2021 BMW M340i xDrive road test review
Taking the middle ground usually results in being neither here nor there. But that isn't entirely a bad thing, not if you're the BMW M340i xDrive. It's a car that is aimed to deliver substantially more than what the average 3 Series-seeker wants, but is not ready to shell out either the money required or isn't prepared for the hardcore performance of a full-blown M3. So, yes, the M340i is a fence-sitter, but it's a broad fence, one that straddles a big divide, and in the bargain brings some old-school BMW magic back into the limelight.
This particular M340i also wears the distinction of being BMW India's first made in India M car. Like their compatriots from Stuttgart, BMW has now started building M Performance cars in India.
BMW M340i design
The M340i's stage act begins with the cars proportions, it gets into the role of a performance sedan with panache and glitz. The M340i draws on the 3 Series gorgeous lines and elevates it with some additional body work to bring out that sense of dynamism and strength complementary of the M badge it wears. The chiselled front apron with the massive air intakes, the 10 spoke alloys, the metal work on the grille, even the rear apron with the massive exhausts, they're all aggressively detailed and personified to call attention to the car. You'd immediately notice the M340i was special, and not just because of that burnt orange shade that drips lusciousness from every panel!
The cabin's pretty much the same as the standard 3 Series sedan, though you do get firmer and more supportive seats for the driver and passenger. Apart from the badge on the steering wheel and the door sill plate, there is nothing else to distinguish this as a more potent sedan. And that's entirely fine, because here is where it needs to lean a bit to the left as well. The M340i is supposed to be more than just a performance sedan, it is also designed to be a daily driver, a car you can potter about town in, comfortably. Even take the family along for a lazy Sunday drive if need be. And in that regard, the M340i wears that suit very well. It's got the creature comforts worthy of a luxury sedan, though space, especially at the rear is a bit of a squeeze. The larger issue is the boot space that is compromised because of a space saver spare tyre placed in there, given the issues BMW owners in India have faced with the run flat tyres in the past.
2021 BMW M340i engine, performance and efficiency
But what really defines the M 340i is its inline 6-cylinder B58 turbo-petrol engine. A super silky motor, that can only be described as a pair of silken gloves filled with lead. When the M340i punches, you feel the hit. The 5,800rpm mark where the 387 horses manifest themselves, comes up intensely quick, goaded along the way with 500Nm of torque stepping in at 1,850rpm all the way up to 5,000rpm. That wide torque band really helps push the M340i's agenda forward sharply. It wants to thrill you, it wants to excite and it does this with a singular focus so sharp, it would make any start-up watch in awe. The engine is also turbocharged using a twin-scroll turbo in an effort to keep costs low, instead of the more expensive twin-turbo setup in some of the other M cars. There's little lag, and the turbo is quick to get the engine into the peak power band rapidly, exhuming a nice whine too while at it.
The M340i hits the ton in 4.4 seconds, that's not just BMW's claims, we hit the exact same figures on our test runs. That figure is pretty amazing, because most cars for India don't shape up like that for various reasons, mildly detuned engines, differences in European and Indian specs, tyre quality, etc. What is interesting though is that India gets the higher state of tune B58B30O1 motor, unlike some markets like the US which get a detuned M340i that makes lesser power.
The M340i has a host of driving modes, but between Eco Pro, Comfort and Sport, there is a distinct difference. Eco Pro feels the most subdued, and Comfort mode can get you everywhere quickly, but it lacks the drama and urgent pace of the sport mode. Sport on the other hand can feel a bit much, especially if you're in crowded spaces and the M340i just does not get the space to spins its wheels faster. But get an open road, with as many corners as possible and sport mode literally feels like it wires the M340i to your brain. There isn't a moment of hesitation, it gets on the boil in an instant. So you get sharp acceleration, but it also becomes very linear in a corner. And that's because the M340i has an e-diff which regulates power delivery to all four wheels, enabling every ounce of horsepower to be utilised optimally between the four tyres. And it's not just the e-diff, the new 8-speed Steptronic Sport transmission that comes from ZF is also a cracker. It's the same transmission, the highly capable 8HP, that's used in the 3 Series, but it is designed specifically for all wheel drive vehicles and has been tweaked to match the higher and wider torque spread of the M340i. Shorter gearing gets you quicker shift times and thus faster acceleration. It's even got a Launch Control feature that enables quicker acceleration off the line.
The M340i has a fantastic engine note, don't expect AGM-isque bass drops, but there is an unruffled sonorous tone that rises as the revs cross 4,000rpm. Some clever trickery also gets you an exhaust note seeping in through the speakers, in sync with the rpm.
However get into Eco Pro mode and the engine does feel like a dud. That sport mode is great to be in, but highly inefficient if you use it all the time. Eco pro does just the opposite, choking peak power and delaying responses from the transmission by a few fractions of a second to provide better fuel efficiency. In our city runs we got a best of around 8.2kmpl, and out on the highway that number goes up to 12.8kmpl which is better than what we got on the BMW Z4, though that's a lighter car. So an overall figure of 9.35kmpl is pretty impressive.
2021 BMW M340i ride and handling
The M340i xDrive comes equipped with BMW's M Sport suspension setup that uses a lot of performance parts to give it the agility and dynamic ability worthy of a M car. So you get more rigid bearings and additional body struts, firmer springs, anti-roll bars and higher camber angles. And it works pretty well. Chasing down corners you don't get the sense of body roll that you do in the standard 3 Series saloon. It's better controlled but at the same time there is a fair amount of choppiness you get on our road conditions. That choppiness comes from the firmer spring rates BMW uses on this car and it can be a bit unsettling at times. The only way to negate its effects is to reduce speeds and wait for the road to smoothen out again. What the M340i needs is a good road, one where the tarmac is smooth with few ruffles. Then it comes into its own, flowing from corner to corner with grace, stitching each curve eloquently.
The electric steering is precise but lacks feedback, and that is something you can live with. Most modern car steering systems are electrically assisted and it does take some of the fun out of the equation. The M340i isn't much different, though the weight and balance it provides makes it simple to place the M340i exactly where you want it.
The e-diff also contributes massively to the dynamics, by regulating power delivery to each wheel rather than using the brakes to restore control and stability in a corner. So for instance if you understeer, rather than apply the brake to the inner wheel to reduce its speed, the diff provides the outer wheel with more torque allowing you to power out of the corner. Similarly the diff controls oversteer and even directional changes while hard braking. All you feel is that seat of the pants, thrill-a-minute, joy ride where the M340i seamlessly takes you right to the edge and back. And if you're up for it, get into Sport Plus, and push the M340i a wee bit harder before your brain shuts that silliness down.
On the comfort front, if driven sedately the M340i is just as comfortable as the regular 3 series. Unfortunately BMW does not offer adaptive suspension on this car, so ride quality can't be altered to suit the surface.
Living with the 2021 BMW M340i
The M340i xDrive is a fairly easy sedan to drive daily. Despite ride height being reduced by 10mm due to the sport suspension, the car easily negotiates speed breakers, even extraordinarily large ones.
You get enough space within the cabin, but restrict yourself to just 4 passengers to keep it comfortable. Visibility is also good, the A-pillar does intrude and you have clear vision at the front, though a narrow rear windscreen does hamper rearward visibility.
The M340i is also one of very few cars where I've seen the gesture control work flawlessly. The motion sensors it is equipped with work perfectly and executing specific commands is much simpler than on other BMW's where you are left wagging a finger aimlessly. Even the infotainment display unit is easy to use and its fairly simple to navigate through the many menus. A heads up unit in colour makes reading navigation instructions, speeds and other information much more convenient than having to look down at the instrument console. And the centre console controls also have the tactility for you to know which button controls what in a very short time. The seats could have had better bolstering though, and these still feel a bit too luxury sedan, rather than sports car to me.
2021 BMW M340i verdict
The M340i xDrive is a fabulous car, and brings you as close to the full-fat M philosophy as possible without having to shell out an extraordinary sum of money. I expect the price to hover around Rs 70 lakh (ex-showroom), but that's a better bargain than the well-over Rs 1 crore an M3 could cost. There is an argument that the M2 Competition would make more sense as it costs just that wee bit more, has more power and better performance and dynamics, but that's an occasional car, best sampled at a race track to derive the most pleasure. As a daily driver the M340i xDrive gives you just enough of both worlds, luxury and performance to make even a novice driver feel special.
Photography by Anis Shaikh
Watch our video road test review of the potent BMW M340i xDrive here:
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