October 28, 2021

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2021 BMW M340i review, test drive

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What is the BMW M340i?

The M340i does two key things. It marks the triumphant return of the six-cylinder engine to the 3 Series range, harkening back to the straight-six 325i and 330i of the E90 generation that launched the model in India. Now, of course, the outgoing and upcoming M3s use straight sixes too, but with their hardcore chassis setups and prices well above Rs 1 crore, they’re out of reach of most luxury car buyers who just want a bit more performance. Secondly, the M340i offers up a long-overdue rival to the Mercedes-AMG C 43 (which is now a coupe rather than a sedan) and the soon-to-be-relaunched Audi S5 Sportback, and in doing so, bridges the huge gap between the mainstream 3 Series range and the hardcore M3. So, is it merely a flagship 3 Series, or some sort of performance model, or a little bit of both?

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M340i marks the return of BMW’s straight-six petrol engine to the mainstream 3 Series line-up in India.

BMW M340i engine, performance and dynamics

The all-powerful alphabet that precedes ‘340i’ would suggest this is a dedicated performance model, and as per BMW’s more recent model nomenclature, it is. These ‘M Performance’ models are not to be confused with the full-on M cars (like the M3), nor with the cosmetic M Sport variants of standard cars (like the 330i M Sport). Like Audi’s S cars and AMG’s 35, 43 and 53 series, these ‘softer’ performance models aim to give you a taste of the big leagues in a more affordable and approachable way.

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3.0-litre in-line six the same as in the 740Li, X5 and X7 but fettled by M to produce 387hp and 500Nm.

The power it packs is certainly its biggest calling card – 387hp and 500Nm from a 3.0-litre turbocharged straight six, and with a claimed 0-100kph time of 4.4sec, BMW says this will be the quickest car that’s assembled in India! A scan through our own test records proves they could just be right, and our V-box testing gear that recorded a 4.36sec sprint proves they were being a little modest. The C 43 did 4.95sec and the S5 5.01sec, incidentally.

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Sportier 8-speed ZF auto ‘box able to match the best DCTs for shift speed.

Instrumental in achieving this sort of acceleration off the line are a sportier iteration of ZF’s eight-speed torque-converter automatic gearbox, launch control and xDrive all-wheel drive. The gearbox is superb, pre-empting your next move brilliantly, especially when it comes to downshifts, all the while able to match the best dual-clutch units for shift speed and ferocity, and holding on patiently to each gear in manual mode while you squint at the unintelligible digital tacho to see where the redline is.

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Power delivery is strong and impressively manageable though it lacks the punch of the M3.

The power delivery, even in Sport+ mode, is strong, but impressively manageable. The engine doesn’t give you quite the punch in the guts as an M3’s but that’s just as well for what is meant to be a more accessible performance car. It revs freely and smoothly all the way to 7,000rpm in every gear, every time. Spec nerds will have noticed the 387hp is considerably higher than the 340hp this engine makes in the 740Li, 840i, X5 and X7, and that’s because, like in the Z4, this engine has been fettled by the M Division to be altogether more aggressive. It sounds better too, thanks to a sports exhaust, and for many, this will be a big part of the appeal of stretching for the six-cylinder version.

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No adaptive dampers but ride quality is still good. Car sits 10mm lower than regular 3 Series

The M Division has worked on the suspension too, which is 10mm lower than a 330i’s and a bit firmer too. There are no adaptive dampers, which is a bit of a shame for a dual-nature car of this sort (you get them in a C 43), but BMW says they’re saving that for the M3 and M4. That said, the balance they’ve achieved with this passive setup is rather good – a nice, tied-down feeling in the corners, good composure at high speeds, but a ride that errs a bit on the lumpy side. There’s also variable-ratio steering and upgraded brakes.

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No RWD only mode for the xDrive system but Sport and Sport+ modes are more rear-biased.

The xDrive in this car, it must be noted, isn’t the specialised M version we’ve seen in the likes of the M5, so you can’t switch to RWD mode. However, putting the car in Sport or Sport+ does apportion more power to the rear, and there’s also a sports rear differential that shuffles torque left to right to pull you out of a corner faster. The result is a clearly rear-biased feel, but one that isn’t quite as dramatic as we’d hoped, and the M340i has quite a bit of safe understeer built into it. If you want the rear to come around, you really have to floor it, and be on your toes to catch it as it snaps from understeer to oversteer in an instant. This, of course, won’t likely be an issue for the majority of buyers, who will still get to enjoy an inherently well-balanced sports sedan with the safety net of AWD to help deploy the added power better.

 

BMW M340i exterior, interior, features and luxury

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Gun-metal grey finish and revised grille pattern one of the few giveaways that this is the M340i.

On the surface, the role of being a top-spec 3 Series is played a little less convincingly by the M340i. For one, there’s very little visual differentiation, inside and out, from the four-cylinder 330i in its M Sport variant. Only real afficionados will spot the gunmetal grey accents on the grille, bumpers and wing mirrors, or the fact that the grille has a slightly different pattern for its slats, and that the exhaust surrounds are now trapezoidal. The higher-spec Laserlight headlamps have a grander DRL signature, and the 18-inch alloy wheels are just the right size and look good, but again, exactly the same set you’ll find on a 330i. You can, however, spec different-looking and even larger 19-inch wheels at the dealership.

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Laserlight headlamps get grander DRL signatures.

Inside, the differences are even fewer, with perhaps the only changes being a neat textured trim on the dashboard and black part-Alcantara upholstery with a few embellishments in the signature M colours. It’s a well-appointed cabin with a nice, sporty feel to be sure, but we wish there was just a little something extra to make it feel more special. It is worth noting that while we forgave some rather basic interior plastics in the lesser 3 Series, like the outer AC vents on the dash, they’re a little harder to overlook in this more expensive version.

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Different texture inserts and part-alcantara upholstery only notable changes inside.

Again, the equipment list is largely the same as the 330i M Sport, but that’s no bad thing. There’s a generous list of features and gizmos, including the likes of multi-colour ambient lighting, three-zone climate control, a digital instruments screen, a 12.3-inch touchscreen with gesture control, a sunroof and wireless phone charging. What the M340i adds is higher-spec adaptive LED headlamps with laser high beams, a 16-speaker Harman/Kardon audio system, a heads-up display and, finally, Android Auto in addition to Apple CarPlay, both of which work wirelessly.

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Heads-up display part of additional kit over the regular 3.

BMW M340i estimated price and verdict

The new M3 and M4 are not too far away from an India launch, so die-hard fans and truly serious performance enthusiasts won’t have to wait long. But as we’ve seen with this car’s competitors and similarly positioned SUVs in rival brands’ portfolios, there’s a huge gap in the market for those who just want a bit more without paying too much more. And as it’s locally assembled, we hear BMW is going for an exceptionally aggressive price – around Rs 64 lakh (ex-showroom). For perspective, a BMW 530d costs Rs 69 lakh, and the CBU imported Mercedes-AMG C43 Coupé costs Rs 80.17 lakh.

The M340i fits that ‘middle child’ bill perfectly then and, frankly, should have been launched a long time ago. You get a fully loaded 3 Series with a strong six-cylinder engine and just enough performance enhancements to elevate the experience without taking away comfort and usability. It’s an ideal foil to the C 43 and the S5, and in case you want a bit more practicality, there’s an X3 M40i version coming very soon too.

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