As a devout car enthusiast, certain segments are much closer to my heart than others. The compact performance sedan class is one that has spoken to me since the day I got my driver’s license, pining for entries such as BMW’s 335i and the Audi S4. Many years later, things haven’t changed all that much – these two and their competitors from Mercedes, Lexus and Alfa Romeo are still delightful machines. To see for ourselves how the 3-series’ latest refresh, or “Life Cycle Impulse” in BMW-speak, fares in today’s landscape, we borrowed the keys to a brand new 2023 BMW M340i xDrive.
The M340i is pretty universally liked around the DoubleClutch.ca office, taking our Car of the Year award home in its first year of production. The “M” badge should have an asterisk beside it, because it’s one of the lighter implementations from BMW’s performance division, but sits along the same lines as the 43-series of AMG cars, F-Sport from Lexus, and Audi’s S-Line. Regardless, the M340i is a rocket on the road, handles like a brilliantly balanced sports car, and would outperform the vast majority of full-M cars from history.
From an appearance standpoint, most bystanders would be hard-pressed to notice any changes at all. BMW has given the 2023 3-series line new bumpers, tweaked lighting, and new wheel designs. Our tester was riding on a smaller winter setup, so it’s hard to get the full picture from the below gallery, but we can assure you that the 19-inchers that should be on the M340i round out the styling nicely. I personally like the proportions of the 3-series better than every competitor, save for the sharp Lexus IS.
The 2023 3-series in non-M form gets three powertrains, starting with the base turbocharged four-cylinder 330i. The plug-in hybrid 330e takes that engine and adds electrification for about 40 kilometers of electric-only driving range. Sitting at the top of the lineup is this M340i, which performance junkies will love, with its familiar 3.0-liter turbocharged inline six-cylinder. Now however, that straight-six gets a 48-volt mild hybrid system that joined the lineup in 2022. Output is 382 horsepower and 369 lb-ft. of torque, and a 0-100km/h time of 4.3 seconds.
The xDrive full-time all-wheel-drive system puts power down with some of the best balance in the business, and the ZF 8HP eight-speed automatic transmission is equally good. All of this makes for one of the most well-rounded sports sedans currently offered. The M340i will accelerate onto highways with sheer confidence, and upshifts are instantaneous. This eight-speed will change gears with almost the level of immediacy of a dual-clutch box, and is easily one of the best automatics available.
Hucking the M340i into a corner, the first thing we notice is the lack of telepathic feel that BMW is known for. Even the legendary E39 BMW M5 from two decades ago that’s in my own garage, with its ill-reputed ball-bearing steering, has the precision of a scalpel, while modern BMW steering just feels a smidge sloppier. Aside from that, the dynamics are set up just right – the M340i will respond eagerly and it’s easy to induce controlled oversteer. The suspension tuning is good for a performance setting, but for the daily commute, the adaptive dampers left in the most comfortable setting may still be too firm for some.
One of the best aspects of this latest inline-six from BMW (coded “B58”) is fuel efficiency. Without even really trying, and in bitter cold weather, we averaged 9.6L/100km over 800 kilometers traveled in the M340i. The 60-liter tank could be bigger to help over longer hauls, but this isn’t an X5 or a 7-series, so this isn’t a big deal in the slightest. Sub-10L/100km numbers in a sedan with nearly 400 horsepower is nothing to scoff at, and the M340i doesn’t fail to impress here.
The 2023 refresh for the 3-series line also comes with interior updates that bring the sedan up to date with current technology trends. A 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster and 14.9-inch touchscreen house iDrive 8, the latest in infotainment from BMW. It’s just as easy to use as the generations that pre-date it, and remains a top pick in the industry for us. Wireless Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, a hotspot, and a seriously quick native interface make the M340i very easy to live with.
Ergonomics inside the M340i are pretty good, though we found the new shift controls very awkward to use in practice. The small shift lever is gone, replaced with an even smaller nub nearly hidden in the console. Materials are very good with no cheap bits visible, and minimal plastics – much better than the latest C-Class. The M340i’s seats are very comfortable, and the 3-series remains a great commuter or road tripper for two. Rear accommodations get bigger with every generation as the cars grow, and the 3-series boasts a much roomier back seat than the Lexus IS or the Genesis G70.
The M340i’s market positioning is sort of “in-between” classes – the numbers indicate it outperforms the Audi S4, below the Lexus IS 500, and not far off from the Mercedes-AMG C 43. What it does offer though is one of the best all-around packages, with the least compromises. It’s blisteringly quick, has an excellent infotainment system, and a performance-focused all-wheel-drive system that makes it competent year round. The 2023 BMW M340i xDrive will live on as one of our favourites.
2022 Genesis G70 3.3T Sport AWD
2022 Lexus IS 500 F-Sport Launch Edition