Who needs an M3? The ripping M340i could be all the BMW a demanding driver ever needs
Photos: BMW, Gunter Schmied
Algarve International Circuit, Portimao, Portugal
We’ve reviewed the new seventh-gen G20 BMW 3 Series in 330i M Sport form already, and this car here is the current range-topper.
The M340i is the most powerful 3 Series for now, and joins the X3 M40i and M4 M40i in the mid-size of the mid-range high-performance that is M Performance Automobiles (the M-id range? Hurhur…).
Just as the Mercedes-AMG A 35 has to be seen in the context of the A 45, so too must the BMW M340i be measured against its more powerful ‘full M’ sibling, the M3.
But like the AMG A 45, the new M3 has yet to be announced, and so the gulf between the semi-M and full-M are smaller than they otherwise would be.
Is that because the M3 is aged, or because the M340i is cutting-edge good? We think it’s the latter.
Startling fact: In a straight line the M340i is as quick in the 0-100km/h than the limited edition 2010 M3 GTS, yes the raging orange performance special enthusiasts raved about.
Our test drive was fast laps of Algarve Circuit (led by ex-F1 driver Timo Glock) in camouflaged prototypes of the M340i, a little strange, considering the car’s appearance has already been outed at the LA Motorshow – here’s an official render of the car below.
The interior seems mostly the same as a regular M Sport 3 Series – pedals, fat steering wheel, M-themed mats, seatbelts, and so on.
The M340i gains all the benefits the G20 3 Series does, especially in terms of suspension ‘local stiffness’, as much as 40-50 percent in items like the shock mounts and arms. The car, as a six-cylinder 3 Series, has suspension tuning unique to it, including stiffer springs, tuned dampers, and stabiliser bars.
Equipment like the variable ratio steering, larger brakes (348mm front discs, 345mm rear discs), M Sport Differential are all standard, although expected the price of the car in Singapore, it’s likely the adaptive dampers (on the test car) will be standard for us too.
The cockpit feels the same as the 330i M Sport – after all the furniture is pretty much the same – but the added heft of a big six its the low, bassy burble tell you otherwise.
It would have been more illuminating to drive the M340i on the road, which is where the best of the mid-range performance lot, the Mercedes-AMG C 43, has proven itself to be an enormously entertaining car. Still, Portimao is a revealing circuit because of its demands, so we’re not complaining.
The pit lane falls away, and instant pickup from the 500Nm of torque and all-wheel drive give you the other piece of the puzzle, as it’s immediately apparent this car possesses potent ponies.
After a duo of sighting laps, in which we’re reminded the 3 Series is a very refined car, the pace is turned up and the M340i seems to barely notice.
There is more give and roll than there would be in an M3, which is good for less-than-spectacular drivers like myself, as Portimao is a deeply intimidating circuit that has the unique ability to fling you into the void if you get one of its blind, climbing turns wrong.
But we keep Mr Glock in sight and follow his pracised lines, and the M340i delivers ever-building speed with nary a wiggle or big moment to show for it. With more confidence we’re even able to test the electronic differential by flooring the gas on corner exit, making makes the car pull hilarious minor bouts of power oversteer.
That all brings another AWD performance BMW to mind – the M5 Competition. Sure, the M340i is nowhere near as fast (the M5 has 170 percent more power) but the enjoyable part is that a non-pro driver can have a ball without breaking their own.
In fact, the last turbo inline six BMW we drove here was precisely the last M3, so the contrast is even more apparent to us. While the M3 has evolved into a supercar-baiting monster, the M340i is the spiritual heir to the M3, a less powerful, more involving driver’s car that doesn’t shy away from mundane work.
Because of that, even if the new M3 turns out to be a dream-monster and the best thing for high-performance sedans since the uh, E30 M3, the M340i will still be less powerful, and less expensive.
It’s the most powerful 3 Series, but the least powerful M-range 3 Series. To most people, it’s the first thing that will be the clincher.
|Engine||2,998cc, inline 6, turbocharged|
|Power||374hp at rpm|
|Torque||500Nm at 1550-4400rpm|
|Top Speed||4.4 seconds|
|VES Band / CO2||TBA / 199g/km|
|Agent||Performance Motors Limited|
|Availability||July 2019 ((international debut)|