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. Anything short of that and it’s just a brutally fast cruiser. And if that’s what you’re looking for, then the BMW M340i is perfect. But if you’re expecting something that’s halfway to an M3, you might be left disappointed.
It sounds like I’m being overly harsh on the BMW M340i and maybe I am because, in its own right, it’s a great daily driver. I just couldn’t shake this feeling that it felt too ordinary during my time with it. I wanted more of that Motorsport DNA, a bit more of a raucous attitude.
But, if I’m being honest, that’s more of a me problem. The BMW M340i is a shockingly capable machine, with limits far higher than the average human can reach. But because it also needs to be refined enough for customers spending nearly $60,000 to want to buy it, all of that performance and capability needs to be hidden behind layers of luxury and technology.
I honestly think my issue came from the name. If it were called a BMW 340i, it’d be perfectly fine. But that ‘M’ badge brings with it certain expectations; a promise of a more thrilling, visceral experience. Something more special than a regular BMW. And the BMW M340i doesn’t deliver as much of that implied zing as I’d hoped for. Take all the ‘M’ badges away and begins to make perfect sense. But if I’m looking for something more thrilling than the average 3 Series, something that’s going to feel like an event every time I leave the house, the M340i isn’t the answer.
Before anyone bites my head off, I fully understand that M Performance cars aren’t supposed to be proper M Division products. But the idea is supposed to be that if the BMW M340i were put on a sliding scale — with regular BMWs on one side and proper M Division products on the other side — it’d land right in the middle, with just enough M to feel like it’s something special. In reality, though, it wouldn’t. It’d land closer to the side of regular BMWs. And that’s where the little bit of disappointment lies.
Don’t get me wrong. I like the BMW M340i as a car, I really do. But I also think BMW could have done more with it. I think it should be a bit more raucous and a bit more thrilling. If you’re looking for a fast everyday driver, something that’s comfortable and refined while also being shockingly quick, the BMW M340i is perfect. But if you’re looking for 3 Series that’s been injected with a bit of that Motorsport DNA, spend the extra money and get an M3. So when I previously said that the BMW M340i was enough to hold me over from an M3, I was actually wrong. That doesn’t mean it’s not a great car. It just means that it’s different from what I had hoped for.