There are three nagging changes in the facelifted BMW M340i. Switching off lane-keep assist just got that bit harder, and now requires fishing through a sub-menu or two. Selecting the sportier DSC setting – to better explore the intricacies of its standard xDrive transmission – now involves two button presses rather than one. And locking the standard eight-speed automatic into manual mode involves a fiddlier additional step, namely notching the new gear-selection toggle into S then pulling a paddle to signify your intent. No quick sideways-knock of a gear selector here.
As an introduction to the car, it’s all a little disheartening. The headline change for the G20 LCI (life-cycle update, obvs) is the new curved touchscreen with BMW Operating System 8, and you’ll be needing to engage with it if you’re to prise yourself free of the lane-keep and DSC systems. The fear, then, is that BMW’s focused on what everyone else wants – bigger displays and more interior chintz – and forgotten about us folk who’re keener on just having fun.
Worry not. That trio of quibbles stops short of becoming a deeper-rooted issue. Muscle memory will kick in within a few hours of picking up your new Three, by which point you’ll have long since been surprised and delighted all over again by just how flipping good these things are to drive. You’ll prod your way to looser electronic nannying with barely a thought.
While the unstoppable influx of more digitisation may not immediately speak our language, BMW has been listening. Or chiefly its handling team have. “We’re still the benchmark in our class, so why would we need to change anything?” The brave words of Mischa Bachmann, official title Project Manager Driving Dynamics, who took a step back during the G20’s update to let colleagues in other departments fiddle with the formula.
So apparently nothing’s changed dynamically. The 3.0-litre straight-six turbo continues service up front with peak outputs of 374hp at 5,500-6,500rpm and 369lb ft at 1,900-5,000rpm. Not to mention some welcome politeness in town as you quietly creep to a stop with the help of 48V mild-hybrid tech (which crept onto the M340i spec sheet late in 2020). The eight-speed automatic is as before but now boasts an M Boost function that allows you to drop to the lowest possible gear with an extended tug of the left-hand paddle. Nothing new in the world of performance cars, but a charming touch in one that’ll no doubt see more team away days than trackdays.
Crucially, it still rides well – better than I remember in fact, making me wonder if BMW actually has been fiddling slightly in the background – while the xDrive retains its persuasive sense of abandon. If you groaned upon learning that’s the only way we can buy the M340i, then worry not. The system knows exactly when you want power throwing at the rear axle and is always game to do it. You can’t switch it into RWD-only mode like an M3, but nor would you ever need to. Its knack for letting you exit roundabouts with a flourish is uncanny. There’s no escaping this feels like a big, heavy car these days, but the fact BMW can cut through the challenges of mass (as well as ever-increasing layers of tech) to make the handling ‘right’ feels close to extraordinary.
And what a powertrain. Back in 2019 I lived with a Z4 M40i for six months and was somewhat smitten by the end of them. The car was a little soft around the edges, but what a joyous engine to share time with every single day, the blare of revs on start-up never growing old, nor its proclivity to rev all the way to 7,000 – and with real character, too. There’s some augmented sound stuff going on in this M340i, but funnily enough it’s turned off via the exact same sub-menu as the lane-keep gubbins. Told you BMW was listening to our needs.
On which note, this LCI also signals the end of the Gesture Control fad. The engineers quickly clocked – from their own usage, as much as customer feedback – that the only useful or socially bearable gesture was twiddling a finger mid-air to adjust the volume, an act you’d perform so close to the physical volume knob that it was all a bit pantomime. So after an admirably unabashed U-turn on a piece of technology not even a decade old, the focus is now on a ginormous touchscreen. And, if you’re so inclined, some in-built Alexa functionality.
It does mean the climate control buttons have been hoovered up and absorbed into the display, but thankfully they remain fixed in place, so it’s a long way from the own goal scored by VW on the latest Golf. The iDrive rotary control also makes its last stand here to keep us luddites in the loop. Don’t expect it on whatever comes next in the 3-Series life story, though.
You’d expect that to simply be an eighth-generation 3 Series, right? This remains BMW’s bestseller and over 16 million have found homes since the E21 arrived in 1975. The engineers wouldn’t nail their colours to any mast when pushed on the car’s longer-term future, however, no matter how many espressos PH plied them with. See, 2025 brings the second coming of BMW’s Neue Klasse. The 1960s original helped spawn the Hofmeister Kink and a revolution of the firm’s model range, while the 2020s Neue Klasse will be fully electric and focused on simpler interiors made of recycled materials. As well as – hopefully – the sharp dynamics that have been a given in normal-sized BMW saloons like this for donkey’s years.
Back in the here and now, around 15 per cent of 3 Series sold in the UK are an M Performance variant – this M340i or its diesel-drinking M340d sibling – while of M Division’s record 163,541 worldwide sales in 2021, just over 70 per cent were one of these halfway house models as opposed to a full-fat M car. A bunch of stats that says, in short, this car remains big business, even when you get broadly similar performance (yet spectacularly lower running costs) from a 330e plug-in hybrid.
From a disheartening start to a deeply heartening finish, then. Nevertheless, while digitisation hasn’t filtered into the M340i without us noticing, the resulting woes really are minor. This remains a fabulous car to drive and the very epitome of what an everyday sports saloon or estate should be – at least for those of us still not ready to plug our cars in at home.
SPECIFICATION | 2022 BMW M340i xDrive
Engine: 6cyl in-line, 2,998cc, turbocharged petrol
Transmission: eight-speed automatic, four-wheel drive
Power: 374hp @ 5500-6500rpm
Torque: 369lb ft @ 1900-5000rpm
Top speed: 155mph (limited)
Price: £54,805 (Touring is £56,455)
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