I’ve had three different generations of 3 Series sedans, the E36, E46, and E90, so you can say I have a type. Small, premium sport sedans are kind of my thing. Not only that but all of the 3 Series’ that I’ve owned are considered to be among the best. So I like to think I have a good idea of what a 3 Series is supposed to feel like. Which is why testing the new 2023 BMW M340i Facelift was important to me because I wanted to see if BMW still has that sport sedan magic.
The Facelift Design Changes
For 2023, the BMW M340i LCI gets a few changes that I think help but also a few that don’t. The most noticeable changes are the looks. On the outside, the M340i has new headlights, which are sleeker, sharper, and lack the little notch in the bottom that the pre-LCI car had. The kidney grilles are also new, along with a new front bumper, which tighten up the look of the front end. Out back, the taillights are similar, just with more three-dimensional geometry. While I didn’t think I’d like the 3er’s LCI treatment at first, since I loved the pre-LCI car, the new one quickly grew on me and I’m happy to report that the M340i looks better than before.
Inside, BMW’s new iDrive dominates the cabin. Its massive curved dual-screen setup is the first thing you see and it’s the only thing you interact with. As with all iDrive 8-equipped cars, the climate controls are moved into the touchscreen, so there’s very few physical interaction with the car’s cabin functions. The new digital gauge screen is a welcome change, though, as the old one was pretty bad.
Mechanically, very little was changed for the M340i LCI. The only major difference is that the B58 engine gets 48-volt mild-hybrid technology, which allows it to coast with the engine off during auto start/stop, in an attempt to smooth the transition out. It also makes the engine more efficient and help add just a smidge of power.
New Engine Tech, Same Great Taste
BMW’s B58 3.0-liter turbocharged inline-six is one of the most consistently brilliant engines on the planet. It doesn’t matter what sort of application it’s used in, it’s sensational and it’s no different in the M340i. Power is the same as before, with 382 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque, but that’s no problem as it packs plenty of punch. The M340i is every bit as quick as an F80 M3 was, despite having less power and it’s all thanks to that astonishing engine.
It doesn’t just make good power, though. The B58 is turbine smooth with a healthy growl to go along with it. Cold starts make the M340i sound like a genuinely special sports car, which does put a smile on my face when I hear it in the morning. It doesn’t sound exactly like an old-school BMW I6, as it’s deeper and less metallic at the top end—plus, most of the exhaust noise you hear is fake, coming from the speakers—but it still sounds good.
Paired that engine is BMW’s also consistently great eight-speed auto, which is every bit as quick, smooth, and intelligent as ever. Whenever I step back into my E90 325i automatic, I’m also reminded of just how old my car feels because its now-ancient-feeling transmission can’t keep up with the ZF eight-speed in all BMWs. The only downside of the transmission for the LCI model is its lack of manual gear selection from the shifter. Gone is the old shift lever and in its place is a funny toggle switch that’s actually nice to use most of the time but lacks manual gear control. So if you want to shift, you need to use the steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters. Which is admittedly preferable for most drivers but I personally like using the shift lever, so losing it is a bit annoying.
BMW Gets it Mostly Right
Start to flick it around corners and you’ll soon realize that the BMW M340i still feels like a proper 3 Series, for the most part. Its chassis is as good as ever, with a playfulness that reminds you of why 3 Series’ were also the best in their class. There’s very little body motion, but just enough so you can feel what it’s doing beneath you, and you can feel what the back end is doing through your ass, just like a proper 3er.
If there’s a complaint, it’s with the grip—there’s too much of it. My test car was equipped with xDrive all-wheel drive which, even in BMW’s supposedly playful MDM mode, never wants to let go of traction. While obviously a good thing, it does mean you need to turn traction control off entirely to have some hooligan fun. And with 382 horsepower, it would have been nice to have some fun with a bit of a safety net.
The M340i isn’t perfect, though. Its steering isn’t as good as 3 Series’ of the past. I know that’s a tired complaint at this point but it must be said. While its front end is sharp and its steering is accurate, it’s completely devoid of any sort of feedback. Its steering weight is too light, which I can live with, but it doesn’t load up much as you add steering lock, so it’s hard to judge what the front end is doing through your hands. Thankfully, it’s so effective, and its front end so sharp, that still fun to chuck around. Though, to be honest, jumping back into my E90 proved just how lifeless modern BMW steering really is.
Still BMW’s Best Car
BMW makes many good cars right now. Cars like the X3, X5, 4 Series Gran Coupe, and iX are all excellent. However, I’d argue that the 3 Series is still its best car. Driving the M340i feels like going home, as it’s the car that most closely captures what it means to be a BMW. Even the BMW M3, a car that I love to drive, doesn’t really feel like a BMW should. It’s fantastic but it’s different. The M340i—and all 3 Series’ in general—is the closest you’re going to get to that old-school BMW feeling.
There’s also really never an egg on its face. Sure, it’s steering is a bit dead and its climate control screen is infuriating, but that can also be said about every BMW. What makes the M340i a proper 3 Series is its blend of comfort, agility, performance, practicality, and fun, all in one good looking, usable package. There’s a reason why every sport sedan brand has always chased the 3 Series and it’s for that reason that it’s still BMW’s best car.
2023 BMW M340i xDrive
- B58 Engine
- Attractive exterior design
- Driving dynamics are still good
- Steering is a bit numb
- Curved display and lack of physical buttons