Double Apex recently spent a few days behind the wheel of the most powerful 3 Series currently on sale in South Africa, the BMW M340i xDrive. We share our thoughts on the M3’s understudy in this driving review.
When the latest-generation (G20) BMW 3 Series was introduced last year, the first question enthusiasts asked was: When is the M3/M4 being launched? BMW was not keen to divulge that info but they did say that a potent gap-filler would be introduced until the apex 3 was ready. This interim performance model is called the BMW M340i xDrive and we finally got our hands on it. Read our BMW 3 Series launch report and drive review at this link.
A sharper suit
As befitting a ‘range-topper’ the M340i wears a sharper suit that helps differentiate it from less powerful derivatives in the line-up. Incidentally, the M340i is the only petrol six-pot in a range of inline-fours, and it will be until the M3 arrives (full M3/4 engine info can be found here).
Bespoke touches on this sporty derivative include a unique mesh grille, more sculpted front bumper with detailing around the air vents. Larger 18-inch alloys (optional 19-inch items on our test unit), a different rear bumper with trapezoidal exhaust outlets, satin finish contrasting exterior mirror caps and, of course, a few M badges are all standard fitment. Chunkier side sills and a 10 mm lower ride height give it a hunkered-down appearance. The styling changes may be discreet, but they help create a sense of purpose to the overall package.
The big news, of course, is what lies under the bonnet. BMW’s now trust turbocharged inline-six has been massaged to develop 285 kW of peak power and a massive 500 N.m of torque. Put into perspective, that is almost as much torque as the 5,0-litre V10 in the E60 M5 produced. Power is transmitted via an eight-speed automatic transmission.
To ensure that level of power is accessible and safely doled out BMW has coupled the motor with an all-wheel-drive system; hence the xDrive part of the name. Power distribution is fully variable between the front and rear axles. Like other M models the BMW M340i is equipped with an M Sport rear differential. The limited-slip diff’ increases traction out of corners and enhances agility during spirited driving.
BMW says the M340i xDrive will sprint from rest to 100 km/h in just 4,4 seconds and will top out at an electronically restricted 250 km/h. That acceleration time is as quick as the outgoing M3. An M Sport braking system consists of four-piston calipers that clamp 348 mm discs at the front and single-piston calipers that work on 345 mm discs at the rear.
On the road
But, I hear you ask, how the heck does it drive? The one-word answer is: superbly. BMW’s engineers have struck a great balance between power, usability and engagement in this car. Power delivery from the single-turbo motor is relentless as it races to the 7 000 r/min shift-point time and time again.
It may be quick from the line, but its in-gear shove is equally impressive. Mashing the throttle in any gear ensures that you could exceed the speed limit moments later, not that we did. The noises from the engine bay are just the right side of loud, that is to say: not too. You can hear the smooth six working but it’s never overbearing.
As quick as it is in a straight line, the BMW M340i isn’t a one-trick pony. It’ll slice through a set of corners with verve and alacrity. Despite being all-wheel-drive it seldom feels that it is, which is a neat trick, and it retains rear-wheel-drive levels of response. Power is moved seamlessly between front and rear wheels and across the rear axle (particularly in sport plus mode) for maximum traction.
One may say that the M340i is unflappable, but the laws of physics still apply when you overcook your entry speed or are injudicious with the throttle, though you’d be travelling very fast on the road for either to occur. Oh, and the high-speed body control is exemplary. If there is one area of critique, is the low speed damping over severe road imperfection, which is probably a by-product of the run-flat tyres.
There was a time when, if you wanted to own a sporting sedan, a BMW was your only option. Mercedes alternatives were firmly in the cruise-mobile segment and Audi was still building its brand. More recently the German rivals have joined the fray with cars such as the Audi S4 and Mercedes-AMG C43, as have other fringe players such as Lexus, Infiniti, etc.
The BMW M340i is a return to form, a legacy that was built on cars such as the (E30) 323i, (E46) 330i and (E90) 335i. These variants weren’t the sportiest of the family but they offered all the convenience, practicality and nearly all the pace of sportier siblings. For those who require four doors and still enjoy the occasional blast early on a Sunday morning, and will probably never take their car to a racetrack (and let’s face it, how many South Africans actually do) the M340i is more car than one is ever likely to need. It’s a proper all-rounder and we are thoroughly impressed.
Model: BMW M340i xDrive
Price: R1 079 300
Engine: 3,0-litre, turbocharged inline six
Transmission: eight-speed auto, AWD
Max power: 285 kW
Max torque: 500 N.m
Top speed: 250 km/h
0-100 km/h: 4,4 sec
Fuel consumption: 7,7 L/100 km