BMW M340i xDrive: Formerly known as Prince

BY Vivek Max R

True commitment to (most of) BMW’s traditional values is needed

Let’s take a trip down memory lane, starting with BMW’s E36-generation 3 Series. Putting aside the hallowed performance-sedan king, the M3, if one wanted the cream-of-the-crop regular 3er, one bought a 328i featuring a creamy-smooth naturally-aspirated inline 6-cylinder engine putting out a stonking (for the day) 190hp and 280Nm of torque.

The E46 continued the 328i-as-the-regular-chosen-one tradition until the new millennium where the 330i, still with a straight-6, put out 228hp and 300Nm of torque and further tented enthusiasts’ pants in the process. Then came the E90, which also carried a 3-litre engine in the 330i of the time but with a bump in horsepower to 255hp as prince of the hill…

… until…

BMW adopted turbocharging for its petrol powerplant. The new 3-litre turbo straight-6 brought with it an eye-watering 302hp and 400Nm of torque, numbers that no doubt sent already pant-tented BMW aficionados into bouts of seizure-inducing orgasms, while passionate Saab enthusiasts likely stood at the sidelines giggling and muttering, “so, you lot have finally seen the light eh?”

Thing is, all of these 3ers were front-engined rear-wheel drive.

Fast-forwarding to the present finds the $288,888 without COE G20 M340i sitting in a niche. It is no longer positioned as the top regular 3er, but rather as an M Performance vehicle sold through BMW’s performance dealerships worldwide – Performance Munich Autos in Singapore.

Factor in the current COE price of $82k and the M340i comes within striking distance of the $376,581 Audi S4, also an all-wheel drive 3-litre turbocharged sport sedan that makes 353hp and 500Nm of torque. Altogether, that’s good for an electronically-limited 250km/h top speed and 4.7 second sprint from 0-100km/h. Compelling?

Moreover, even though it still sports a straight-6 turbo engine, the M340i is now available in Singapore only with all-wheel drive, or xDrive as BMW calls it. Cue moans and groans from hardcore BMW enthusiasts.

Since the regular G20 has already been covered in a previous article, we’ll simply focus on what makes this an M Performance vehicle.

The Important Bits

The M340i features bulging intakes up front, which sets it apart from the regular 3er and makes that front-end look sharper and meaner. Don’t be deceived by those slim headlights though – they’re up there with the best that we‘ve tested.

The rest of the car exercises restraint in its styling though, and this is a good thing. Subtle M badges feature on the front flanks, and the model designation and ‘xDrive’ on the boot, which makes the M340i a perfect candidate to be de-badged into a sleeper.

Once de-badged, the main giveaway to the M340i’s performance credentials would be those humongous blue four-piston callipers clamping down on 374mm brake discs up front, and boy do they shed speed with alacrity. They’re helped by a staggered set of Goodyear Eagle F1 Asymmetric 3 tyres, 225/40R19 up front, and 255/35R19 in the rear. They offer good grip on sweeping curves while being nice and quiet at highway cruising speeds.

Further helping things remain stable in corners is the M340i’s standard-fit adaptive M suspension, which was left in Comfort mode for most of the test-drive. The suspension is undoubtedly taut even in Comfort, but by no means uncomfortable, even over an unpaved gravelly track and the (now admittedly less) pockmarked plain of Pasir Ris Drive 3, further affirming what this author wrote in his G310R motorcycle review that BMW sure knows the dark art of suspension tuning.

Inside, the M340i’s ergonomics are spot-on and what’s expected of a BMW. Those bolstered front seats hug their occupants well while negotiating twists and turns, but do not impede ingress and egress.

At the rear, this longer-of-limb and shorter-of-torso author can sit behind his own driving position – just. With shins firmly up against the plastic seatback cover, it would not be for longer journeys.

The Performance

Speaking of gravelly tracks, driving down one at between 40-50km/h in Comfort mode, with stability control turned on and while dodging potholes, this author inadvertently managed to coax the rear-end of the M340i to progressively come around in a mini-drift. The M340i did it not once but thrice with so much grace and composure, and all that was needed was constant pressure on the accelerator and some opposite lock with arms crossed for nearly two seconds to hold the mini-drift before the car pulled straight ahead. It was EASY.

Back on blacktop, the M340i was chucked into longer sweepers and tightening-radius bends, and it gripped the roads like a leech, with the M Sport differential assisting to rotate the car sufficiently so as to not require extra steering input. Although all-wheel drive, the M340i distinctly feels rear-driven. Remember, the straight-6 turbo in the M340i puts out 374hp and 500Nm of torque, and sending all of that to JUST the rear wheels is a recipe to upset most average enthusiast-drivers’ abilities, so BMW’s xDrive system is much appreciated.

xDrive showed itself well on a deserted road when the accelerator was floored from a complete standstill while still in Comfort mode, stability systems turned on and the gearbox in regular Auto. The M340i, with its straight-6 wailing, took off and shot down the road with such an alarming rate of acceleration that this author’s stomach rose into his throat. BMW claims a 0-100km/h sprint of 4.4 seconds, and by the seat-of-pants, the M340i actually feels quicker. For most enthusiasts, this level of performance is likely way more than enough for a daily driver.

And boy does it do the daily-driver bit well. The M340i starts up with a naughty bark from its exhaust, but remains quiet and composed for the rest of the everyday commute. It even averaged 8.7-litres per 100km or 11.5km/l over 495.5km under this author’s rather leaden right foot, helped a little by the 48-volt mild hybrid system which shuts the engine down at traffic lights and offers 11hp of boost when needed. Though some ways away from BMW’s claimed 7.3-litres per 100km, the returned fuel economy figures are impressive nonetheless considering this car’s power potential.

To 3 or Not To 3

Colleague Marcus Lim’s article on the BMW M440i Gran Coupe is titled “Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman,” and the title of this article mimics that with good reason.

If the 2.8- and 3.0-litre straight-6 variants could be thought of as ‘princes’ of the 3 Series range, adding an ‘M’ before 340i places this car at a whole new level. This is understandable, because if BMW were to solely sell full-on M cars through its performance dealerships, it wouldn’t sell as many as they do. M Performance variants offer more choice at the showroom and also help to show better sales numbers at the end of the fiscal year. However, this also means that the M340i is no longer ‘prince’ of the 3ers.

Moreover, and again putting the full-on performance-sedan king M3 aside, the M340i is the entry point to a straight-6 BMW 3 Series today. Also, the price difference between it and the 320i is over $100,000 with COE factored in. So, who is the M340i really for?

Probably someone who could afford an M3 but wants to remain subtle. Someone who craves some of the M3’s performance some of the time but wants a daily-drivable 3 series with a straight-6. A true enthusiast who subscribes to (most of) BMW’s traditional values. For him or her, the BMW M340i awaits.

Fast Facts
BMW M340i xDrive
Engine: 2,998cc in-line 6, turbocharged
Power: 374hp @ 5,500-6,500rpm
Torque: 500Nm @ 1,900-5,000rpm
Gearbox: 8-speed automatic
Top Speed: 250km/h (limited)
0-100km/h: 4.4 seconds
VES Band: C1 (S$15,000 surcharge)
Price (as tested): S$288,888 without COE
Contact: Performance Munich Autos (BMW M)