Test Drive: 2016 BMW 340i

Drop the hammer in the new BMW 340i, and the response from the new straight-six turbo engine is suspicious. In a half-second, the eight-speed transmission calls the correct gear into action, and the 340i absolutely rockets along, as if it was rear-ended by a speeding bus. A surge of torque engages, RIGHT NOW, stays on strong, and a moment later, you glance down at the speedometer, curse quietly to yourself a little, and realize you haven’t been breathing for a moment.

You’ll wonder what the BMW engineers were feeding the horses here, if there really are only 320 of them.

She scoots something fierce – so much so that you’ll wonder what the BMW engineers were feeding the horses here, if there really are only 320 of them. I’ve driven heaps of 320 hp cars that this new 340i feels like it’d have for lunch.

The suspiciously athletic output is the responsibility of the latest 3 Series high-performance powerplant, dubbed N58. The third variant of a boosted straight-six to land in a mainstream 3 Series, the new unit is similar in specification to its predecessor – with three litres’ displacement, six cylinders in a row, and turbocharging. The N58 is part of a modular engine family, scalable to create three-, four- or six-cylinder configurations suitable for propelling a variety of models.

The result here? Drivers get an improved 320 hp, an even more improved 330 lb-ft of torque, and a new 340i badge on the trunk, replacing the popular 335i.

The new engine fully supports the discreet performance personality dialled into the new 340i. There’s a disconnect, for instance, between the full-throttle thrust, and the noise level generated in the process. Your writer likes a loud, assertive engine note as much as the next fella, but the 340i’s ability to absolutely plow occupants into their seatbacks, with a relatively small level of underhood noise seeping in, proved charming. What is audible is smooth, semi-exotic and pleasing. In fact, even at start-up, the 340i’s quivering exhaust hum is enough to draw some attention from passersby. Still, overall, noise output is kept on the down-low, tastefully restrained at all times.

And you can nearly forget turbo-lag. With a revised liquid-to-air intercooler, reduced turbocharger plumbing, and some engine management tweaks, the spool-up time from the compressor is reduced to near-nil. The former 335i had just a whiff of turbo-lag, and the new 340i has even less. There’s virtually no slingshot, rubber-band sensation to the throttle response: push it, and the 340i leaps ahead straight away. The average driver would be hard pressed to tell the 340i is turbocharged at all, and fighting the temptation to stay out of the sauce is like fighting the temptation to air-drum during Phil Collins’s signature beat from In the Air Tonight: good luck.

Further down the driveline, the eight-speed, joystick-controlled automatic transmission is all but flawless – flitting seamlessly between gears at light throttle, firing off perfectly rev-matched, millisecond shifts at dual-clutch speeds when pushed, and responding instantly and favourably to paddle-shift commands. Though the tester executed some rough full-throttle upshifts at times, it’s virtually imperceptible in most situations. Don’t miss the giggle-eliciting speeds with which it swaps cogs, and the corresponding precise, lighting-speed twitches of the tachometer needle.

She’s real feisty: capable of 0–60 in 4.4 seconds, partly thanks to an AWD system that always sees traction slightly out-gunning power delivery, so the 340i just bites in and goes where its pointed, without issue.

And though it’s massively entertaining to drive hard, the 340i’s eight gears and mountainous torque output makes it a pleasingly effortless thing to drive gently too. Engage Comfort from the drive mode selector, and even the lightest throttle presses are met with a solid gush of momentum. The 340i will stream through city traffic with ease, the tachometer flicking around below 1,500 revs in most cases, and the engine running all but silently.

The restructured powerplant is the big news here, though 340i has numerous subtle updates elsewhere. Minor tweaks to the styling showcase sleeker lights, added LED technology, altered fascias and a dab more sculpting, though it’s still instantly a 3 Series from a glance: handsome, professional, and more tidy and meticulous than Justin Trudeau’s hairdo.

Engineers also fiddled with the dampers, the points on the vehicle structure where said dampers are attached, and the steering rack, for a more fine-tuned feel. The goal? An enhanced feeling of agility. From the wheel? Drivers needn’t dig as deep to access the grip, balance and poise engineered into the 3 Series’s chassis. Simply put, the 340i feels a bit lighter, a bit more enthusiastic, and a bit friskier when pushed, with quicker and more defined responses to steering inputs, and all with no reduction of the solid, locked-on and confident 3 Series handling signature. Here’s an easy car to control, to dial in, and to commit to some high-speed bends on your favorite back road. It’s improved and enhanced, but still feels pure 3 Series.

Engage SPORT or SPORT+ mode, and the steering heavies up beautifully, transmitting a sense of the car’s weight and current front-wheel traction situation to the fingertips. You get confident and bolted-on steering, directing the actions of a playful chassis. Brakes are sports-car precise, with even the slightest change in pedal force triggering big changes in currently dispatched stopping power. Once your foot learns to operate the sensitive brake pedal smoothly, you’re accessing one of the most precise braking systems going.

And should a relaxing cruise be the order of the day, the consistently sporty-taut ride quality on all but the roughest surfaces proves comfortable without squishiness. Typically, it’s a relaxed sportiness at play.

Finally, the Harman Kardon stereo system makes an ideal long-haul travel companion for audiophiles, with potent, vivid and bright reproduction of your favorite tunes, and the LED lighting system is bang-on after dark for the saturation and reach of its forward illumination.

Complaints? Wind noise at speed was higher than expected, and the large wheels can, occasionally, pound and crash into larger bumps and potholes, harder than the adaptive suspension can compensate for.
Most impressive on my watch? The mileage. Numerous incremental fuel-saving tweaks applied to the 3 Series over the years culminate here in a 320-horsepower sports sedan that achieved an overall 9 L/100 km test average, which I find exceptional for where and how I drive. In fact, a scan of recent notes shows that your writer put more fuel through the new Honda Civic Turbo.

So: pleasing sports-car reflexes, hot-rod consumption of forward pavement, easy fuel bills, and all wrapped in a package that’s discreet looking, albeit for the thin-blade wheels with blue ‘M’ calipers peeking out from behind. In all, the 340i delivers an effective invitation to a gentlemanly sleeper sedan, with restrained but effective improvements to create a better 3 Series experience that stays fully in step with its soul. Pricing from $54,500.

4 years/80,000 km; 4 years/80,000 km powertrain; 5 years/unlimited distance corrosion perforation; 4 years/unlimited distance roadside assistance

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2016 BMW 340i xDrive Sedan
2016 BMW 340i xDrive Sedan
Base Price $54,500
Optional Equipment Enhanced Premium Package ($6,000), M Performance Package ($1,900), Individual Paint ($1,450), Individual Interior ($1,900)
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $2,095
Price as Tested $67,945
Optional Equipment
10 0
Scoring breakdowns 8.4
8 Exterior Styling
8 Comfort
8 Interior
10 Fuel Economy
8 Performance