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First drive: BMW M340i. Image by BMW.

First drive: BMW M340i
Blindingly proficient, fast yet sub-M3 Beemer is beautifully engineered. But does it have that… Munich sparkle?

 



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BMW M340i xDrive

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BMW comes up with a 374hp 3 Series with an inline-six 3.0-litre engine and the sort of straight-line performance that would embarrass quite a few supercars. Yet, for some reason, we're slightly underwhelmed by it. Doesn't alter the fact it's a seriously strong, super-fast all-year-rounder, though.

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: BMW M340i xDrive
Pricing: 3 Series range from £32,565, M340i from £48,555
Engine: 3.0-litre turbocharged straight-six petrol
Transmission: xDrive all-wheel drive, eight-speed Steptronic Sport automatic
Body style: four-door saloon
CO2 emissions: 160g/km (VED Band 151-170: £530 first 12 months, then £465 years two-six of ownership (see main review), then £145 annually thereafter)
Combined economy: 40.4mpg
Top speed: 155mph (limited)
0-62mph: 4.4 seconds
Power: 374hp at 5,500-6,500rpm
Torque: 500Nm at 1,850-5,000rpm
Boot space: 480 litres

What's this?

It's the latest BMW 3 Series, given the first of its two performance tiers. While we patiently await the next M3, BMW is doing the expected and capping the current line-up with this, the M340i. Now, you'll note the 'M' in its badging, which denotes it's a veritable M Performance model, and not just a 326hp/450Nm 340i as seen in the previous generation of 3 Series.

This M340i has been created by hoicking the B58 TwinPower Turbo 3.0-litre petrol engine out of something like, say, a Z4 M40i, and then giving it a little tweak. So while it delivers the same 500Nm as it does in the Z4, power is up from 340- to 374hp. Drive goes to all four corners (xDrive, although it's rear-biased) through an eight-speed Steptronic auto, while there are a number of M Performance mods to the underpinnings: the steering, the brakes, the suspension and the differential, while the M340i gains at least 18-inch alloys on grippy tyres (19s an option) and an M Sport exhaust. Visually, it's identified by Cerium Grey details on the outside, most notably for the door mirrors, those upright vents in the front bumper, the surround for the kidney grille (which, itself, now has a mesh-effect pattern rather than vertical vanes) and also the trapezoidal-exit tailpipes. All in all, it's a subtle makeover for a car possessing some not-so-subtle stats.

How does it drive?

Very well, but not magnificently. Don't get us wrong, we fully understand the principle behind these M Performance models - in ranges where there's no full-fat M, they serve as the fast flagships, while in ranges where there is a fully-fledged M then they have to subserviently 'slot in' beneath them. Given another M3 is an inevitability, then the M340i certainly couldn't just dynamically cut loose and provide everything you could need from a fast car; it'd have made the impending M3 redundant if so.

The thing is, even with that all in mind and accepting that this is an incredibly fine car, we were still expecting to get a little bit more of a thrill from what is, when all's said and done, a 374hp 3 Series. A car which'll run 0-62mph in 4.4 seconds. Four point four! And, lest we forget, what you've got here is a car which is a mere 26hp down on a certain legend from BMW's supersaloon past: the E39 M5. In fact, it's also only 50kg down on that 4.9-litre V8-engined masterpiece, while its turbocharger means it matches the old Five for torque. Yep, here we are, driving a 3 Series that's not even going to be top dog in its world, which is pretty much a modern interpretation of one of BMW's most widely revered four-doors.

Maybe it's that E39 thought lingering in the background which clouds our judgment of the M340i on this first acquaintance, but - for us - it lacks proper 'BMW' feel. What we mean by this is that it is a terrifically quick, supremely composed car, one which'll thunder along at a quite remarkable pace on a dry road and which would probably still be devastatingly fast in wet conditions. But what does that sound like to you? A rapid BMW saloon? Or an Audi S/RS creation? As all of the manufacturers dollop yet more torque and horsepower into these fast models, you see, they eventually have to resort to all-wheel drive. BMW's xDrive system, as tuned here, is a good one, seeing as it prefers to apportion the engine's grunt rearwards, but M340i xDrive is as Audi S4 is as Mercedes-AMG C 43. The BMW lacks for a distinct character.

The noise, for instance, is weirdly synthetic in the M340i, with a buzzing, vaguely electric growl making its way through the bulkhead. Even the standard-fit M Sport exhaust can't save it, which is a pity because the M340i - along with the 330d - is one of only two straight-sixes available in the 3 Series range. The rest of the engines are all four-pots, so it's a pity the M340i doesn't making a thoroughly convincing case for itself on the strength of its soundtrack alone.

Then there's the steering. It displays a problem we've noticed on a few too many sporty BMWs of late, which is that it's artificially heavy and lacking in feel when placed into its most dynamic modes. You'll therefore need to fiddle with the Individual configuration setting if you want the car at its most aggressive for drivetrain, but you don't want to try and deal with cloying steering as a result. And that portly kerb weight of the M340i is never far from your mind; you can feel it on the brakes, you can feel it in the way the car turns in, you can feel it even when you're just cruising along and the BMW comes across as a big, comfy limo, more than it conveys the belief it's a taut, compact sports saloon.

It has talent, though. Grip is immense, traction unimpeachable in the dry (unless you really barrel it into a corner or get on the gas over a turning crest, at which point you get a small dose of easily held oversteer) and that drivetrain, for all its lack of aural drama, hits mighty hard at pretty much any speed you care to delve into its ample resources. It doesn't take much effort to get the M340i stoking along at a remarkably decent clip, while the refinement levels are superb - going fast or ambling along, you'll not notice much in terms of the road surface or wind noise. But maybe therein lies the rub: shouldn't driving a rapid BMW 3 Series be a slightly challenging task, one that rewards its driver when you get it 'right'? There's just the lingering suspicion about the M340i that anyone could get the best from it, irrespective of their driving style.

Verdict

The UK will be the second biggest market in the world for the BMW M340i saloon (despite its near-50-grand starting price), after only the US; for the Touring, we'll be third, behind Germany (which is No.7 in the world for the 374hp four-door) and Switzerland. So there's little doubt we have a rapacious appetite for this sort of stable, secure speed and the M340i is therefore bound to be a success. For BMW, the bottom line is key and this is going to be a hit. For us, we wholeheartedly admire it as a rather brilliant performance saloon - but we don't crave another drive in it with every fibre of our being. And that, we suspect, is what will matter the most to people who still enjoy clambering behind the wheel for a little bit of engagement and excitement.

4 4 4 4 4 Exterior Design

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Interior Ambience

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Passenger Space

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Luggage Space

5 5 5 5 5 Safety

4 4 4 4 4 Comfort

4 4 4 4 4 Driving Dynamics

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Powertrain


Matt Robinson - 23 Oct 2019









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2020 BMW M340i xDrive Saloon. Image by BMW.2020 BMW M340i xDrive Saloon. Image by BMW.2020 BMW M340i xDrive Saloon. Image by BMW.2020 BMW M340i xDrive Saloon. Image by BMW.2020 BMW M340i xDrive Saloon. Image by BMW.

2020 BMW M340i xDrive Saloon. Image by BMW.2020 BMW M340i xDrive Saloon. Image by BMW.2020 BMW M340i xDrive Saloon. Image by BMW.2020 BMW M340i xDrive Saloon. Image by BMW.2020 BMW M340i xDrive Saloon. Image by BMW.








 

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