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At home on the road and the track

S Muralidhar | Updated on March 25, 2021

BMW’s M340i is likely the most genuinely usable luxury performance compact sedan that can switch with ease between tame and thrilling

The BMW 3 Series has been the sportiest compact luxury sedan in the market for years.

For those who’ve craved an improvement over that superlative, the folks at Munich have created the M340i. It landed on Indian shores earlier this month and has been fast disappearing from BMW’s showrooms. In fact, per-launch bookings indicate that all units planned for production till June 2021 have been sold out. Speaking for which, this is the first BMW with an M engine to be locally produced at the BMW plant in Chennai. It is also the “quickest” made in India BMW.

Design

The 3 Series’ is one of the sportiest designs in the entry/ compact luxury sedan segment. The model line already had that driver’s sedan appeal and the M340i just takes that up a notch with a lot of purpose-built elements peeking out of the body work. Take one long look and it becomes clear that this is not just a M-trim variant, but one whose M-DNA is more than skin-deep.

 

The dipping nose of the hood, the stretched profile and the coupe-like rear are part of classic 3 Series design language. But the oversized air intakes and the adaptive LED headlights with Laserlights and Blue signature DRLs differentiate its front design from the regular 3 Series. The chiselled body panels create an interesting interplay of light and shadow, especially during morning and evening sunlight. The kidney grille also gets special design treatment with wide bars and the door mirrors get polished brushed aluminium caps. At the rear, the tail-lamps get darkened elements and the classic L-shaped LED light units. The housing sports a 3-dimensional construction and multiple horizontal elements in the boot lid add to the sensation of a wide stance for the rear. The M340i’s sporty performance character is reflected amply in two design elements — the M rear spoiler on the boot lid and the large dual trapezoidal tail-pipes. Sticking well out of the rear diffuser, the tail-pipes are prominently visible even when the car is viewed from the side and almost look like they are going to spit fire. Another marker for the M340i are the 18-inch M performance light alloys, offered with the option of upgrading to 19-inch rims with two different styling options.

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Cabin

There’s BMW M badging to identify the special status of the M340i at the rear; there is more inside the cabin that’s meant to remind you. The first that grabs my attention is the leather-clad M steering wheel with its large gear shift paddles. The door sill plates also sport the signature red and blue colours and the M badge. The rest of the cabin and dashboard layout are expectedly familiar and almost identical to the regular 3 Series sedan — the point to note, of course, being that the interior of the ‘3’ was already a very driver-focused cabin.

 

The M340i gets special touches in the materials used and has sportier elements. The seats, for one, are firmer and constructed with new M-specific upholstery — a mix of alcantara leather and synthetics. M seat belts for the front seats, M digital instrument cluster, and a panoramic sunroof are additional features in the M340i. There is pleasing and yet also clinical precision to the construction of all the elements in the cabin. Material differentiators are the high gloss shadow line elements in the cabin and the trim inserts fashioned out of what BMW calls Aluminium Tetragon. The cabin has an element of uniqueness to it, though it is not really over-the-top; very similar in outlook to the M340i being an every day car that can also give you the thrills on a race track. The cabin is still very practical, includes a 480-litre boot; and is yet also comfortable in a conventional way with 3-zone air-conditioning and with ambient lighting. Another pointer to how much more practical this is compared to the 3 Series of the past is the addition of a space-saver spare tyre in the boot.

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Performance

The heart of the M340i’s proposition to its niche performance-oriented buyer segment is the straight-six petrol engine that buzzes inside the bonnet. The 2,998cc, 6-cylinder engine with twin turbochargers generates a peak power of 387hp and max torque of 500Nm. The engine is paired to 8-speed steptronic sport automatic transmission. The M340i’s powertrain is to be experienced to be believed, in the remarkable ease with which it wears both hats, one as a performance sedan and another as an unhurried commuter/cruiser.

Power delivery is smooth, and linear when you are just prodding the pedal. There are four driving experience modes to choose from too — Comfort, EcoPro, Sport and Sport+. Stamping the throttle turns the M340i into a raging bull that’s seemingly leaping forward towards a target. Sport mode delivers the kind of instant acceleration that surprises even experienced race drivers. The torque band is wide, ranging from about 1,800rpm to 5,000rpm through which peak torque is available. Packing in more performance features like launch control, a variable sport steering, an M Sport differential and the brand’s characteristic xDrive all-wheel drive and torque distribution tech, the M340i truly offers a performance package that will satisfy even the more demanding drivers out there. The transmission’s ratios are perfectly matched; shifts are imperceptible in Comfort and EcoPro, but get enhanced feel, along with an exciting exhaust note in Sport and Sport+ mode. Braking is sharp with good feel at the pedal, and the M Sport brake calipers are painted blue with the M logo emblazoned on them.

Bottom line

The M340i is a genuinely fast car, capable of clocking 0-100kmph in 4.4 seconds. It offers equipment to put all that power and torque safely and effectively on to the road even by regular drivers. There is a price to pay in the ride quality department, where the more rigid bearings and body struts deliver a firmer ride, bereft of body roll and bounce. Yet it is not as tightly wound as some other performance sedans in the market.

Emphasising its dual character, the M 340i xDrive also gets cruise control with braking function, connected car features, BMW virtual assistant with gesture control, an excellent Harman Kardon surround sound system and other comfort features. Safety tech includes six airbags, stability control, brake assist and the special reversing assistant. The BMW M340i xDrive is priced at ₹62.9 lakh (ex-showroom) and it is one of the best performance compact sedans currently in the market. I can’t wait to take it out on the track.

Published on March 25, 2021

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