In every market segment there is the dominant player. Small affordable sports car? Miata. Import pickup truck? Tacoma. And when it comes to premium sport sedan, that would be the BMW 3-series. Which is not to say there isn’t competition there, in fact a bunch of wonderful sedans from the Audi A4 to the Genesis G70 to the Volvo S60 are gunning to be the quickest gun in town. But it always seemed that the BMW 3 is the benchmark.
And now they went and made it incredible – welcome to the BMW M340i.
M340i Exterior – Low-key flyer
The 3-series was made all-new for the 2019 model year. And you might have not noticed. This is not a big shocker – BMW likes to take an evolutionary approach to design. It has a slightly larger footprint, being 2.9 inches longer, 0.6 inches wider, and half an inch taller. More importantly, the wheelbase is 1.6 inches longer, with track widths going up 1.7 inch and 0.8 inch front and rear, respectively.
Up front is the familiar BMW kidney grille with sporty mesh inserts, with LED headlights and U-shaped driving lights giving it an aggressive stare down the road. Large intakes dominate the lower part of the fascia. It looks angry!
The profile is sporty, with short overhangs, and it finds a nice balance between coupe-cozy and sedan sensible. It’s typical BMW 3-series, and while other manufacturer’s try to copy it, BMW does it best. At the rear, the sporty theme carries through, L-shaped LED taillights in dark housings look fresh and serious, while the large dual exhaust outlets in a contrasting fascia promise power. The finishing touch on our tester were the optional 19” M wheels with the standard blue BMW sport brakes visible between the spokes. Finished in a deep Tanzanite Blue, our M340i was tasteful and upscale, but not shouty or showy. Perfect for its mission in life.
M340i Interior – High-tech is in the Haus
Inside is a much more noticeable step up. Open the door and our tester greets you with the waft of Vernasca leather, which smells like a million bucks ($1,450 for you!). The oyster color is beautiful, but we’d still opt for something darker that’s less likely to show wear and dirt. The impression of quality and design continues with an anthracite headliner, M leather steering wheel and Aluminum Tetragon interior trim.
The moo-cow hides are wrapped around excellent front sport seats – BMW still does the best – firm and supportive for hours on end. The rear seats serve up more headroom and legroom than before, and they even fold down to give a nice long cargo area.
Settled down into the driver’s seat and you’re face to face with BMW’s 12.3-inch digital instrument panel called Live Cockpit Professional. It’s bright and clear, but we have a gripe. We’re not fans of the reverse-direction tach display that goes counter-clockwise – it’s counter-intuitive and we never grew to like it. And really, a big part of the fun is watching the tach wrap around.
Next to that is a large 10.25-inch display, featuring voice, touchscreen and iDrive touchpad controller. BMW has perfected the iDrive now, and it serves up an incredible amount of information in easily accessible way. We also love that Apple CarPlay is now wireless. That large display also works beautifully with the 360-degree overhead parking view.
We did find some hidden cleverness, too. In the menus there’s something called Caring Car. OK, we’re game, what’s that? Well, you get two programs that create a three minute program that activates climate control, sunroof shade and music. Hit Relax and the sunshade closes, the a/c turns down, a warm sunset appears on the screen and soothing music is piped in. Hit Alert, and light floods the cabin, you get a green rolling landscape on the display and pop-ish 80’s music pumps in. Okay, it’s a bit goofy. And we absolutely love it!
M340i Performance – Massive Munich Muscle
Nice exterior, lovely interior, but those are icing on the cake. The M340i is a fantastic driving machine. Ultimate? Maybe!
It starts with the traditional BMW straight six-cylinder, here turbocharged to a muscular 382 hp and 369 lb.-ft of torque, coming in at just 1,800 rpm. It fires up with a “whump” and then there’s a low guttural grow. You’ve awoken the beast. Put it in Sport Mode and you get nice little backfires as you ease off the throttle – it’s either a little childish or endearing. Or both.
That powerplant sings though, and running it through the rpm range is a treat, and it wraps fast. The 8-speed automatic is silky smooth in the daily, but can fire off lightning fast shifts if you call for them.
Fast is the operative word here, thanks to the optional xDrive all-wheel-drive. Parsing out the power to four wheels instead of two does all sorts of nice things for traction, and there is even a Launch Mode that should see you into 0-60 in the mid 3-second range which is pretty phenomenal. Will you get 25 mpg combined and 30 mpg freeway like the EPA says? Maybe, if you can stay out of the turbo zone. But in a week of test driving, we never got tired of the incredible thrust. Good thing gas is cheap right now…
Our tester had the optional Adaptive M Suspension, and frankly at first we found it a little harsh, even in the Comfort Mode. We did grow to love it, and here in California the smooth roads don’t extract too much of a penalty. We’ve heard that the rear-drive M340i has a bit softer ride, so if it’s a concern, we say test drive both. (Like you need an excuse for an extra test drive).
Otherwise, it’s a matter of dialing in what kind of ride you want and attacking your favorite road. We especially liked the steering of our M340i – there’s has been a lot of talk that BMW has lost the steering feel of the old models that were pre-electric power steering.
Well, they’re getting pretty darn close – the weighting is excellent, the precision is there. The feel, just a little artificial. But let’s be honest, you are comparing against perfection. Brake feel is excellent and feels quite up to what you can dish out.
Can I Bankroll a Bahnstormer?
While this is not an inexpensive car, we think it’s a performance bargain. The M340i xDrive sedan starts at a nice, round $56,000. The rear-wheel drive model starts at $54,000. Like all European models, there are loads of options, and you can ring up an impressive total. Our tester’s Tanzanite Blue Metal II Metallic was $1,950, the Oyster Vernasca Leather, $1,450. Driving Assistance Package, $500 (worth it!), Drivers Assistance Pro Package with Extended Traffic Jam Assist, $1,700, Premium Package with heated wheel and seats, plus Heads-up display, $1,400.
But that’s not even part of it. The Executive Package including gesture control for the Multi-media, and adaptive LED lighting, $2,100, Remote engine start, $300 (cheap!), 19” M sport wheels, $600 (worth it!), Adaptive M Suspension, $700 (Bargain), Power tailgate, $250, Ambient Lighting $250, Wireless Charging $250, Harmon Kardon audio, $875, and Destination $995. Grand total, $69,750. We’d be very happy with a M340i rear drive with just a few judicious options and save the extra $10k for track days and tires. Both of which we would require.
Competition? We think our tester stacks up well against the Audi RS5 we just tested, and that bad boy came in at $99,000! Max out an Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrofoglio, and you’re at $78,095. And that’s part of the magic here – the M340i can take on the competitors previously reserved for the M4 Coupe. (A new M3 sedan is not yet available). Speaking of which, the M4 starts at $69,150 but adding in a few luxuries bumped us up to $74,945.
So, we come away massively impressed with the M340i. And it’s not just us – a good friend who is a true connoisseur, has some beautiful vintage cars, and is passionate about all things automotive just ordered one for his daily driver – and with its blend of comfort and exhilarating performance, and tasteful low-key looks – we think he’ll be hugely satisfied. And we would, too.
The BMW 3-series retains its sport-sedan crown with the amazing M340i. Subtle, beautifully-trimmed and incredibly good to drive – all hail the king!
Ben Lewis grew up in Chicago, and after spending his formative years driving sideways in the winter – often intentionally – moved to sunny Southern California. He now enjoys sunny weather year-round — whether it is autocross driving, aerobatics, and learning to surf.