Like the sun rising in the morning, you can count on certain things in the automotive world. And one of them is a BMW 3-series is a great drive. OK, some sun rises are better than others, but for 45 years, the compact BMW has been the target that everyone who makes a premium performance vehicle has been aiming for. BMW has made some changes to the venerable 3 for 2023, so we ask, is it once again an early riser? Or has the carmaker hit the proverbial Snooze button? Let’s take a look!
Fresh But not Freakish
We can tell you we were a little nervous when BMW said they had upgraded the 3’s looks. Would it get the massive kidney grilles that we’ve seen on the 4-series?
Luckily the prominent probiscis has not made its way to our tester. Up front, the lines are crisp, with slimmer full-LED headlights, and C-shaped driving lights that give unmistakable presence. The kidney grille does get a do-over with new double bars and a slight reshaping but it’s thankfully tasteful, while a large lower grille and side intakes give a very sporty look.
Step up to our M340i and you get a healthy extra heaping of mojo, with larger intakes and a mesh-design on the grille. The perfect finish to our tester were the optional BMW M 50 Years emblems, with staggered semicircles in blue, violet, and red, the anniversary emblem is reminiscent of the original BMW M GmbH trademark that was first used on racing cars in 1973.
The profile is subtly massaged, with reshaping of the front and rear aprons creating a more cohesive look as they wrap around. The sideview is the perfect blend of sport with tastefully-flared fenders and cut in lines in the lower door – but it’s subtle, capable, and confident without being shouty. While blacked-out wheels are common everywhere, we think the 19-inch M style 792 M wheels in the gloss black really pop and are perfect frames for our tester’s optional red M Sport brake calipers.
The rear carries through the promise of performance, with tight horizontal LED taillights, a deep rear apron, and gloss black lower fascia with massive dual exhaust pipes to leave a bold final impression. Normally a bright red paint job can seem a bit over the top, but we loved our tester’s rich Melbourne Red color that was eye-catching, but still restrained. Perfect.
Welcome to the Big Screen
Open the door, and you’re immediately hit by the biggest change for ’23 – a massive horizontal curved display that spans across from driver to the center of the dash. It looks modern and breathtaking – and that’s even before it’s fired up!
When you do turn on the engine, you get a seamless display from the 12.3-inch driver’s display to the 14.9-inch info-tainment screen that merges together to create a wide-screen that’s as thrilling as your favorite cineplex. While the gauges at first seem to mimic last-years model, they feature enhanced legibility and being digital, you have a variety of displays to call up.
We think the info-tainment side is even more interesting with a series of sliding tiles that you can swipe to pull up everything you need from navigation to communication to easy access controls to climate control and more. That full-screen makes wireless Apple CarPlay a joy to use, as well as gives a gorgeous look at the 360-degree around view monitor. While BMW gives you a handy knob on center console, and touch-screen capability we’re especially thankful you still get a good old fashioned volume knob as well. This is a tremendous amount of tech served up in a beautiful way that’s also approachable and familiar. Easily best-in-class in our minds.
Next to that control knob on the center dash is a new shift lever that replaces the previous model’s “beer-tap”. We balked at first – we like levers – but the little nub is easy to use and tapping it back to call up Sport mode is intuitive and easy. Combined with push buttons for parking brake, engine start/stop and driver’s modes, it’s handy and well thought-out, feeling like aviation-quality design. Very cool.
Being an M340i, you get superbly shaped sport seats (we did find the lower cushions a little too firm) a fat leather-wrapped 3-spoke steering wheel (heated too!) with equally logically designed remote controls. BMW leather has a familiar and upscale smell, and you have an interior that feels, luxurious, high-tech, yet still focused on driving. It’s a win-win-win.
While we very much loved the M240i Coupe we recently tested, it’s clear that if you are planning to use a rear seat more than occasionally, a 4-door is the way to go, and we found the rear seats adult friendly, and the trunk spacious as well.
Still the Ultimate Driving Machine?
Ah, that’s the question of the day, isn’t it?
A 3.0-liter, inline 6-cylinder has been a BMW signature for over 50 years, and you’ll find a turbo version here, putting out a very stout 382 horsepower and 368 lb.-ft. of torque at just 1,800 rpm. One update is a new “mild” hybrid powertrain, with 48-volt starter/generator that acts as an elect drive unit, adding power off the line and for passing more efficient operation of the vehicle’s electrics as well.
You might not notice that, but push the start button, and the 6 whumps to life, with a deep burble from the exhaust that sounds powerful and serious. You rev the engine just to hear the growl. It’s intoxicating.
Acceleration is also euphoric. Working through an excellent 8-speed automatic, you’re always in the right gear, and the power pushes you deep into the seatbacks, while the engine remains silky smooth. Push the shift lever into Sport mode, and it gets even more thrilling with rapid fire shifts coming at higher rpms. You can hand shift with steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters for manual-style fun.
To get the most out of those 382 ponies, we recommend getting the optional xDrive all-wheel drive system. Not only great for poor weather conditions, but it also effortlessly serves up grip – we’re talking sub-4-second 0-60 times, which is truly giant killer performance. All this and you can get 30+ mpg on the highway. Wow!
With that kind of acceleration, you can go hunting down all sorts of serious performance cars, but the M340i is more than a one trick pony. Ride quality is superb – in Comfort mode, you have a smooth daily driver that irons out the commute, while in Sport it firms the suspension up for added control, but never crosses over into harsh.
A bonus, this is the best steering feel from a BMW in decades, with perfect weighting, precision, and excellent feedback. The chassis begs to be driven aggressively, and it is great fun to tackle your favorite twisty road. Everything that is part of BMW legendary performance – feel, balance, confidence is all here. Ultimate Driving Machine? You bet!
How Much to Go Ultimate?
As the saying goes, you pay for your thrills. You can get into a BMW 330i sedan starting at $43,800. With a 255 horsepower, 4-cylinder turbo, it’s a quick, stylish way to get into BMW 4-door goodness.
Stepping up to an M340i is a whole ‘nother level of performance, starting at $56,400. Our xDrive model started at $56,850. Typical of European brands, there’s plenty of options to be had – and you have to watch that bottom line!
Our tester added Melbourne Red Metallic paint ($650), Black Leather ($1,500), Driving Assistance package ($700), Shadowline package ($850), Parking Assistance package ($700), Premium package ($1,350), Cooling & HP Tire package ($2,400), Remote Engine Start ($300), Adaptive M Suspension ($550), 50 Years Emblems ($200), SensaTec Dashboard ($350), Wireless Charging ($200) and Harman Kardon surround sound ($875). Add in $995 for Destination, and we rang the bell at $68,470. While that’s not cheap, it’s less than the 2020 M340i we tested so considering the added looks and equipment, it’s a good value BMW-wise.
Competitors would include the Audi S4 at $69,340, a fine performance car, but it would have a tough time keeping up with the more powerful BMW.
If you want a stylish competitor that’s off the mainstream, the Alfa Romeo Giulia would be just under $60,000 but you’d be swapping the big BMW 6-cylinder for a 280 horsepower turbo 4 in the Alfa. You’ll love the style, but you’d always know you’re in a much slower car.
With an upgrade in style, tech and class-beating performance the 2023 BMW M340i xDrive still owns the title of Ultimate Driving Machine!
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.