Car reviews - BMW - 3 Series - 340i
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M3 and M4
Superb powertrain, indulgent specification, sharp steering and handling, comfortable ride quality
Room for improvement
Jarring 19-inch wheels, flat front seats of Luxury Line, six-cylinder can feel nose-heavy
23 May 2016
Price and equipment
THE newly repositioned $89,900 plus on-road costs 340i requires parting with $20,000 more than the turbo four-cylinder 330i below it.
However consider the list of kit standard on the 340i but optional on the 330i (the extra-cost prices of which are in brackets): M Sport package with 19-inch alloy wheels ($2000) automatic park assistance and active cruise control ($1880) adaptive LED headlights with adaptive automatic high-beam ($1820) 16-speaker, 600-watt Harman Kardon audio system ($1462) heated front seats, electric rear window blind and electrically adjustable driver’s lumbar support ($1450) leather-trimmed dashboard ($1231) variable-ratio sport steering ($308) LED foglights ($308) and internet connectivity ($154).
Adding all of the above to the lesser-priced BMW of the two adds $10,613 to the price. It also pushes the 330i past the federal government’s luxury car tax (LCT) threshold of $75,375 meaning it will require an extra $1696 worth of tax.
When all equipment is equal, it leaves only a $7691 stretch from 330i to 340i.
The 3 Series interior is now four years old and has faced stiff competition from the S-Class-esque Mercedes-Benz C-Class and the tech-laden new Audi A4.
BMW has been clever updating its medium-sized sedan and coupe range, though, adding soft mood lighting, new trim textures and fresh graphics on its colour screens. It particularly works a treat with this 340i, thanks to a leather-trimmed dashboard that looks high-end.
The manual handbrake lever speaks of a simplicity that extends, pleasingly, to its controls. The 8.8-inch colour screen atop the dashboard is intuitive to use via the iDrive infotainment module including a rotary dial on the centre console flanked with shortcut buttons.
The sat-nav with traffic updates, digital radio and Harman Kardon audio are a trio of treats.
Our 340i was specified with a no-cost-option Luxury Line package, which includes extra chrome and woodgrain finishes. However the front seats are flat and not as supportive as the M Sport seats that thankfully are standard fare.
The 340i provides decent legroom and headroom for the class, and excellent seat support for outboard riders. The extra padding places a space premium on the centre passenger, whose legs will be restricted by the intrusive transmission tunnel. This BMW is best as a four-seater.
The 480 litre boot offers a sizeable and square space that can be extended via a 40:20:40 split folding rear backrest. A wagon bodystyle is no longer offered on 340i as it once was on 335i, however, being optional only on 330i and model grades below.
Engine and transmission
Nobody does in-line six-cylinder engines quite like BMW, and the turbocharged 3.0-litre unit tested here emphatically proves that rule.
With 240kW of power and 450Nm of torque rising 15kW/50Nm on the previous 335i, the new 340i claims 0-100km/h in 5.1 seconds and combined cycle fuel consumption of 6.8 litres per 100 kilometres.
The performance claim is realistic, as the engine has immediate and indulgent delivery through the lower and middle end of the tachometer, yet sounds raunchy and delivers genuinely brisk pace at the upper end.
However having tested the 185kW/350Nm 2.0-litre turbo 330i only weeks prior to this test, its 5.8sec 0-100km/h claim feels barely slower in the real world, partially thanks to a 45kg-lighter kerb weight.
The 340i also had a less fluent relationship with its eight-speed automatic transmission, which was brilliantly slick nine times out of 10, but occasionally felt less responsive when picking up the lowest ratios at low speeds. In short the 330i always felt snappier to respond.
Around town economy also sky-rocketed towards 20L/100km in heavy traffic, only halving that figure following an extended freeway and country road drive.
Ride and handling
The 3 Series chassis can be likened to a sedan version of the Mazda MX-5. There is no exaggeration here given the supreme front-end agility and classic rear-wheel-driven balance are a perfect match.
Driving the 340i can be a smooth and sedate affair with the adaptive suspension in Comfort mode and the transmission selecting higher gears and relying on surplus low-down engine torque. Yet with the flick of a switch, to Sport and Sport+ modes, this Luxury Line sedan comes alive with tight and sure control.
Only through really tight corners does the six-cylinder, with a 51.5 per cent front-biased weight distribution, not feel quite as immaculately balanced as the four-cylinder versions that portion total mass 50:50 front/rear. In numerical terms, the 340i places an extra 45.6 kilograms over its front axle compared with the 330i and that proved a significant deficit in ultimate turn-in ability.
Otherwise, though, the 340i remains a beautifully dynamic and engaging sedan with quick and accurate steering.
BMW has revised its rear suspension kinetics for the facelifted 3 Series that launched last year, and the result is far greater body control in Comfort mode than the previous equivalent. It is particularly noticeable over speed bumps, eliminating float almost entirely.
However the 19-inch wheels with low profile tyres (40-aspect front and 35-aspect rear) can clunk over sharp-edged imperfections, particularly when compared with the 18-inch wheels and 45-aspect tyres that are a no-cost option on the 330i only.
Safety and servicing
The 340i comes fully featured with forward collision warning with autonomous emergency braking (AEB), blind-spot monitor with lane departure warning, active cruise control, surround-view camera with front and rear parking sensors, adaptive high-beam plus the expected six airbags with three-stage stability control.
The only item BMW has missed is the ability to steer itself on the freeway for seconds at a time semi-autonomously, a feature available on C-Class and A4.
BMW Australia offers a $1340 Service Inclusive Package for every 3 Series covering all maintenance over five years or 80,000km with the exception of brake pads and discs, clutch replacement and wiper blades that form part of an additional servicing ‘plus’ option.
For under $100,000 the BMW 340i comes fully loaded, both in luxury and safety specification, and boasts the best engine and sharpest chassis of any sedan for the money.
Its ability to look and feel like a comfort-oriented model yet whip its suit off and play sports better than any medium-sized car marks it a real Clark Kent-to-Batman model.
However the 330i ultimately remains the sweeter car, and the fact it can be specified with more comfortable 18-inch wheels further emphasises its all-round abilities. It is only marginally slower than the 340i, yet is even more dynamic, and allows buyers to mix and match optional equipment.
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