BMW M340d Touring | Nic C
I realise I'm showing my age here, but to me there's still a whiff of novelty about driving a 3 Series in the snow. It helps of course if you're one of those people who can remember being forced to dig one out of a parking space every time a minor dusting troubled the countryside - but the simple fact is that pre F30, BMW's reputation for all-weather usability was roughly equivalent to a pair of flip flops.
Or it was in the UK at least. In Europe, BMW had been dabbling in all-wheel drive since the E30, and had proved itself a dab hand at the job. But when it came to right-hand drive cars, the manufacturer typically shrugged its shoulders in the face of additional engineering cost. It righted that wrong ten years ago, and has hardly looked back - xDrive-equipped 3 Series seem to be everywhere. And this week offered a good reminder of the advantages of rerouting some of the torque to the M340d's front axle.
Which isn't to say that it's exactly imperious in the snow. Anything wearing winter tyres would likely romp away from it. But it's not going to get all flustered when presented with a gentle gradient either. And that's always a heart-warming thought when it's -1 outside and you've got lockdown wine to buy.
Car: 2021 BMW M340d Touring
Run by: Nic
On fleet since: December 2020
List price new: £54,325 (on the road, as standard; price as tested £62,615 comprised of Visibility Pack (High-beam Assistant and BMW Laserlights) for £1,500, Technology Pack (Head-up display, Harmon/Kardon surround sound, Enhanced Bluetooth with wireless charging, BMW Gesture Control, Wi-Fi hotspot preparation) for £1,900, Shadowline Plus (19-inch Jet Black 791 M wheels, Black mirror caps, Sun protection glass, BMW Individual high-gloss Shadow Line with extended contents) for £750, Premium Pack (Panoramic glass sunroof, Electric front seats + Driver Memory, Lumbar support, front) for £1,900, Comfort Pack (Steering wheel heating, Comfort access, Luggage Compartment package, Extended storage) for £890, Towbar, electrically folding for £850, Interior Trim Aluminium Fabric high-gloss BMW Individual for £500.)
Honda Civic Type R | Matt B
Nothing quite lifts the winter gloom like a good hot hatch, and I’ve been fortunate enough to drive a few recently: the latest Renault Sport Megane, the BMW 128ti and the Golf GTI Clubsport to name three. In their own way, all are great, and I’d have no hesitation recommending any of them. However, they’re all missing something…
Yes, it’s another internet rant about the manual gearbox. Now, I’m aware of and understand all the arguments for going auto only - particularly in the Renault’s case, because the manual wasn’t that good - but the Civic continues to prove the value of a great clutch ‘n’ stick transmission. Though a less impactful statement than it once would have been, I’m not sure there’s a better manual on sale. And it makes even the most mundane of journeys a pleasure, newly counterweighted lever in perfect harmony with the resistance of the clutch. I counted 74 gearchanges on the way to buy dog food, all of them more enjoyable than a paddle-operated fart through the ratios.
I’m not just being grumpy, honest. Some cars should be automatic only. The M340d above, for example. And I think Honda is missing a trick by not having an automatic here. But even the more grown up hot hatches on offer nowadays should offer a manual option somewhere. Because there’s nothing quite like the joy of changing gear. Plus I know just the car to benchmark…
Car: 2021 Honda Civic Type R GT
Run by: Matt
On fleet since: January 2021
Mileage: 3,430 (delivered on 2,945)
List price new: £36,320 (on the road, as standard GT; price as tested £37,170, including £850 for Racing Blue Pearl paint)
Renaultsport Clio 182 | Sam S
With the Clio not having moved from the garage since November, I’ve had plenty of time to address the jobs that I’d been putting off last summer. The slightly warped front discs (from track day duties) have been swapped for a new set of Brembo High Carbons with matching OEM pads, the faded exterior and interior trim has been brought back with Gtechniq’s brilliant restorer, and I’ve cleaned up the backs of the Turinis and the Bilstein coilovers. It’s amazing what you can do when the pub's shut.
The rest of my attention has been focused on the cabin, which has long needed a bit of TLC. I’ve finally swapped the previous blue harness for more discreet black Willans one, which uses a conventional road buckle instead of the tactile but not particularly practical race equivalent. And I’ve wrapped the yellow centre line of the steering wheel with black suede, so it’s more discreet. Most recently, I’ve taken off the dashboard top and A-pillar trim, so they can be flocked. Partly because wannabe race car, partly to freshen up the interior.
The biggest task is yet to come though. The F4R motor is in imminent need of new belts and a water pump, a £600-plus job, and I’ve promised myself that I’ll buy the passenger-side Recaro this summer. Reason being: I’m dreaming up a trip to the North Coast 500 when freedom returns, and I want the 182 to look as good as it drives. Maybe I’ll get it a cake, too, because in May I will have officially owned this car for ten years.
Car: 2004 Renaultsport Clio 182
Run by: Sam S
On fleet since: July 2018
Price paid: £3,500 (2011)
Mercedes CLK 280 | Sam L
New Year, new car. With the 550i still in a distant corner of the yard, I'd been keeping an eye out for a replacement for our tired and not exactly trusty Saab convertible. This Cat N Mercedes CLK on 78k with very light off-side front damage came up on Synetiq so thought I'd take a punt. With fees and delivery it owed £3,100 which was still about £2k less than I could find for one in similar condition on a forecourt.
I've since had the arms replaced and the alignment done, alongside a full service. A quick call to Mercedes and they emailed the entire dealer history to me; it comes to an abrupt halt in 2017, but turned out to be reassuringly comprehensive up to that point. It's a few weeks later now and while the everlasting lockdown has obviously prevented a longer go, it's certainly a nice place to be.
Currently I'm scouring the internet for a Palladium silver front wing, which seems to be ridiculously hard to track down. I gather that shade was only used on the really late CLKs, which means there are precious few for breaking. As you can see from the pictures I can live with the dent for now but it's not easy on the eye. Still, as slightly bruised driveway ornaments go, I'm happy.
Car: 2009 Mercedes CLK 280
Run by: Sam L
On fleet since: January 2021
Price paid: £2,520 (2021)
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