trim in the F30 lineup. It doesn’t have a 4.0-liter engine, but instead a newer 3.0-liter inline-six turbo engine. It feels like you’d expect a BMW inline-six to feel, with enough torque (330 lb-ft to be exact) to quickly get you up to highway speed and enough horsepower (320 of those) to push it as far as you’re comfortable going beyond what your local jurisdiction allows.
It’s also comfortable. My particular car was equipped with the black leather interior with red stitching meant to evoke the outside of the car. Yes, the 3 Series has grown in size, but I’d argue this is about appropriate for a modern, average-sized luxury sedan. This also meant the car is now wide enough with deep enough rear seats that I could mount Bette’s rear-facing car seat in the middle of the car, which is the safest location.
The downside of having her in the middle in most cars is that you’ve got limited space for your passengers. While I wouldn’t put a member of the Iowa State defensive line back there, it’s wide enough with her in the McLaren F1 position to make it work for most of us. With the car seat on either of the side car there’s enough room for an average sized adult in the front to sit back and recline to a comfortable point.
Traveling with a large convertible stroller, a diaper bag, and a car bag was also no problem given the 3 Series provides generous space for the class behind the rear seats. The car was also equipped with the optional window shades, which are a godsend when you’re constantly being told that a few seconds in the sun will burn a child like one of those vampires in Blade. Overall, a fine car to baby in.
And as I mentioned earlier, you should definitely add the Track Handling package to your car if you’re a responsible parent. It only costs $1,700 on top of the $45,800 this car MSRPs for (the tester was a robust $58,420 thanks to a lot of options).
What Track Handling adds to this mix is the M Sport Adaptive suspension, Variable Sport Steering (VSS), bigger brakes, and the removal of the run-flat tires. The bigger brakes are obvious as stopping is a key safety feature of any car. You’ll need your strength to carry your infant around so, clearly, the VSS affords you precision vehicle placement without undue fatigue on your arms. An adaptive suspension gives you the right handling for the right conditions.
Admittedly, I can’t make a great argument for replacing the run-flats other than run-flats suck the fun out of driving.
So please print this out and take it with you to the BMW dealership. They won’t give you any sort of discount, but you’ll at least be able to point to the paragraphs above and convince your wife or husband that you’re asking for all the “safety equipment” recommended by an “expert” at a “well respected” internet “website.”