2016 BMW 340i xDrive Sedan Review
It’s certainly more understated from a styling perspective, albeit busier than a regular 3 Series. Its front lower fascia looks more aggressive thanks to my tester’s M Sport package that adds an aerodynamics package along with performance upgrades. The stunning machine-finished 19-inch twinned five-spoke alloys with gray-painted pockets are optional too, as are the M Sport brakes with blue-painted calipers poking out from within, while the aero package styling enhancements around back include an edgier bumper cap framing two fat chromed exhaust tips.Again, the 340 looks nowhere near as outrageously intense as an M3, but it’s certainly a nicely balanced bit of assertive elegance.
BMW continues balancing sport and luxury inside, my particular example finished in sharp looking camel brown leather upholstery with classy ivory piping and contrast stitching. The detailing on the seats is beautiful, with mostly solid full grain leather surrounding strips of embossed diamond-patterned hides for a nicely textured look. The unique leather treatment fills the door inserts too, complementing the solid leather armrests as nicely as it does the seats. The quality of the leather is superb, and the seats, front and back, are some of the most comfortable and supportive in the business.
Along with the beautiful two-tone motif, BMW added dark gray-finished hardwood inlays across the instrument panel, each door panel, and atop the lower center console, these trimmed with beautiful strips of satin-silver aluminum. Yet more aluminum dresses up the three-spoke M Sport steering wheel, the detailing around the shifter, the shifter itself, and elsewhere. Additionally, the roof pillars and roofliner are trimmed out in a black woven fabric for a sportier feeling cockpit than the usual beige.
Along with these styling enhancements the 3 Series gets the expected high-quality soft-touch surfaces we’ve all become accustomed to, including a full soft synthetic dash top, a soft touch instrument panel that flows right down below the knees and even encompasses the glove box lid, plus soft-touch door panels from the very top to lower extremities. The only surface that isn’t soft touch is the lower console, although BMW has increased the quality and density of the hard plastic used.
As with all BMWs the 3’s switchgear is excellent, from the minimalist dials on the steering wheel spokes and simple layout of the HVAC controls on the center stack to the rotating iDrive controller atop the lower console, not to mention the power window switches on each door and heatable seat switches on the back of the front console. It’s all impressive hardware.
The newest primary gauge package is a wonderful mix of analog dials and digital background, the dials seeming to float within the high-resolution color LCD TFT screen behind. There’s no noticeable change to the dash top infotainment display, its graphics still superb and resolution as crystal clear as anything in its class, while the iDrive system is easier to use than it’s ever been and as fully featured.
That sport steering wheel I mentioned a moment ago is wonderful; with ultra-slim spokes yet a thick, meaty rim that includes thumb spats for getting a good grip at the 9 and 3 o’clock positions. A set of sizable paddles are within easy reach and helpful for transforming the eight-speed automatic from silky smooth cog swapper into a blisteringly quick performance gearbox. Simply press the rocker switch next to the shifter upwards for Sport mode or another notch forward for Sport Plus, which turns off the traction and stability control, and you’re literally away to the races. This enhances throttle and shift response while allowing the transmission to rev higher between intervals, the process also enhancing steering reaction. If saving fuel and reduce emissions take priority, flick it downwards past Comfort to Eco Pro at which point it’ll optimize the entire car via BMW’s EfficientDynamics technologies.
For instance, the 3’s standard auto start/stop will shut the engine down at stoplights and then immediately bring it back to life as you remove your foot from the brake pedal, while those brakes will transfer otherwise wasted kinetic energy to the electrical system so as to limit drain from the 3’s ancillary systems. It all reduces gas consumption, while slightly retarded throttle response and shorter shifts do their part to limit the use of pricey premium fuel. With such systems in operation the as-tested 340i xDrive is good for an EPA claimed 23 mpg combined for the standard six-speed manual and 26 for the auto, impressive for such a powerful, performance-oriented sport-luxury sedan.
It really does drive brilliantly. The new engine still displaces 3.0 liters yet BMW, in its infinite wisdom, chose to rechristen it 340i rather than maintain the 335i designation that (for the time being) goes down in BMW lore, a strange move that will only make sense when you get behind the wheel. The all-new engine’s output is up considerably since last year’s 335i, from 300 horsepower to 320, while peak torque gets bumped from 300 lb-ft to 330 and is now available from 1,380 to 5,000 rpm. A mere 6.6 percent increase in thrust and 10.6 percent uptick in twist might not seem like much at first glance, but by the seat of the pants the new 340i feels totally rejuvenated, like taking off in a classic straight-six M3, while the engine makes particularly nice throaty noises all the way from idle to redline. Really, you can add this new mill to my favorite engines shortlist, while the paddle-shift actuated eight-speed autobox it comes mated to is a hyper-quick shifting masterpiece of modern tech, so smooth and efficient on one hand with such a ridiculously immediate reaction time on the other that you’ll be wondering if it’s a dual-clutch automated manual, other than its silky operation. All this despite the 2016 340i xDrive auto being 125 lbs heavier than the 335i xDrive auto it replaces, at 3,821 lbs, whereas the rear-drive version of the same model weighs the same at 3,695 lbs.
It certainly doesn’t feel any heavier through corners, the updated 3 providing its usual compliant ride with even more entertaining handling than the outgoing model. There’s an effortlessness to the way it goes about managing circuitous roadways that’s almost underwhelming, with a need to exceed posted speeds in order to get the adrenaline going. I remember how much fun I had in my old E30 325, even at moderate speeds, that car nowhere near the luxury machine this new one is and weighing far less than today’s lightest 2 Series, although the newer model is required to fulfill today’s desire for a premium experience that rivals Rolls-Royce models of yore. I can’t complain as it suits my 50-something style to a T. I’m quite certain an E30 wouldn’t live up to my daily dose of comfort now, but this F30 certainly does and then some, while providing levels of grip, whether dry, wet, snowy or tracking over any other type of untoward road condition, that I couldn’t have imagined way back then.
Still, I can’t help but wonder how much more enjoyable this compact would be if it weighed half a ton less. Right now the 340i xDrive is only 304 lbs lighter than a full-size Jaguar XJ AWD luxury sedan, although it weighs 37 lbs less than a similarly powered Audi S4. The significantly more powerful Mercedes-Benz C 450 AMG 4Matic hits the scales 95 lbs fitter, mind you. Can you imagine that? A competitive M-B that’s more athletic than a Bimmer?
Still, the way the 340i xDrive takes to the road silences my complaint, hightailing it to 60 mph in a mere 4.6 seconds with xDrive and 4.8 with rear-drive. While not quite as quick as the new car I liked last year’s 335i, although it felt a bit numb compared to 3s past. Not so with the 340i. BMW reworked the electric power steering for quicker response and better feel, while xDrive seems a bit more rear-wheel biased than the previous version. BMW recalibrated the eight-speed auto with wider spaced ratios as well, while the no-cost optional six-speed manual gets downshift rev matching for the first time. That you can even get the 3 with a manual anymore says a lot about BMW’s respect for this model’s hardcore enthusiast, let alone respect for the model’s legendary status as the ultimate sport sedan.
My 340i xDrive tester starts at $47,800 plus freight and dealer fees, which is $2,000 more than base price for the rear-drive 340i. Its Mineral Gray Metallic paint added $550, while that the M Sport package noted earlier added $2,600 to the bottom line and also included dark wood trim, variable sport steering and an adaptive M sport suspension to go along with the aforementioned upgraded brakes, whereas those 19-inch rims touched on before required another $900 bump. Additional upgrades included an $800 Cold Weather package with a heatable steering wheel plus heatable front and rear outboard seats; another $800 for a Lighting package that adds full LED headlamps with auto high beams; a $950 Driver Assistance package with front and rear parking sonar plus a rearview camera; the $1,700 Driver Assistance Plus package that further adds side and top view cameras, active blind spot detection, speed limit info and an active driver assistant; while the single biggest expense was $2,750 paid out for the Technology package that added an extended instrument panel, a head-up display, navigation, advanced real-time traffic info, and more. Standalone options included $1,200 for adaptive cruise control, $575 for rear side shades, a $500 parking assistant, plus more.
All of this was added to a four-door sedan that comes standard with LED taillights, pushbutton ignition, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a leather-wrapped multifunction sport steering wheel, dual-zone auto HVAC, a powered glass sunroof, a center through-load system allowing for 40/20/40 split-folding rear seatbacks that expand on an already accommodating 13.0 cubic-foot trunk, and plenty more.
It’s missing ventilated front seats, a panoramic sunroof and some other features offered with competitors, something BMW may want to address because its arch nemesis, the Mercedes’ C-Class, is starting to steal the show with 9,259 and8,224 sales through November and December 2015 plus 5,079 through January 2016 compared to 8,433, 5,262 and 3,287 for the 3 Series respectively, meaning that the 3 is no longer the bestselling premium compact in the U.S. (at least during this three-month snapshot). Of course, we need to factor in that the there’s no longer a 3 Series Coupe or Convertible while Mercedes also sells a two-door coupe under the C-Class banner, and that the 4 Series Gran Coupe is probably cannibalizing some sales from the 3 (it would be my choice of the two), the 4 responsible for 3,424, 5,601 and 1,832 sales over the same three months. Last year 3 Series sales fell 33.5 percent from 142,232 units to 94,527, representing its worst results since 2011. In comparison C-Class sales were up more than 14.6 percent, although the year prior was pretty dismal. The new 3 Series should help boost the model’s numbers, although its visual refresh was so microscopically nominal many would-be buyers might not realize it’s been changed so dramatically under the skin; hence the name change.
Word will soon get out about the new car’s enhanced dynamics, and believe me the 340i is well worth the price of admission. Dressed up like my tester, while coming close to being as accommodating as a 5 Series front to rear, its $63k price tag is justified, especially when factoring in the 3 Series’ higher than average resale value. Its worthy competitors are no longer merely biting at its heals, however, with the C now glancing backwards in its rearview mirror, so therefore only time will tell if this new 3 is what’s needed to win back the class-leading sales crown and bragging rights that go with it.
My money is on BMW for the win.
Story credits: Trevor Hofmann, American Auto Press; Photo credits: Karen Tuggay, American Auto Press; Copyright: American Auto Press