REVIEW | The 2020 BMW M340i xDrive is an M3 for the 'Sensible Sally'
Consider yourself an aficionado of the BMW 3-Series? You might appreciate the following observation. Except the initial E21 (for reasons that are obvious), every generation had a derivative that virtually aped the shadow of the M3 from its area.
A happy medium, if you will: neither entry level nor bestowed with the credentials that made the Motorsport-developed sibling so revered.
OK, in SA, with the beloved E30 generation, the 325iS and 333i flavours may well be regarded as our very own localised M3 versions, since it was never officially on sale here.
The E36 had the 328i, the E46 had the 330i and the numbers got even bigger with the E90 and F30, featuring the 335i titles. In the case of the latter, that moniker became 340i. These six-pot saloons sat one tier below the mightiest performer in the hierarchy.
As does the G20 M340i xDrive we are examining here this week: the most potent expression of the breed until the M3 arrives.
When this seventh instalment of the 3-Series arrived last year, it was available with four-cylinder options only. The arrival of this model, with its sextet chambers, is bound to get those who identify as ardent enthusiasts a bit more excited. And note that it is the only six-shooting petrol motor you can currently have in the range.
Another note. Now that four-wheel drive has been added to the mix, it appears the M340i has lost its unique selling point in the company of the Mercedes-AMG C43 and Audi S4. Remember, we never got the old F30 with xDrive.
Its output on paper certainly makes an understandable motivation for the benefits of traction at all corners. Consider that the discontinued F80 M3 served up 317kW and 550Nm. This counterpart is not far off with its 285kW and 500Nm. You may surmise that the xDrive muzzle was a requirement to unequivocally cement the status of the forthcoming M3 as the boss. They were not going to allow the M340i to upstage its more pedigreed sister.
But the thing is, in regular conditions this medium-heat Bimmer will give the average driver most of the thrills associated with the “most powerful letter in the world”, with fewer impracticalities. Its acceleration capabilities, for starters, are nothing to scoff at.
The 4.4-second sprint time to 100km/h is impressive. So is the near-instantaneous groundswell of shove from that marker to 120km/h, useful when trying to seize a gap on the freeway. That sensation of finger-snapping immediacy is, of course, aided by an eight-speed automatic with sharp reflexes.
Try as you might, unsettling the M340i proves a difficult task. It is one of those cars that can be hustled along at a fair rate of knots without an inkling of nervousness. On the curvier passages of asphalt flirting with provincial borders, Sport Plus engaged, the dynamic composure of the sedan was rarely broken, save for instances where road scars kissed low-profile rubber. With the 19-inch rollers specified, plus a considerable reduction in ride height vs a JMPD-type 320i, a firmer ride is inevitable. But with the docile Comfort mode activated, it comes close to fully emulating the mellowness of that off-duty patrol counterpart in some regards.
After all, aside from the bigger engine, suspension tweaks and mild spattering of costume jewellery, this is the well-mannered, garden variety 3-Series you know. Except, it could easily double up as a pursuit car when such duties are required ...
Pricing for the M340i xDrive starts at R995,000.