As you may have read in our review of the BMW Z4 sDrive30i, we just recently spent some time at The Thermal Club with BMW, during its “Test Fest”. Of all the cars I drove on track at Thermal, the BMW M340i xDrive was the last one. Maybe it’s just because it was the last one I drove but it was also the one that left the biggest impression.

Though, I have to admit, as I approached the first-ever M Performance 3 Series, I was a bit apprehensive to take it out on track. Not because I was afraid of driving on track (although, I’m not the world’s best track driver, it must be said) but because I was afraid of being disappointed.

Despite all of the truly special BMWs I get the chance to drive, the 3 Series is always the car I consider to be BMW’s best. Not because it’s always the fastest or the sharpest handling or even the most luxurious but because it’s the best combination of those things. It’s the car that people own and drive every day, the car that genuinely makes everyday life better. Plus, I’ve only ever owned one BMW and it was a 3 Series. So while cars like the M2 Competition are thrilling, and the M5 awe-inspiring, it’s the 3 Series that matters most to me.

I’ve also been disappointed by the last 3er I drove. While not a bad car, the F30-gen 3 Series never quite lived up to the reputation of its predecessors. Yes that’s no longer a hot take and become more of a tired complaint but that doesn’t make it less true. So when walking up to the camouflage-clad, pre-production BMW M340i, I so hoped it would be as good as BMW had promised.

I’m not going to comment on any of its exterior or interior finishing or design because, as I previously mentioned, the car I drove was a pre-pro car covered in camo. I’m also not going to get into what the M340i is for BMW, as we’ve discussed that ad nauseam. All I’m going to talk about is what it’s like to drive. And I’m going to spoil the rest of the review right now — it’s excellent.

My Few Laps on Track

We took it slow heading out onto the track and, thankfully, we had to stop before pulling out onto the back straight because we had to wait for other cars to pass. My lead instructor let them get some distance so we could really fire out onto the straight, which was a good decision. The BMW M340i packs a 3.0 liter turbocharged I6 engine that makes 382 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque but, on the back straight of Thermal’s South track, it felt a lot more powerful than that.

The thrust from a dead stop absolutely will give a current F80 BMW M3 a real fright. Thanks to its slick eight-speed auto and xDrive all-wheel drive grip, the M340i digs into the pavement and fires it forward with alarming authority. It might not be a proper M car but it accelerates like one.

It also sounds great. Some of the noise I heard in the cabin was undoubtedly fake, having been piped in through the speakers, but it doesn’t matter. It sounds good from inside the cabin and that’s all that should matter to enthusiasts.

Where the BMW M340i impressed me most, though, was through bends. BMW made a big hubbub about the new G20-generation 3 Series and the work it had done to the new car’s steering and suspension. While the car I was driving didn’t have the new so-called lift-related dampers that BMW has been advertising, rather swapping them for adjustable dampers, that didn’t matter much as the track was obviously glass-smooth.

However, it did give me a chance to sample the new M340i’s variable steering rack. So the new variable-ratio steering rack is lock-dependent, rather than speed dependent. So the spacing on the steering rack’s teeth progressively become more aggressive. That means the more steering lock you add, the faster the ratio gets. The old F30’s variable steering setup was different, as its teeth spacing was the same throughout the rack but the actual electric power steering would change based on the car’s speed. Or at least that’s how my simple brain understands the way a BMW engineer explained it to me.

The end result is that the new M340i’s steering is far more progressive and confidence-inspiring. While pushing it hard on track, I never felt nervous that the steering wasn’t going to do exactly as I asked. It was intuitive and accurate, always feeling dependable. I felt like I could lean on the front end and that I could trust it, which really inspired confidence. Sure, it’s light on actual steering feel but no one should complain about that because the steering weight is spot-on and the accuracy and response are both excellent. It feels like the 3 Series is back.

Then there’s the chassis and the dynamics. Despite being all-wheel drive, the BMW M340i xDrive feels neutral and balanced, while also actually being throttle adjustable. Mid-corner, I could feel that if I added throttle, the back end would push out a bit, helping to rotate the car. Then the xDrive would shift the power around and allow me to trim my line and almost keep up with the instructor leading me.

With each lap, not only did my confidence increase but the fun did as well. In fact, it was the most fun I had all day, a day that included a drive in the BMW M850i and a Rolls Royce Cullinan (reviews to come).

I only had a few laps in the M340i, so I can’t give it a full review. However, the taste I got was enough to give me the confidence to say that the BMW M340i is a superb driver’s car. Its steering is excellent, its chassis is friendly and playful and its engine is an absolute gem. Another thing it did — make me positively giddy about what the new BMW M3 will be like.