Words by: Adam Allen
You seem overjoyed to drive the G20.
Us? Do you mean the Infiniti snooze fest which was based on the Nissan Primera of the early Ought’s and honestly, never really lit a fire under us and….oh, wait, you mean BMW’s new 3-series! In that case, we were overjoyed with this fully new generation even before all four wheels had left BMW’s parking lot. That’s right folks- the G20 only needs mere meters before it reveals that it’s something special again. Let’s get one thing straight- the F30 vintage was not a bad car- it just lost touch with the 3-series ethos more than any generation that came before it. Don’t blame BMW; blame their customers, who demanded Lexus-like numbness and an emphasis on luxury features. That chorus reached a fevered pitch that grew too loud to ignore on a model with that does a great deal to keep the lights on at BMW. This time they have pursued a more balanced approached, keeping that luxury, tech and refinement that was relentlessly demanded but also making it more engaging and athletic- you know, for those who still think that a 3-series should be a highly effective tool at extracting driving enjoyment.
It must be a crushing burden to be tasked with a clean sheet redesign of such an important car.
And you thought you had it tough deciding whether to add mayo to your BLT (you always say yes to that, by the way.) When the engineers who worked on the G20 3-series were given their mandate, lesser people- your humble author included- would have folded like dinner napkin at the thought. This car alone is responsible for more than half of BMW’s worldwide sales and is still regarded as the bogey everyone chases when they unleash a sports sedan of their own. But can you imagine the pressure they must have been under? Thanks, but no thanks.
Not only is there pressure, but you’ve got to deal with the ceaseless comparisons to 3-series past as well.
Yes, we have heard it all- the E36 was the most beautiful, the E46, the best handling. No matter which generation you are partial to it has long been established that the 3-series was reliably special year in and year out. But even a dynasty like the Golden State Warriors has their curtain call (Thank you, Raptors!) and so rather than lamenting the past we’re going to look to the future and not continue spinning yarn on the days of old. The one thing we will say is that our 2020 tester has taken a measured step to capture the duality that used to coexist so perfectly in the 3-series- yes, it’s well-appointed and comfortable by will also serve as an exacting implement if deconstructing your favorite twisty bit of tarmac is on the agenda.
The interior is a huge departure from before.
The only thing we miss about the F30 was the analogue gauges. It’s not like the new digital dash and accompanying monster sized infotainment screen aren’t welcome changes, it’s just that this thread which served to unify each 3 since the beginning has been cut. Actually, our tester looked an awful lot like the cockpit of the M850i we flogged recently, only airier and with more room. It’s the newest car in the lineup to enjoy the treatment of BMW’s near universal interior design, and it wears it well- it’s all new and yet it feels familiar at the same time. The build quality is sensational, the materials as top shelf as any you will find in the segment. There’s some new tricks on the menu, like being able to tap into the expertise of your very own on-board Intelligent Virtual Assistant to locate the closest gas station, or even say something like “Hey BMW, I’m cold!” and be amazed as the temperature and fan speed are adjusted. While didn’t make use of many of the tech features that BMW are justifiably proud of like the driver assistance aids and Parking Assistant Plus (we like to do that by ourselves, thank you very much) we did wholly enjoy the incredible Harmon Kardon stereo up to irresponsible volume levels. Curiously, cooled seats were not on the menu, a surprising omission considering the level of equipment.
That’s great, but it’s not going to matter much if the M340i isn’t any good to drive.
Despite some missteps, the BMW 3-series has remained the benchmark all manufacturers use when developing their own sports sedans, and why not? The 3 has been blessed with a magic balance throughout the years of a compliant, comfortable ride yet sharpened, engaging driving dynamics working in harmony. Since we promised to avoid wistful comparisons to the generations from the Nineties and early Ought’s we’ll distill the driving experience down to this: it’s very good. The G20 puts forth a yeoman’s effort in bridging the gap between the present and its lauded ancestors and is unanimously better than its predecessor. The chassis feels alert and communicates with the driver more intimately. It responds to control inputs obediently and with enthusiasm. It’s not just good in the twisty bits, as we found the M340i to be an accomplished highway cruiser. In the same way that a golden retriever feels so natural and at home when it’s swimming or playing fetch, that’s the way we would describe this car when on the highway, either at a reasonable clip or at speeds that could land you in jail. It’s effortless, and it makes you wish for the Autobahn to really explore what it can do- speed limits kind of hobble this car. All this is made possible by BMW’s peerless B58 twice turbocharged inline six. The conversation of the best inline six engine of all time starts and ends with this mill in our estimation. It manages to pull off impressive efficiency and stout performance, and it never feels artificially aspirated, instead feeling like a larger displacement engine with more than six cylinders. Simply put, it’s brilliant, and while we have not tried the 4-cylinder model yet this is the engine you want powering your 3-series.
What might go wrong?
Not much, which should bode well in restoring the 3’s greatness. Nits to pick are few and far between, but you know us; no car is ever free from our intense scrutiny (read: complaints.) Those relegated to the rear seat won’t be spoiled by acres of legroom, the price tag keeps increasing and it’s still just a touch too refined and isolated, at least to our tastes. Did you think we’d forget to bemoan that you cannot, for the first time in this car’s existence, equip your 3-series with a manual gearbox? Please reconsider this decision, BMW- this car would make for an excellent alternative to the hard core M3 if that ever becomes a reality.
Should I buy a M340i?
Yes, but make sure it’s rear-wheel drive. We know that advice is likely to be ignored, especially after the hellish winter we had, but the 3’s chassis is so good and intricately balanced and while the xDrive system is now even better than the Audi A4’s Quattro, you want the purity of rear-wheel drive in your sports sedan. An understandable compulsion to buying an M340i is because its much better than it’s competitors and is indisputably once again at the top of the sports sedan heap. Do you need a better reason than that?
2020 BMW M340i – Specifications
- Price as tested: $72,200
- Body Type: 4-door Sedan
- Powertrain Layout: Front engine/all-wheel drive
- Engine: 3.0-litre inline-6 turbo, DOHC, 24 valves
- Horsepower: 382 @ 5,500 rpm
- Torque (lb-ft.): 369 @ 1,520 rpm
- Transmission: 8-speed automatic
- Curb weight: 1,711 kg (3,772 lbs)
- Observed Fuel Economy: 10.7/100km (22mpg)