It’s not just the speed of the M340i that makes our jaws drop, but the manner in which it behaves..
I’m just going to come right out and say it – this 2021 BMW M340i Special Edition is one of the most perfect vehicles I have driven this year for my current lifestyle. As a professional now in my thirties, the compact sport sedan segment has always been dear to my heart, and watching more and more entries go towards the “boring” turbo four-cylinder has been just as disheartening as watching the manual transmission go completely extinct in the segment. Luckily, the folks over at BMW, in all of their profit-maximizing niche models, still know how to create a car that tugs at the enthusiast’s heartstrings.
Sure, so it’s not a rear-drive coupé with perfect weight distribution, hydraulic steering and a stick, but after a test drive, sports sedan fans will be hard pressed to not appreciate what the current 340i offers. The tested model is a Special Edition, which offers BMW Individual bits such as unique Nardo Grey paint, exterior aero bits, an M Performance exhaust, and a stunning Fjord Blue and black interior. It comes together as one very nice package, but it’s worth pointing out that it’s possible to spec a non-Special Edition M340i in the exact same way.
The heart of the beast is an engine that BMW calls the B58, a 3.0-liter turbocharged inline six-cylinder that yes, is also offered in the Toyota GR Supra. It outputs 382 horsepower and 369 lb-ft. of torque, and has been reported to clock 0-100km/h runs in well below the four second mark. This is a seriously fast car, and we’d wager that the horsepower and torque numbers are underrated. It’s incredibly smooth and responsive, getting to any legal speed limit in the blink of an eye, and quietly snaking through the gears of the eight-speed ZF automatic transmission.
It’s not just the speed of the M340i that makes our jaws drop, but the manner in which this car behaves at high speeds. There is zero road noise, and unless the drive mode is in “Sport Plus”, no engine noise either. The cabin is completely isolated from the car’s surroundings and hence the vehicle’s speed is completely imperceptible. Very few cars today are capable of this, and it’s a trait that we haven’t really seen in other BMWs either. The V8-powered M550i and 750i come close, but that wonderful N63 engine does make its presence known, albeit subtly.
The chassis is extremely well sorted, with the adaptive dampers on our test vehicle absorbing road imperfections sufficiently. In the “Comfort” setting, the M340i has a cushy ride that’s no more punishing than a 5-series and substantially better than the current Mercedes-Benz C-Class. In its sportier modes, things tighten up nicely but by no means uncomfortable. The M340i feels perfectly balanced and everything comes together nicely, complemented by the aggressive pops, crackles and bangs of the M Performance exhaust fitted to our tester.
Perhaps the only area in which the M340i disappoints is with the steering. The six-cylinder 3-series gets the same steering system as the previous generation, which arguably had the worst feel of any 3-series to date. The 330i gets the new steering developed specifically for this generation, called the G20, but somehow this was omitted from the pocket rocket that is the M340i. As such, while the car does change direction eagerly, the steering has very little on-center feel and doesn’t provide the personality expected from BMW.
BMW’s B58 engine isn’t just incredible to drive, it also manages to remain efficient. With help from tech like an idle stop-start system and a dedicated economy-focused drive mode, the M340i manages to sip fuel at a lower rate than many boosted four-cylinder competitors. We averaged 10.1L/100km after about 950km of combined driving, previously unheard of in a six-cylinder sport sedan that encourages spirited driving. As expected, 91-octane premium fuel is required.
Unsurprisingly, the Germans are currently leading the pack with regards to interior design, and while typically the Mercedes variant would be at the top as of late, the C-Class is aging while the 3-series is still fresh. The G20 3-series has a well-designed interior with top-notch materials and easy-to-use connectivity. The digital gauge cluster is well suited to the personality of the car, and the latest iteration of the iDrive infotainment system is finally capable of handling Android Auto after years of only offering Apple CarPlay. Both interfaces are available wirelessly.
Pricing is another mixed bag, and most interesting is that the plug-in hybrid 330e is actually the cheapest way to currently get a 3-series, at $48,204. The 330i starts at $52,604, and the M340i at $66,154. While our Special Edition pricing is unavailable at the time of this writing, we configured an M340i with all of the available options in the paint scheme of our tester. The total came to roughly $90,000, which isn’t far off from a fully jammed Audi S5 Sportback or Mercedes-AMG C 43.
The fact of the matter is, the previous generation of 3-series, offered from 2012 to 2018, was a car that never really satisfied enthusiasts. While it sold decently well, it has been plagued with serious reliability issues and was just too soft to drive. The 2021 BMW M340i Special Edition may be a bit on the expensive side, but that aside, is part of a generation that has brought the 3-series back onto the map. It’s not just a good car; this is one of the better driver’s cars at its price point if four doors are a requirement.