by: Mike Ginsca,
Last year, the BMW 3-series received a complete refresh that brought back the fun-to-drive nature of older generations. New for this generation is the return of the inline-6 cylinder engine to the 3-series.
Engine – The base engine for this 7th generation 3-series is a turbocharged 4-cylinder that produces 255hp and 295 lb-ft of torque. A very healthy dose of power but if you’re wanting for more, the M340i produces 382 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque from the 3.0L turbocharged inline-6. This engine has a lot of character. It makes all the right noises, it has virtually no turbo lag, power and torque is plentiful throughout the rpm range, and it’s even decent on gas. There is nothing bad to say about this 3.0L inline-6 engine because it’s a very good all-round engine. It has just enough power to keep the M340i interesting for a long time but also enough to get you into trouble if you’re not careful. Even with the addition of xDrive AWD, most of the power goes to the back wheels and the traction control system in Sport+ mode does allow for some wheel slip.
But when you’re being civilized and driving the car to and from work, the engine can return up to 11.4 L/100km (20.6 mpg) in a city according to EnerGuide. The numbers improve if you’re on a highway to 8.3 L/100km (28.3 mpg).
Transmission – Like many other current BMW vehicles, the 2020 M340i is equipped with an 8-speed automatic transmission. Just like the engine, the 8-speed automatic has no faults. It shifts smoothly under normal driving conditions and shifts quickly when the car is in the Sport+ mode. It’s also a pretty clever transmission as it uses the navigation system and adaptive cruise control sensors to determine when to change gears. For example, when approaching a slower moving vehicle on a highway, it could downshift and use engine braking rather than applying brakes to slow down.
Braking – The BMW M340i comes equipped with 4-piston fixed calipers and 348mm diameter front brake discs. They provide excellent stopping performance with a confidence inspiring brake pedal feel. Very little effort is required in daily driving situations to stop the car as the brakes have a very good initial bite and stopping force. Under more spirited drives, the brake pedal travel remains fairly consistent even when things get hot behind the wheels.
Handling – Going around corners is what made BMW cars famous and the envy of others. The new G20 generation has brought back the enjoyment of driving around a twisty mountain or canyon road. The steering is precise and unbelievably quick. The front end darts to wherever you turn the wheel like a mosquito. As mentioned before, in Sport+ mode the traction control and stability control systems do allow for some rear wheel slip making the car feel playful but not completely out of your control. The M340i feels like the rightful successor to the legendary E46 M3 from the early 2000’s.
Ride Comfort – This being a sports sedan, the ride is firmer than in other sedans. M sport suspension is standard but this demo vehicle came equipped with the optional Adaptive M Suspension. Depending on which drive mode the car is in, the shocks adjust stiffness to provide sporty driving or a comfortable drive. In Comfort mode, the ride is more than acceptable for city driving or long road trips on highways. In the stiffer Sport setting, you can still drive on city streets without getting “beat up” by the ride but you may want to play Minesweeper with bigger potholes.
Interior Space – Front occupants have plenty of space even when they are 6’4” like myself. The front seats provide a wide range of adjustability including thigh support. Rear occupant space is a bit more limited in the usual places, leg and head room. But for a small class of sedan, it’s an adequate amount for teenagers or smaller adults. Trunk space is very good for this class of sedan.
Noise, Vibration, & Harshness – When in Comfort mode, the cabin of the BMW M340i is well insulated from outside wind, road, and engine noises. Even with this demo vehicle’s snow tires, tire noise is not overly intrusive. You’re aware of it but it won’t get annoying over longer trips.
When in Sport mode, the exhaust makes some interesting and exciting noises. Below 3,000 rpms there isn’t much to listen to but above that number, the Inline-6 starts to sound more like it’s BMW M4 big brother. Let off the throttle and the engine makes a few pops and bangs, not to the same extent as the M4 but just enough to keep the overall driving experience exciting.
Odds and Ends
Gadgets – The 2020 BMW M340i xDrive is well equipped and can be further equipped with a lot of gadgets and gizmos. The more traditional features like navigation, heated seats, heads-up display etc. are all there or can be equipped. But things like Back-up Assistant where the car remembers how you parked and can then back out of a tight spot automatically without any steering input from you is a new feature. Gesture control is also a neat new feature where the car recognizes certain hand gestures to control radio volume or skip track among others. It is also available with something called Extended Traffic Jam Assistant which is just a fancy name for semi-autonomous driving. Basically the system will take over driving at speeds up to 60 km/h without having to have your hands on the steering wheel.
The infotainment system does have a steep learning curve. When first using it, it can be daunting to some but after a few minutes of playing around with it and pushing every button, it becomes less convoluted. The screen resolution is among the best in the business. It is crystal clear, sharp, and vibrant. It can be controlled via the touchscreen or the rotary dial by the arm rest and gear selector.
Exterior Design – The overall design of this 7th generation of 3-series is more mature than previous generations. The M340 builds up on it with larger air intakes in the front bumper but it doesn’t look like it’s overdone. The kidney grilles are properly proportioned to the rest of the front fascia and feature active shutters which close at highway speeds for improved aerodynamics. Around back, the tail lights remind me a bit of Lexus tail lights with the “L shaped” brake lights and the dual exhaust pipes have a more rectangular design as opposed to the circular pipes of the 330i. Overall the 2020 3-series is a good looking car that doesn’t scream “look at me” like certain BMW models of the past.
Interior Design – The design of the cabin is what one would expect from a modern day BMW. It looks like it belongs in the current century without it being too over the top. The instrument cluster is fully digital but it’s not as customizable as Audi’s virtual cockpit which in my opinion defeats the purpose of a full digital display. To the right is the infotainment screen with smartphone-like resolution. Below it are physical buttons and knobs for the climate and stereo and further down the center console are the drive mode buttons, parking sensor button and the engine start/stop button.
The interior materials look and feel as they should in a premium vehicle and the “Cognac Vernasca Leather” has a nice contrast to the “Tanzanite Blue” exterior paint. There is also an ambient lighting system with multiple colours to choose from but don’t expect it to be as dramatic as the one found in current Mercedes-Benz models.
Overall this review has been overly positive of the new 2020 BMW M340i xDrive and that’s because it genuinely is one of the best all-round sport sedans to come from the Bavarian brand. Unfortunately there is a price to pay for all this goodness and it is a $72,200 CAD ($66,975 USD) hit to your wallet for this, as equipped, 3-series. The base MSRP for the M340i is $61,850 CAD ($56,000 USD) which is still more expensive than the starting price for the Audi S4 or Mercedes-Benz C43 AMG 4Matic. But is it worth the extra money? I think it is because for the first time in a long while, the “Ultimate Driving Machine” is back.
Thank you to BMW Canada for providing the vehicle. www.BMW.ca