BMW M340i review | Junior M3 driven
Fast cars and now being made in India and the BMW M340i is the first BMW M Performance car to be locally assembled. And it’s claim to fame is not just the fact that it is a junior M3, but it is also the fastest accelerating car to be made in India.
The M340i you see here is the first of the BMW M Performance cars, a half way house between the M Sport-kitted 320d / 330i and the full-blown M3. M Performance is to BMW what the AMG 45s and 35s are to Mercedes — fast but not scary, firm but not back-breaking, everyday usability over pops and crackles. And more affordable! The latter will be rammed home with local assembly, and we hear it will be priced, aggressively, in the Rs 60 lakh (ex-showroom) ball park. It signals BMW’s commitment to performance cars, a segment where it has been steadily losing market share to AMG though, it must be said, M’s share of voice, their army of fan boys, even the perception, all show no sign of diminishing.
Styling of the BMW M340i
This G20 BMW 3 Series has always been a handsome car and the BMW M340i makes do with a very subtle visual lift over the BMW 330i M Sport. You get a silver-finished garnish for the kidney grills and tweaks to the bumper along with prominent side vents in the nostrils and LED lights with laser beams. The back end is differentiated by the more prominent twin exhausts and a hint of a boot spoiler. And that’s it. The 18-inch wheels are carried over from the 330i M Sport but the M340i has a better stance as it is 15mm lower. There will be a 19-inch wheel option along with more carbon exterior trim bits, which you will need to slap on if you don’t want your M340i to go completely unnoticed over the 330i. Even the interiors are bang identical save for the head up display and the M340i lettering on the digital instrument cluster. You don’t get M buttons on the steering wheel as in the M3, but you do get M colours stitched into the seat belts and seat edges. That said the 3 Series has always had an absolutely lovely cabin and there’s nothing to complain about here.
Turbo-charged straight-six for the BMW M340i
The meat of the matter though is under the hood, the 4-cylinder making way for a turbo’d straight-six. When BMW says Twin Power that doesn’t mean twin turbos, rather a twin-scroll turbocharger and it boosts power to 381.5bhp. For perspective, the M3 makes just under 100 horses more. More to the point there’s 500Nm of torque, which peaks at 1800 and stays flat till 5000rpm, making the M340i effortlessly quick. And aiding the effortless performance is xDrive all-wheel-drive traction which fires the M340i to 100kmph in just 4.4 seconds, all sans drama. Where the M3, even the 330i, and struggles with traction off the line the M340i just grips and goes. Where rear-driven 3s wag their hips and flash that ESP triangle at you when you floor it on concrete or wet roads, the M340i stays thoroughly planted, pawing away at the surface, delivering terrific grip, poise and most importantly g-forces. This is a fast car, of that there’s no question, and the M-tweaks make the engine an absolute beauty. The boost comes on early and hard, and if you keep your foot in the M340i charges smoothly and vocally to the 7000rpm redline. And these aren’t noises piped into the cabin via the speakers. Of course it isn’t boisterous like a full-fat M but, with the M exhaust, there is a nice sporty accompaniment every time you hot foot it.
Other M division inputs on BMW M340i
The dampers have been retuned for better body control but it doesn’t come at the expense of ride comfort. This is, of course, firmer than your regular 320d and 300i and the reduced ground clearance requires a bit of caution over the very steep speed breakers. Full disclosure, it touched once on the way to our shoot location. But I can also tell you that the ground clearance isn’t a problem. Even the ride quality is quite acceptable for what is a properly fast car — at a cruise it is comfortable, so too while pottering around in the city. It’s a great balance, the ride, with just enough firmness to remind you that this is an M car (albeit a junior one at that) and enough compliance to make it your daily driver. You can even be chauffeured in the back of one, though with the driving thrills on offer its hard to imagine why you’d ever forego the 'wheel.
Now I asked BMW’s product planners why didn’t they bring the rear-wheel-drive M340i to India. To which their simple answer was it would not save much money so why not go the full nine yards with the India-spec. Fair enough. The M340i also gets an M differential on the back axle and together with the chassis tweaks (including new rear suspension links), it’s appreciably better than a regular 3 Series in putting down its power.
BMW M340i gets xDrive all-wheel-drive
The xDrive system delivers a mountain of grip. The lowered and M-tuned suspension has terrific body control and resistance to roll. The M differential delivers torque-vectoring on the back axle. And there’s immense engagement and agility that gets progressively ramped up as you go from Sport to Sport +. The half-way Sport ESP setting lets the rear come into play, kicking the tail out on corner exits and delivering a touch of power oversteer. And when you switch it off completely, well, BMW lets you take full responsibility for your actions.
Now my big fear with xDrive was that the M340i would not feel like a 3 Series. It would not be playful or entertaining. It would feel too, well, Audi-like. Inexhaustible grip but no wild moments. But… the M340i lets you switch off ESP completely and the electronically controlled multi-plate clutch along with the M diff lets it power oversteer gloriously. Get aggressive with the throttle and you will have to dial in big armfuls of opposite lock as you can see in the pictures. What you won’t be able to do is spew tyre smoke and destroy the rear tyres, the front axle coming into play and dragging the M340i out of the slide. In that sense it feels a little strange. With all 3 Series’ you slide till you run out of grip or road. In the M340i you slide, get a big angle, and before you can bin it the front end grabs and straightens out the car. At first this can seem a little strange, and you have to be quick to unwind lock as the front snaps the car back into line. But as you spend more time with the car you begin to appreciate the setup — in everyday driving it makes the M340i so much quicker than it would be with only rear-drive. Bite and drive out of corners is not only immense it also feels safer and more capable. Sport mode enhances the rear-bias and you can bring the back axle into play on the throttle, rotating the rear to square-off the corner, a smidge of oppo to catch the slide, pace and grace that has us falling head over heels for the junior M3. The M-calibrated steering is joyfully responsive and, in case you were wondering, wonderfully uncorrupted by having to send some of the power to the fronts. It’s light, informative and tells you what the tyres are up to, be it in the rare moments of understeer or the rather more abundant oversteer moments.
Verdict on the BMW M340i
In a nutshell the BMW M340i is perfect.
Sure I’d have liked better wheels, a more throaty exhaust and more of a visual differentiation to the regular 330i. To the casual observer, this could be just another 3 Series with an M Sport kit, and BMW have only themselves to blame on this count. After all BMW have been rather indiscriminate in the slapping of M badges onto everything, to the net effect of diluting the true worth of that Motorsport badge. And that’s the only real criticism I can muster in this test. The M340i is a proper M car. A junior M3. And by every objective yardstick, absolutely brilliant.