The latest versions of the BMW M340i and M3 (the G20/G21 and G80/G81) are more similar than previous iterations, to the point where I think they are actually stepping on each other’s toes. With BMW’s decision to not offer a double-clutch transmission in the latest M3, the automaker has inevitably made the Motorsport model closer to its M Performance offerings, abandoning the theatrical roughness of the DCT seven-speed for the smoothness of the famous ZF eight-speed torque converter automatic.
First M3 Touring
With the introduction of the G80, BMW also marked two important premieres for the M3 nameplate: the vehicle became available as a Touring for the first time, and you could also get it with xDrive. Before, buyers had to choose the M340i or an ALPINA B3 if they wanted the fastest 3 Series-based load lugger. Now they can spend around 20 percent more and get the full-blown M3 as an all-wheel drive wagon, which will broaden the model’s spectrum of potential buyers.
Can Get The M340i In Touring Guise Also
But while the idea of a BMW M3 wagon with power going to all four wheels is enticing, the fact that the very similar yet cheaper M340i exists does overshadow it to a degree. If you drive these two cars in isolation, in either sedan or wagon body styles, I’m pretty sure you won’t come out of it thinking there’s a night and day difference between them.
Even if you’re a keen driver who is adept at gauging cars’ handling, the M3 won’t feel like a huge leap over the M340i. You would have to drive both cars back to back hard on the same day, on the same road, and in the same conditions to really be able to tell the difference and to start appreciating the M3’s superior handling, stopping power, and straight-line acceleration.
The M3 Is Still The Bolder Looking Choice
With its bulging flanks, unique grille, and special lightweight wheels that do little to cover its massive brakes, the current M3 is a sight to behold. From any angle, the M3 looks special, whereas the M340i just looks like any 3 Series. Sure, it does get the same aggressive M-style mirror caps as the M3, but with its standard body, it just can’t match the M car’s panache.
In terms of on-paper performance, there’s no getting away from the fact that the 503 horsepower M3 Competition xDrive Steptronic is almost one full second quicker to reach 100 km/h (62 mph) compared to the 374 horsepower M340i. There’s also a difference when it comes to in-gear punch. The M3’s 650 Nm (479 lb-ft) peak torque is delivered flat between 2,750 and 5,500 rpm, allowing the vehicle to surge forward very strongly even from low rpms; it’s as strong as some six-cylinder diesels in this respect.
With 500 Nm (369 lb-ft) of torque, provided between 1,900 and 5,000 rpm, the M340i doesn’t feel quite as immediate to respond to any push of the gas pedal. But with peak torque arriving lower than in the M3, the perceived difference between how punchy these cars are at lower rpms is not as great as the figures may suggest, although there’s no getting away from the fact that the M340i’s single-turbo B58 engine will never be as responsive as the twin-turbo S58.
Cue The ALPINA B3
It’s also worth mentioning the ALPINA B3 in this company. Whereas the previous iteration was powered by a tuned version of the B58 engine from the M340i, the latest G20-based B3 actually has a version of the M3’s S58.
This puts the current B3 in a very different light compared to any predecessor. It essentially becomes an M3 in a regular 3 Series body, but since ALPINA applies its own chassis reinforcements to the B3, it ends up being stiffer and sportier-feeling than the M340i. Under the hood of the ALPINA B3, the S58 engine produces 488 hp between 5,000 and 7,000 rpm and a peak torque figure of 730 Nm (538 lb-ft) delivered between 2,500 and 4,500 rpm. It’s worth noting that even though the S58 in the ALPINA has more torque, it is plagued by lag lower down in the revs, and its throttle response isn’t quite as sharp as the M3’s.
With less power but more torque than the M3, the ALPINA 0 to 100 km/h sprint time of 3.6 seconds is one tenth off the M3’s time. The B3 is also the fastest vehicle of the three in standard trim, with a top speed of 305 km/h (189 mph) compared to the other two models’ 250 km/h (155 mph) limits.
BMW M340i or M3 or ALPINA B3?
So what does all of this tell us? Well, the main takeaway was that it was already harder than ever to choose between an M340i and an M3, but now, with the latest S58-engined ALPINA B3, picking one of these vehicles has become even harder. The decision can be made easier if you want a manual gearbox, which you can only get in the M3, although only in rear-wheel drive non-Competition models.
The ALPINA B3 is the most comfortable of the three, with its Comfort+ suspension setting, and it’s also going to be the rarest model, which for some people will be all that matters. The BMW M340i is the most common, least special, and least powerful of the three, but none of these factors go against it.
Sure, the hardcore enthusiast will choose an M3 and endure the lower levels of refinement and comfort compared to the M340i, and they may look down on the M340i driver as driving a lesser model. However, the M340i driver is getting eight tenths the driving experience for around $20,000 less, and they also have a much better daily car.
The M340i is A Performance Bargain
With a starting price of $54,700 (or $56,700 if you want xDrive), the M340i is a performance bargain. And to answer the question in the title, no, it doesn’t make the M3 redundant (and neither does the ALPINA B3), although if you spec it a certain way and make some light modifications to the vehicle, it will be about as fast and fun as one.
The ALPINA B3 sits in its own special in-between category, and it’s quite expensive. It’s not sold in the US, but in its native Germany, it starts at over €80,000, which makes it about the same price as a base M3. However, while it has a version of the M3’s engine and ALPINA chassis tuning, it still can’t match the M car for its ability to thrill and enthrall the keen driver, which is why even if many buyers are aware of its existence, they’ll still end up choosing one of the BMW models instead.