The world of high-performance automotive engineering has a way of moving on at a surprisingly rapid pace. Take the BMW M3, for example, which has been a performance car icon since its launch way back in 1986. The first one was powered by a naturally-aspirated 2.3-litre four-cylinder engine, which produced 195 horsepower. The newest one, which was unveiled last year, has a 3.0-litre twin-turbo six-cylinder powerplant that kicks out 480 horsepower or 510bhp for the ‘Competition’ variant.
From 195 to 510 horsepower in less than four decades – that’s quite some progress. Of course, the new M3 is also bigger, heavier and more complex than the 1980s original. And it’s also pretty much unobtainable for most buyers; when it arrives in India later this year, the new M3 is expected to cost approximately Rs 1.25 crore. So, yes, the M3 is the high-performance BMW that most can only dream about.
However, what if BMW made an M3-lite? A car that had, say, about seventy-five percent of the M3’s performance, at roughly half the price? Wouldn’t that be a rather more accessible car, maybe a more practical purchase? Certainly yes, and BMW has launched exactly such a car in India; the new M340i. While the 330i is powered by a 2.0-litre inline-four that produces 258bhp, the M340i gets one of BMW’s much-admired 6-cylinder engines, a turbocharged 3.0-litre straight-six that kicks out an impressive 374 horsepower (only 100bhp down on the mighty M3!) and 500Nm of torque.
To understand this engine in human terms, one must take a look at Raffael Gordzielik, the three-time German Strongman Championship winner who in 2019 claimed the title of the World’s Strongest Man. He stands at 6”7’, weighs 170kg and can deadlift 400 kilos. His work ethic, according to his own admission, is ‘work your ass off.’ Clearly, anyone going up against Herr Gordzielik in a contest of strength can, in all probability, expect things to not go very well for them.
The same is it with M340i, which has a very take-no-prisoners approach to power delivery. Floor the throttle in any gear and the 3.0-litre straight-six brings out every one of its 374 horses to bear, with the car rocketing from zero to 100kph in a mere 4.4 seconds (that’s quicker than a V8-engined Ferrari F355!) and going on to hit a top speed of 250kph.
While the M340i’s top speed might be of academic interest only for most people in most circumstances, what’s really impressive – and endlessly entertaining – is the way this four-door, five-seater ‘family sedan’ accelerates. The M340i features BMW’s xDrive all-wheel-drive system, which sends 60 percent of the power to the rear wheels and 40 percent to the front in normal driving situations. (If there’s wheelspin at either end, the xDrive system can redistribute power in an instant, sending most of it to the wheels that still have traction.)
Power is meted out via an 8-speed ‘Steptronic’ automatic that works extremely well, providing seamless acceleration across the engine’s rev range. It’s the whole package really – the engine provides relentless thrust, the transmission works in perfect sync with the engine and since the power is fed to all four wheels, the car feels rock stable under hard acceleration and during high-speed lane change manoeuvres and in fast corners.
Would pure rear-wheel-drive be even better? For highly skilled drivers who have a lot of experience with very powerful RWD cars, maybe. For the vast majority of regular drivers, with fat bank accounts and average driving skills, xDrive provides a welcome safety net that we appreciate. Near 400bhp is not to be trifled with, remember.
Accelerating hard and going fast are only some of the M340i’s talents. The car also shines in terms of its high-speed handling prowess and, more surprisingly, the reasonably high levels of ride comfort it offers despite being fitted with 18-inch alloy wheels and low-profile tyres, which are best suited to smooth tarmac. The suspension is firm but not too stiff, and that’s a good thing given the often-poor quality of our roads. There’s a double-joint spring-strut axle at the front and five-link axle at the back, with lightweight aluminium-steel construction and M-specific tuning.
The steering feels nicely weighted and provides fulsome feedback (something of a rarity these days) and is delightfully tactile at higher speeds. The M340i is a car that the enthusiast driver will love driving on twisty, challenging mountain roads – the surefooted handling, urgent and immediate response from the engine and the nicely communicative steering all come together to make this M great fun to drive.
The inside of the M340i’s is characterised by generously proportioned seats (power-adjustable at the front) with Alcantara upholstery, swathes of textured metal trim on the dashboard, leather steering wheel, digital instrument panel with customisable display, large colour touchscreen for infotainment, full smartphone connectivity and iDrive for controlling all of the car’s functions. There’s also automatic three-zone climate control and physical buttons for controlling the AC and the sound system, which is always useful.
The front seats are, of course, as expansive and comfortable as you’d expect but even the rear bench isn’t a bad place to spend some time in, as there’s more than enough legroom and headroom at the back. In terms of safety equipment, the M340i gets ABS, traction control and stability control, along with multiple airbags all around, crash-active head restraints at the front, and a tyre pressure indicator.
The M340i is essentially an M3-lite that’s clearly meant for those who enjoy driving themselves – the chauffeur-driven might as well simply buy the 3 Series Gran Limousine and be done with it. BMW launched the M340i with an ex-showroom price tag of Rs 62.90 lakh and at the time of writing this, all units allocated for the Indian market have already been sold out.
So, if you want one and haven’t booked your car already, you might be out of luck. The first 40 buyers are even getting a curated driver training session: expert tuition from BMW-certified trainers so that owners can learn to extract the maximum performance from this super-sedan. Will BMW will give in to demand and bring in another batch of these cars to India? We don’t know, but we certainly hope they do.