BMW M340i xDrive

Performance shock just the cream on top

Suppose we have become used to not believing our eyes or ears among all this Covid-19 bullshit. But this was one surprise that I really appreciated. I’d taken the images of this BMW M340i xDrive and stopped off in the village for a probably illicit masked chat with some mates on the sidewalk before setting up the VBox. 

From there I trundled down to the spot where I usually do the first of one or two pre-runs to get the hang of the launch and to get in sync with what the car best wants — fingered the DSC off, killed the aircon and clicked it into sport, stood on the gas and brakes, slid the left foot off the brake and it really bolted off the mark. 

I stopped for a second pre-run to better sync the release point as I always do when I peeked at the VBox readout on my iPhone. No, that can’t be right? I looked again. S’true's Bob, the 100km/h readout was 3.97 seconds! But hang on a second, the claim is four-point-four — I'd checked before I left? That first run is always a tad quicker being on a slight downhill, but my second and third pre-runs were four-point-oh-something, so that 3.97 was no fluke.

The run off our official strip is the one in the data below. And it repeated that number within 0.02 seconds twice after too, just to be sure. 

Just to put that into perspective, my run down the same stretch in the then new M3 on 12 August 2014 delivered a 3.98-second 100km/h run, did the quarter in 12.2 seconds at 193km/h, pulled from 80 to 120km/h in 2.2 seconds and from 80 to 120 in 3.3. Of course that car was only rear-wheel drive, so far trickier to launch and that much is clear in the data too.

This new 3-Series performance flagship sits above the 330i in the new G20 range and M340i xDrive is the first Three to have its numerals preceded by an M. It earns it for sure.

And it shows too — M340i's all-new lightweight aluminium 3-litre straight-six gets revamped turbocharging to improve fuel efficiency and turbine response as it delivers a significant 275kW and 500Nm — 30kW and 50Nm up on the old 340i for that claimed 4.4-second 0-100 to even beat the acceleration ability of the M2 Competition. As mentioned, it is in reality more of an old model M3 competitor.

Packing BMW’s xDrive all-wheel drive and a tuneable M Sport differential, M340i sits 10mm lower and has a wider track than other 3 Series models and M tuning extends to the monster 348mm front and 345mm rear disc brakes with M-branded big blue callipers and quite understated 18-inch alloy wheels wrapped in a choice of performance-oriented tyres, while electronically controlled dampers come as part of the optional Adaptive M suspension system. 

It is sublime on the road — poised, balanced and precise. Pressed hard on my backyard Franschhoek Pass, it responded to driver inputs brilliantly, retained its poise to the limit of probably what your balls will allow and splendidly reported everything I wanted to know through that wonderfully weighted steering. It's taken time, but they are getting this new steering tech to feel like it once did at the acme of those brilliant mechanical old days.

Some may find it a touch too hard on the road over less than ideal surfaces, but to the purist driver that’s a well earned compromise. And fuel consumption is a boon versus what the likes of a 335i would devour just ten yers ago. Uncanny, actually.

And then there's the noise. I was sitting on the stoep when I heard a car speed away on  the main road outside the estate and thought to myself, now that's a brilliant sounding car, when it dawned on me it was actually one of the lads making off with the Beemer. It has a stunning, sonorous drive-by soundtrack and isn't too bad inside either, albeit a tad muted.

It’s pretty good looking — sharper in style yet softer on the eye with a cool new grille treatment, while those 530m range Full Adaptive LED headlights are handsome and work a proper treat. You’d however be excused for confusing it for an Audi or Jaguar when approaching from the rear. 

Packing a literal kitchen sink full of spec around BMW’s quite astounding Operating System 7.0 with fully-digital instrumentation and interface controlled by your choice of touching the screen, the iDrive Controller, steering wheel buttons, gesture or voice control, some may never even get to exploring all the tricks this car can turn - it really does have it all. And even more. 

Add level 2 automated driving plus the Driving Assistant Professional’s complete comfort and safety package and 3 Series can even quite eerily drive hands free on properly marked roads, but the system will slow the car, pull over and stop if the driver fails to respond. It will even demand assistance if there is still no reaction!

All of those plusses, however significant they may be, are still moot points in this case. 

The really astounding point of this car is that it offers everything you would ever expect in a sublime package with performance to more than toast BMW’s incredible sheer driving pleasure pedigree. Makes one wonder why even bother with the M3 — will you ever really need any more than this…? — Michele Lupini

Engine: 285kW 500Nm 3-litre turbo petrol I6     
Drive: 8-speed automatic AWD
0-60km/h:               1.87 sec
0-100km/h:             3.99 sec                      
0-160km/h:             9.16 sec       
400m:                     12.1 sec @ 184km/h            
80-120km/h:           2.60 sec
120-160km/h:         3.73 sec          
VMax:                     250km/h                               
Fuel:                       7.7 l/100km                          
CO2:                       177 g/km
Warranty/Service:    5y 100K/2y unlimited 
LIST PRICE:             R1.006M          
RATED:                    9