Review: The 2023 BMW M340i xDrive Holds On to Dynasty

Less impressive inside, but just as exciting under the hood after its new refresh

July 31, 2023 6:42 am
The 2023 BMW M340i xDrive
The 2023 BMW M340i xDrive
Fabian Kirchbauer

For the past 15-ish years, the BMW 3 Series has offered loyal customers the chance to enjoy executive car trappings packaged in a chassis that’s a bit more playful than nearly any other compact luxury option. While the second half of that two-part promise has been increasingly attenuated by the growth of the 3 Series platform (and the inevitable weight gains that come with it), its cabin and features have largely held up their end of the bargain in making this small sedan feel like it belongs to a more upscale universe.

What, then, to make of the 2023 BMW M340i? It’s the first refresh of the brand’s most popular four-door to emerge from the new cost-cutting mindset currently ruling the roost in its native Munich.

With BMW’s stated mission of slicing a quarter from the production costs of every new model, extending the 3 Series charm into this new era is a tall order, especially when that bottom line focus is thrust directly into the face of the driver. It took me nearly a thousand miles behind the wheel, crossing through the Hudson Valley that lies between Montreal and New York City, to suss out the strengths and weaknesses of the M340i’s new place in the premium car pantheon.

The good news? Some of its best bits remain core strengths. The bad? Owners will be asked to tolerate a decidedly less appealing environment to benefit from the most intriguing aspects of the automobile.

Superior Firepower

The M340i represents the apex of the BMW 3 Series outside of the “true” M-car family, which means it’s bundled with the highest-spec features and equipment available from the model, and also ensures its most compelling level of performance.

The 2023 BMW M340i xDrive engine
Under the hood
Fabian Kirchbauer for BMW

Of the latter, the sweetest taste of what the M340i has to offer is experienced each and every time the accelerator is floored. Wake up the car’s 3.0-liter, turbocharged six-cylinder engine and you’ll be greeted by the full fury of its 382 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque, published numbers that are almost certainly a winking underestimate from an automaker fending off encroachment on the more expensive M3’s lofty dyno sheet. Outfitted with all-wheel drive, the M340i just barely trails its 504 horsepower sibling in the sprint to 60-mph, and will even munch on several prominent sports cars in most contests of straight-line speed.

The potential of the M340i’s power plant was demonstrated again and again as I sailed down I-87, transporting my father, a life-long Yankees fan, to his first-ever attendance at a Bronx Bombers’ home game. Opportunities to pass were pounced on and processed in an eye-blink, with the BMW inhabiting the left lane for only the briefest of moments before settling back in to the flow of traffic. Acting in concert with the car’s turbo powerband was its excellent eight-speed automatic transmission, which returns alongside a mild 48-volt hybrid system intended to help smooth over any small gaps in forward thrust. It’s a tough trio to catch off-guard, with only sudden off-the-line pedal stomps resulting in the occasional huddle to determine when exactly to light the fuse.

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Although the 3 Series has maintained near total dominance in the drivetrain department, its chassis has succumbed somewhat to the “stiffer is better” mentality that pervades less granular interpretations of sport sedan chassis tuning. Even with the car’s adaptive dampers set to “comfort” mode, undulations in the pavement, expansion joints, and shallow potholes all transmit their booming bounce directly to the cabin, making the car surprisingly noisy as it jostles riders on rougher roads.

Nickels And Dimes

One of the reasons I’d selected the BMW M340i as the mile-eater for our long-planned Yankees road trip was due to how well past iterations coddled and comforted despite being priced more modestly than larger luxury fare. With that expectation in mind, it was here that the refreshed 3 Series disappointed me the most.

The 2023 BMW M340i xDrive dashboard
The dash
Fabian Kirchbauer for BMW

The M340i’s cabin offers the clearest indication of where the automaker has elected to pull price out of the vehicle. On the center console the once sporty shift knob has been replaced by a vestigial nub that is flicked forward and backward to engage gears, while the gauge binnacle directly in front of the driver has swapped its cowl for a rectangular plastic screen that stretches flat and unremarkable across the dashboard to meet up with the same-size infotainment display.

The move to iDrive 8 from last year’s 7 has improved the system’s usable on-screen real estate, but it’s also wiped out the row of climate control and preset buttons that used to sit directly below it. This means that aside from a volume knob and defrost functions, it’s now necessary to dig into the screen to access almost every function that previously fell quickly to the fingertips, adding a layer of frustration and inconvenience to drivers (but pleasing the accountants whose complaints about spending fueled the change).

The end result is a bland-looking instrument panel and an overall drop in the level of refinement, to the point where the car has trouble separating itself from better-designed cockpits in more affordable mainstream sedans. Throw in armrests and seats that feel stiffer and less supportive than past models, and it’s a step back for BMW in terms of the experience inside the passenger compartment.

The 2023 BMW M340i xDrive front driver side tire
Some tire and exterior detail
Fabian Kirchbauer for BMW

Two Paths Diverge On An Interstate

It appears as though the BMW M340i has arrived at a fork in the road for 2023. It’s one that is increasingly encountered among premium fare that finds itself competing with non-luxury cars in terms of technology and design, where a newfound reliance on inexpensive screens in place of plastic-and-chrome switchgear has become an economical crutch that dilutes the attention to detail that had previously made their cabins feel special.

Balancing that out, however, is the BMW’s excellent engine and transmission. It’s no stretch to say that this motor and gearbox combination are among the best ever offered by the automaker, a truly exceptional combination that has few peers in terms of power and panache. Yes, the sedan itself might err on the side of over-damping when it comes to how it handles real-world roads, but the smooth power that’s always on hand makes up for much of the lack of character and creeping comfort deficit inside the car. At the very least, a thousand miles of cruising in the M340i left me unexhausted, if not always impressed by its interior trappings, and I’ve no doubt that’s a repeatable experience in all manner of conditions.

The 2023 BMW M340i xDrive rear end
From the back
Fabian Kirchbauer for BMW

In some ways, the M340i reminded me of the Yankees themselves. One of baseball’s proudest dynasties, the team is currently experiencing a bit of a bump in their season, as evidenced by dropping two of three games to the Chicago Cubs during our weekend visit. Even despite their struggles, however, the Yankees are an institution, and the bleachers were loaded with the faithful, certain that the team can pull itself to its previous heights. People still show up, the stadium is still packed, and there is still hope that the purse strings will once again loosen and an across-the-board winner will make it to the plate. In the case of the BMW 3 Series — also an institution — it’s likewise time to blast past the salary cap and invest in an interior fit for the slugging firepower sitting under the hood.

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