Has it been three years already?
The last time we drove BMW’s M340i was at the height of the pandemic back in 2020. Aside from a pickup process that required the customary forms to be filled out via DocuSign and the wearing of masks and the practicing of social distancing at reception to retrieve the key fob, everything was just peachy. In fact, we can fondly recall putting more mileage on the car that we normally would have- with nowhere to go and the roads virtually empty, our M340i became our rolling serenity chamber. It not only got us out of the house where cabin fever seemed to lurk around every corner, but it offered a welcome distraction from what was going on in the world at the time. Wheeling an excellent sports sedan is always something an enthusiast can get behind, and the M340i’s compelling mix of luxury and performance went a long way at restoring a smile back on our faces.
With the worst of COVID-19 thankfully in the rear-view mirror, BMW reminded us that it’s LCI time for the iconic sports sedan. If you’re scratching your head allow us to explain: where the most brands call a styling refresh just that, BMW prefers the more pretentious LCI label, which stands for Life Cycle Impulse. With three years under its belt, the M340i is treated to some noteworthy upgrades before this generation sails off into the sunset to ready itself for a clean sheet rethink a few years down the road. Since this is likely the last 3-series to be powered by an internal combustion engine, the pending retirement of this vintage seems somehow more important- at least, important enough to spend some time in the LCI model to see what’s what.
The LCI upgrades can be summed up in three categories. The first area is exterior styling- eagle-eyed 3-series devotees will notice the new headlight and taillight designs which look a bit more sharper than before. The traditional BMW twin kidney grille-mercifully spared the engorgement we’ve seen on so many of their models lately- is also new, complete with spiffed up honeycomb latticework in the background. Inside, the gear lever has gone AWOL in favor of a rocker switch and the most noticeable change of all the LCI is the new swath of digital screens that span the entire dashboard. Pretty much every single vehicle function is manipulated by iDrive 8, which is effortlessly as excellent as the versions that proceeded it, now with even sharper graphics, rethought menu structures and more stuff to play with. Mechanically, a 48-volt mild-hybrid system compliments the silken turbo inline-six, which allows it to coast with the engine off during an auto start/stop events and fires it up again seamlessly. Frankly, the M340i didn’t need anything under the hood to make it better than it already is- this engine remains one of the best industry wide as it has done for decades.
The silk spinning mill is flattered by the always unimpeachable ZF 8-speed automatic. No matter the situation or your current mood behind the wheel, the ZF ‘box finds the right ratio every time, sometimes appreciably rushed and other times smooth and deliberate. Together, these two motivate the M340i with measured skill and without any drama, although the sporty, rear biased xDrive AWD deserves credit here too. It all feels polished and demure around town, but it wakes up once you get past the city limits. Stomp the gas pedal the floorboards and the M340i will treat you to a shove that only M3 owners used to be privy to. It makes a wonderful purr from idle to redline and is free of any uncouth vibration. It also idles so placidly you need to verify its even running at all by sneaking a glance at the tachometer. Soon everything will be electrified, and when that day comes the B58 will be remembered fondly as a masterpiece, certain to go down as one of the all-time greats.
There are some aspects of the LCI that didn’t exactly strike us as great, however. The new gear shifting interface most assuredly frees up real estate on the console and lends a feeling of clean minimalism to the interior. We didn’t love it for the flimsy plastic that it’s made of and the cheap feeling tactility it offers when you use it. We missed the climate control buttons and heated/ventilate seat controls which have been relegated to a menu within the expanse of touchscreen before you- not the most intuitive bit of design, is it? We also wondered if BMW got insulted by so many journalists complain about the girthy rims of their steering wheels. We were not amongst the chorus of boos, far from it- we loved ‘em, and maybe that’s why the one in the M340i felt so flinty to our paws.
Time moves fast, and despite three years blowing past us without warning, we can tell you that the 3-series is as great to drive as it’s ever been. Its killer app is the way it blends tasteful luxury, cutting edge tech and scintillating performance together in a package that to our eyes, still looks understated and handsome. There are other cars trying to take the Bimmer’s lunch money- the biggest rivals being the anodyne Audi A4 and the newly redesigned Mercedes Benz C class-yet they somehow lack the cohesiveness that the M340i brings to the table, and they would be left for dead at the dragstrip and on a lively rural two lane strip of blacktop.
Look, we know the 3-series has traded some of the dynamic magic it used to be known for in favour of a more refined driving experience. We get it- this is what customers want, and to ignore that would be a serious misjudgement, not to mention a disaster from a shareholder’s perspective- especially when said customers preference to kick the tires of an X3 or any one of BMW’s other SUVs over a sedan is a real thing. All 3-series in Canada (save for the M3, of course) come standard with BMW’s excellent xDrive AWD system meaning your getting more ground clearance but less handling prowess with an SUV over the M340i which is still benchmarked by other brands as the best example of an entry level sports sedan. Yes, we could do without the silly push button shifter and the aloof steering and we miss the manual gearbox that used to be an option every time we set foot in this car. But just try naming another sports sedan that satisfies in so many ways…go ahead, we’ll wait. It may be flawed and might be slightly off its form of greatness from the past, yet the 3-series is still the best in its class, hands down.
2023 BMW M340i xDrive LCI – Specifications
- Price as tested: $78,345
- Body Type: 4-door Sedan
- Powertrain Layout: Front engine/all-wheel drive
- Engine: 3.0-litre inline-6 turbo, DOHC, 24 valves
- Horsepower: 382 @ 6,500 rpm
- Torque (lb-ft.): 369 @ 1,800 rpm
- Transmission: 8-speed automatic
- Curb weight: 1,809 kg (3,988 lbs)
- Observed Fuel Economy: 10.7/100km (22mpg)