There are two things that stand out when I think back on my week with the BMW M340i xDrive.
Firstly, and without wanting to launch into a long-winded anti-SUV tirade, it was great to drive a traditional sedan again. But not just any four-door, mind you. A BMW 3 Series, and all the dynamic loveliness that goes with it.
Secondly, new cars have become really, really expensive in recent times, particularly those from premium brands.
Blame the weak rand and post-pandemic “shortage economy” inflation if you will, but the end result is that dream cars which might have seemed attainable “one day” are now a bigger stretch than ever for most South Africans, even those who are at the grander end of the earning scale.
Remember how we cringed when the previous-gen BMW M3 and M4 hit the shelves nine years ago with price tags hovering around the R1 million mark? Well today you’re looking at just under R2.1 million for an M3. And even the “Deputy Head” M340i xDrive has worked its way up to R1.36 million.
Yet spending some time with the latter recently got us debating - do you really need that M3 or M4?
You might have your own answer to that question but in my book the M340i xDrive hits a sweet spot.
The 3 Series has always felt really rewarding to drive, thanks to its balanced rear-wheel drive chassis and near perfect weight distribution. As a car it’s also nicely sized, not too big or cumbersome, but not small and skittish either.
The M340i, of course, has all-wheel drive, but it’s a fully variable, rear-biased set-up that still allows you to indulge in some oversteer, particularly in Sport or Sport+ modes, where even more torque is apportioned to the rear.
That being said, if actual drifting is your thing then this car is not for you as there isn’t a mode that gives you full rear-wheel drive.
But the entertainment factor is most certainly still there, along with that confidence-inspiring AWD safety net, and this car’s corner-carving ability is hard to fault. The M340i also comes with an M Sport rear differential, with a fully variable locking function to improve traction, as well as lowered M Sport suspension.
It’s a car that you can really dance through corners with confidence, when conditions allow, and the variable-ratio sports steering system makes you feel connected to the road, which is rare these days.
Unlike a certain rival from Stuttgart that now likes to fire on four cylinders, the M340i still has a six-cylinder powertrain, and believe me there are few engines that sound as good as a Bavarian straight-six.
The latest version of the B58, as it’s coded, produces 285kW and 500Nm, pairing with an eight-speed M Steptronic auto gearbox.
Off the mark this car feels extremely quick and power delivery is silky smooth. With a 0-100km/h sprint time of 4.3 seconds, this is a serious performance sedan and it’s just 0.8 seconds slower than the M3 if we go by the claimed times. If you live life by the quarter mile then maybe you’re still going to want an M3 but, for the majority of us, I suspect an M340i will do just fine.
Recent facelift and interior upgrade
Late last year the BMW 3 Series range was given a facelift as well as upgraded interior electronics.
The exterior changes are even more pronounced in the M340i, which can be told apart by the mesh design in its kidney grille and lower air intakes, as well as its sharper front bumper edges, gloss black M mirror caps, trapezoidal tailpipes and a small rear spoiler.
The M340i rides on unique 18-inch alloy wheels, but 19-inchers can be ordered as an option.
The cabin gets a comprehensive overhaul too, now incorporating BMW’s widescreen Curved Display, in which a 12.3-inch digital instrument panel and 14.9-inch central infotainment touchscreen merge within a single panel.
The new set-up houses the latest-generation BMW iDrive that’s powered by BMW’s Operating System 8, which can receive software updates over time. What’s more, the BMW Intelligent Personal Assistant has gained some new skills and certain functions such as adjusting the climate control or opening a window can now be executed via voice command.
The new cockpit layout brings a significant reduction in the number of traditional buttons and switches on the dashboard, with even the ventilation controls moving to the screen.
Although the system is fairly user-friendly for a modern screen-centric design, and you do at least get a climate menu icon on the screen that’s visible at all times, the lack of traditional controls could lead to greater distraction behind the wheel.
Just bring back the buttons and knobs, carmakers!
There are a lot of cars that we’re going to miss one day in the future when everything goes electric, and fairly high on our list will be a 3 Series with a six-cylinder engine.
While the BMW M340i xDrive is expensive at R1.363 million, it is a good R300 000 cheaper than the albeit more powerful but less vocal Mercedes-AMG C43.
And for that you get a sedan with truly exciting performance coupled with that sweet BMW straight-six soundtrack, as well as a balanced chassis that has the ability to entertain and inspire confidence. And what’s not to love about all that?