TEST DRIVE: 2020 BMW M340i Not a Budget-M3 but Still a Great Car
3 Series, Test Drives | by Nico DeMattia
Awhile back, I wrote an article in which I claimed that the BMW M340i was the first M Performance car that could actually keep me from buying a proper M car. What I meant by that was the M340i was so good to drive; fast, capable and fun; that it would satisfy me enough to keep me from spending more money for more performance. However, now that I’ve had it for a week on the road, I realize I was wrong. The M340i is not a poor-man’s M3. It’s a different car altogether with en entirely different purpose.
When I first drove the BMW M340i, it was on track at the Thermal Club, in Palm Springs, California. On that brutally hot day, the M340i was a delight. Its brilliant straight-six engine, shocking performance and handling balance made it a blast on a circuit, where it could be pushed harder than what is safe on public roads.
At the limit, or as close to its limit as my courage would allow, it was genuinely good fun. The steering felt sharp and nicely weighted, its chassis was willing to play and it would even slide its back end out a bit on corner exit, in a smooth, predictable manner. It really impressed me and was surprisingly well-behaved on track for a car that wasn’t a full-on M Division product. That’s what led me to believe that it could hold me over from the upcoming M3.
On the road, however, my mind changed a bit. Its performance is still impressive, of that there’s no doubt, but the car’s on-road behavior can’t emulate the specialness of a proper M car. Though, after spending some time with it, I’m not sure it’s meant to.
My test car was spec’d about as well as an enthusiast could hope for. It was a rear-wheel drive, Portimao Blue BMW M340i with upgraded 19-inch wheels and sticky Michelin Pilot Sport non-run-flat tires. Not only was it the correct spec but it looks great, too. The star of the show lies under its hood, though.
Powering the M340i is BMW’s B58 engine, also seen in the Z4 M40i. It’s a 3.0 liter turbocharged I6 and it’s a masterclass in engine development, truly. It delivers a whopping 382 hp (North American-spec) and 369 lb-ft of torque with a silky smoothness that completely belies its forward thrust. It also sounds fantastic, better even than the S55 in the M2 Competition. It has the ability to be muscular and growly, as well as high-pitched and musical. It’s like the Marvin Gaye of engines. Add to that a ZF eight-speed automatic, which delivers almost DCT-quick shifts that are somehow also imperceptibly smooth. Its powertrain refinement at its very best.
And that’s really the main theme with the BMW M340i — refinement. Whereas a track day left me with the impression that it was more of an M3-lite, it’s not. Instead, it’s more like a 3 Series that’s been given grand-touring skills. It’s brutally fast but also smooth, calm and refined. Its chassis is plenty capable but it keeps you isolated from what’s going on underneath. Its steering is also sharp and nicely weighted but it’s no more communicative than in the cheaper 330i.
Some of its problem, if you can call it a problem, is it’s so extremely capable that it takes speeds that would warrant jail time to really feel how special it is.