I never really liked the previous-generation BMW 340i. It was hard to recommend over the 330i and didn’t come close to the M3. Given the success of tier-two performance models such as the Mercedes-AMG C43 and Audi S4, this was a problem.
It seems like BMW’s crack team of engineers agreed with me, because this new 2020 BMW M340i xDrive – that name is quite a mouthful – is simply brilliant. And if the delayed new, probably big-nosed M3 is going to top it, then it’ll need to be an absolute belter.
For a quick background lesson, the G20 3 Series sits on the company’s longitudinal CLAR platform sharing parts with the 5 Series and many others. It’s 50 per cent stiffer than before, 55kg lighter, has a wider track, a 52:48 weight distribution, and a lower centre of gravity.
At its heart is a brand-signature aluminium 3.0-litre inline six with twin-scroll sequential turbocharging, a wider-opening electronically controlled wastegate, über-precise injectors, fully variable valve and camshaft controls, and reduced rotating assembly inertia.
Output peaks are 285kW and 500Nm, the latter on tap between 1550 and 5000rpm, bang-on with that C43 I mentioned earlier.
And lordy does it hammer. The zero to 100km/h sprint takes just 4.4 seconds, which is only a tenth of a second slower than the outgoing F80 Series M3 was. It’s also three-tenths of a second more rapid than the Audi or Benz, giving you some bragging rights.
As my colleague Mike Duff said, peak power comes at 5800rpm, but the engine carries on with “no diminution of enthusiasm” to the 6500rpm limiter. Indeed.
Equally good is the fuel consumption, with BMW claiming a figure of 7.7L/100km in Eco Mode that can decouple the drivetrain down hills and recuperate braking energy. Over my long, mixed driving loop the trip computer returned use of 8.2L/100km.
Taking a leaf from AMG in Affalterbach’s book, BMW has also fitted an M Sport valve-controlled exhaust, which makes the noise emanating from the twin pipes gruffer, louder and more inclined to pop and burble on overrun when you’re running in Sports mode.
So when you put your foot down, you can expect a nearly lag-free shove in the chest with a raspy accompaniment from outside, and an organic-sounding note inside. In reality, the engine could sound even meaner than it does, something AMG does better than this Munich mob lately.
Helping your forward progress is a version of ZF’s eight-speed automatic transmission with torque converter that is never anything less than preternaturally intuitive and slick to grab the right cog. You can put it into manual and use paddles if you want, but honestly… Meh.
But perhaps the biggest news here is the configuration. That ‘xDrive’ badge denotes all-wheel drive (AWD), which this car has as standard. There’s a rear-wheel-drive one in the US, but not here. The big benefit of AWD is all-weather stability, but there’s also straight-line acceleration.
The system has the fig leaf of variable power distribution between the axles, and it won’t easily lose its real-wheel bias in Sport and Sport+ modes, which also stiffen the ride and tie down the body against cornering loads.
Don’t just thank the distribution of torque up the driveshaft – also thank the lockable rear diff that shuffles torque across the axle.
At this juncture, my mind is cast back to a prototype drive I did at Portimao, where the 348mm four-piston front/345mm single-piston rear brakes managed six hard laps with no noticeable fade, even after a few rounds of journos giving the test cars hell – between canapés.
Proper track junkies can option up the M Technology Package, with an upgraded drivetrain cooling system, and 25mm larger-diameter front discs.
Of course, hard driving isn’t everything. In Comfort mode it rides well by letting some stiffness and control from the active dampers, eating up some shocking roads in regional Victoria with a calmness you don’t expect.
While not exactly plush, the difference between track-ready Sport mode and this setting is pretty stark. Overseas media finding the ride too firm were likely driving cars with the lift-related passive dampers not offered on our versions.
If you want a daily commuting car with the ability to tear your head off from time to time, then this Bimmer does it so much more convincingly than the 340i ever did.
To the cabin. If you want a full breakdown of the specs across the 3 Series range then go here, but some key features unique to this grade include BMW Laserlight selective beam headlights, a tyre-repair kit rather than run-flats, a 464W Harman/Kardon audio system, Benz-style changeable ambient cabin light piping, heated seats, and a Sensatec fake leather dash panel.
Safety features include eight airbags, forward and reverse autonomous emergency braking, lane-departure warning, parking assist, a 360-degree camera view, an expanded parking assist system, active cruise control, and steering assist that keeps you between road lines.
The G20’s cabin across the board is a big step up, more spacious and sporting a cleaner layout. The fascia is still driver-oriented, but there are higher-grade materials used. The standard contrast trim finish is called Aluminium Tetragon.
The new centre console and transmission tunnel section now houses the starter button, situated near the familiar iDrive rotary dial, and a wireless phone charging pad. Nearby is the gearstick, driving mode buttons, and the electric park brake switch (RIP mechanical parking brake). There's also now a decent centre console.
The Sensatec/Alcantara seats had good bolstering, the aluminium paddles are tactile, though the M Sport steering wheel’s rim is so oversized that even LeBron James would struggle to grasp it properly.
The 10.25-inch centre screen’s latest 7.0 operating system is super easy to operate and premieres BMW’s new personal assistant activated by saying ‘Hey BMW’. The instrument screen can be modified to show navigation, active safety programs, g-forces, or be minimised altogether. The head-up display jacked from a 7 Series is industry-leading for clarity and quality.
The trunk remains 480L, and the 40:20:40 folding back seats carry over. There’s more head room and shoulder room, and bigger entry and exit spaces. I’m 194cm and can sit behind my own driving position, and had my own air vents and USB plugs back there.
But for the practicality minded, the M340i xDrive wagon offered in Europe isn’t in Australia. BMW will instead offer you the X3 M40i derivative. Harrumph.
In terms of owning and operating the car, you get the standard (and short) three-year warranty, and can purchase a basic servicing package for four years and 80,000km for $1565, or pay an extra $2360 above this amount for the full Plus package that seems to cover nearly everything including pads, discs, wipers, and clutch plates.
The final key data is price. At $99,900 before on-road costs, it’s $29,000 pricier than the great 330i. Read our range review of the G20 3 Series to learn more about that. But more relevant is that it's nearly $10,000 cheaper than a Mercedes-AMG C43, helping its value equation in context.
Which is why I have little but praise for the BMW M340i xDrive, a car that gives the company a much-needed tier-two 3 Series performance sedan with more daily driving prowess than an M3, and an appreciably superior dynamic experience to the big-selling 330i.
At this very moment it’s a class leader, but the market moves quickly.