So I’m out driving around in an M340i when suddenly, a robotic voice coming through the speakers starts asking what I want, something to the effect of “Say a command, or choose from these categories…”
This can be pretty weird if you aren’t used to voice-activation, but looking at the big info-screen on the center console I can see that the system is offering me a series of choices – except that I don’t actually want it to do anything, so I say “cancel!”, because that usually works in these situations.
My artificial co-pilot replies in a monotone: “Current. Weather” and displays this:
Now, maybe it is my thick Etruscan accent, but I get this kind of miscommunication a lot with voice command systems; which is why I don’t really like them all that much.
(Oh, and the reason the voice started up in the first place was because there is a button on the steering wheel that activates the whole voice-communication thing, and it is really easy to accidentally hit it with your thumb. Trust me, I did it several times while driving the car).
I’ll tell you what I do like, though: the 2020 M340i from BMW.
Part of the seventh generation of the company’s mainstay 3 Series, the one we’re looking at here is the first of the 3s to get the M Performance treatment, promising to kick the car up (yet another) notch.
The most obvious upgrade is to the powertrain, with the M340 getting a new version of the six-cylinder engine, a wonderfully smooth 3.0 litre twin-turbo monster that promises 382 horsepower and 369 lb.-ft. of torque and puts it to the wheels (all the wheels, in the case of my test car) through BMW’s intelligent all-wheel drive system.
Depending on the drive mode selected, the xDrive system increasingly sends more power to the rear wheels, and when you’ve selected the more ‘dynamic’ modes (Sport or Sport+) the system will put it even more when it detects a driver steering hard into a corner.
Honestly, I have never had any complaints about power or handling in any 3 Series I have driven, but the M Performance model boasts improvements to what was already a great driving experience through a model-specific rear differential, and chassis and suspension tuning.
The transmission is an 8-speed Steptronic, which is equally quick and smart – in fact, an interesting thing that BMW points out is that this transmission works with both the car’s ‘intelligent connectivity’ system as well as the radar sensors from the Cruise Control equipment – essentially to allow maximum performance, safely, by determining what it thinks the driver is doing in situations involving either other traffic on the road or when cornering. The company explains it as avoiding unnecessary downshifts, or in other cases, employing earlier downshifts when approaching an obstacle.
Clever stuff, all of it, and perhaps my one regret is not using the transmissions Launch Control function (which optimizes traction control when you’re blasting off from a standing start, to keep the M340 in a straight line). I just figured there would be no point in unnecessarily scrubbing extra rubber off the tires, just to amuse myself; so I’ll take Bimmer’s word for it when they say that it can catapult the car from 0-100 km in 4.4 seconds.
Anyway, a first-rate driving experience is guaranteed with the M340i and not only when you’re driving hard, but even just from sitting in the cabin using the car as a regular ol’ daily driver.
Inside the redesigned cabin (the company loves to refer to their ‘design language’ regarding the interior styling) is a new-look dash and console, featuring the bright and enlarged information screen and ultramodern lines. The digital instrument cluster behind the wheel is likewise new for 2020 and can be tailored to display a variety of information.
BMW says the cabin has had more space carved out for passengers, and indeed I found the car generously roomy up front, very good overhead room and shoulder space; and not too bad in the rear seats. I will venture, though, that the rear might feel less generous if it were filled to its max (3-person) capacity.
All the surfaces in my test vehicle felt great to the touch, with component materials having been upgraded from the previous generation. This particular 3 series also benefitted from an option package that clad the dash in ‘Walknappa’ leather, and all the seats were wrapped in cognac-colored Vernasca leather surfaces.
A Harmon/Kardon sound system provided the ambient background to an elegant driving experience from within the cockpit.
So the inside’s great, and the outside, well it is also pure BMW.
By now I am sure everybody’s joked about the company making the twin-kidney grille larger and larger every year, and the front of my M340i carried on this tradition (although they go as nuts on enlargement as they have done with some of their SUV models). The mesh inserts on the car pictured here replace the more common vertical slats I am used to seeing.
The appearance of the car has been made more aggressive, sweeping from the attention-getting grille with contour lines on the hood that lead the observer’s eye from front to rear, down new rooflines and culminating in trapezoidal tailpipe trim.
You have to love a car that looks like it’s moving even when parked, and this one doesn’t disappoint.
So heck, I’d say sure, run out and buy one, but let’s not overlook a couple of factors here – there is the price of course, and also as you may have figured, that premium-drinking turbo 3.0L engine isn’t the most fuel-economical powerplant but there is also the low ground and curb clearance of the car.
Fortunately the vehicle has a lot of sensors (and a very cool overhead-view display that helps a lot when parking), but that won’t save you if you have a lot of those really aggressive speed bumps in your city. Indeed, for my city, a utility vehicle like the X5 would probably be the more practical choice.
Ah, but practicality is not what we’re all about here. This vehicle is all about high style and luxurious elegance (and telling you the current weather trends, whether you want it to or not), and that can be had starting in the low 60K range.
The test car pictured here pushed that up with the addition of the Premium Excellence option package (which added $8,300), Tanzanite Blue metallic paint ($1,450) and adaptive M suspension ($600), all of which is quite desirable. Tack on a destination charge ($2,245) and it comes out to $74,445