Yes, it’s an understudy to the upcoming BMW M3, but the M340i offers distinct pleasures...

What is the definition of a sports sedan? A high level of performance immediately pops to mind. This means all-round competence in terms of the drivetrain, brakes and handling. Secondly, it must look like a performance car from the outside and offer comfort, refinement and excitement on the inside.

If these are the requirements, after two weeks of testing, the most powerful G20 3 Series to date does a sterling job. Although the new M3 is on the way (set to offer all-wheel drive as well as manual rear-wheel-drive derivatives), the M340i is currently the range topper.

These 3 Series understudies have had a strong following for years. Think back to the E90 335i and even our own South African specials like the 325i S Evo 1 and 2 and the 333i. At the time, the 333i was our idea of an E30 M3. For the latest incarnation, BMW has further developed its 3,0-litre, straight six-cylinder engine with a single twin-scroll turbocharger. The result is 285 kW and 500 N.m, the former figure delivered between 5 800 and 6 500 r/min; the latter between 1 600 and 4 500 r/min.

Unlike the previous 340i, this model features BMW’s xDrive all-wheel-drive system, sending torque to all wheels as required. Connected to an eight-speed Steptronic transmission (torque converter), it was easy to do our acceleration tests. We effortlessly achieved a 0-100 km/h time of 4,53 seconds with a full tank of fuel and two adults on board. That’s close to BMW’s claimed 4,4 seconds …

Thanks to the abundance of torque, the engine enables relaxed, effortless low-engine speed acceleration in traffic. The moment you lean on the throttle – especially when sport or sport plus modes are activated – the combination of power and torque means instant acceleration. 

So, it checks the performance box. What about dynamics? It’s mighty impressive, in fact. Equipped with optional (R11 000) 19-inch wheels and adaptive M suspension (R9 900), the ride quality is firm but never crashy, just as you would expect from a sports sedan.

In sport plus, however, there is an immediate change in the car’s driving dynamics. As a result of the all-wheel-drive system, there is no wheel spin and impressive grip inspires confidence, unlike previous rear-wheel-drive 3 Series models. Driving at pace over one of our favourite mountain passes, the level to which you can push the car without activating any stability systems is surprising. You can hear the 225/40 and 255/35 tyres, fitted on the 19-inch rims, squirm before reaching the lateral limit … even then, the car is perfectly balanced with no sign of under- or oversteer. It makes for a hugely enjoyable experience as you feel safer than in any of its predecessors. The engine revs with great enthusiasm and you can’t help but enjoy the baritone voice from the six cylinders.

As one passenger during our test commented, “If it wasn’t for the ongoing power wars in terms of engine outputs, this would have made a rather appropriate full-fat M product; it is that capable!”

The transmission is another feather in the M340i’s proverbial cap. These ZF torque converters shift quickly and effortlessly, and you really need to drive a vehicle so equipped back to back with a double-clutch M-DCT to notice the quicker shift times.

The comfort of the cabin is appreciated, too. Ambient light in the door card flashes red when the door is open, and returns to blue once it is closed. Neatly stitched seats offer ample support and the thick-rim steering wheel feels great.

This particular press unit featured appealing M elements; several of which are optional. Our car had just over R165 000 worth of options and included BMW Laserlight (R15 000), head-up display (R17 000), M seat belts (R4 400) and Driving Assist Professional (R34 500). The combination of a Harman/Kardon audio system, Connected Package Professional, BMW Live Cockpit Professional and (superfluous) gesture control will set you back R24 500. These are mostly impressive technologies but the current lack of Android Auto is disappointing.



TEST SUMMARY

The G20 3 Series, a Top 12 Best Buys champion, continues to impress. It’s a deeply talented product. The smooth, powerful drivetrain is near-flawless while the M340i offers all the benefits – design, comfort, practicality – of a cooking 3 Series. The all-wheel drive means you can use more of the torque more often with significantly improved grip levels. It is cause for celebration and as one tester commented, quite possibly all the car you will ever need.  

ROAD-TEST SCORE: 4,5 stars