BMW M340i xDrive Touring 2023 review
The M3 Touring might be stealing the limelight, but the M340i is proof that talent seeps through to the M-lite version
The M3 Touring is finally among us, and it’s just as good (if not better) than we dared hope. It’s a stunning driver’s car that just so happens to be a competent family load lugger, but boy does it come at a price - £86,365, to be exact, and with a few options you could be staring down the barrel of a £100,000 M3. Naturally, BMW will skirt you towards its M-lite models for a taste of full blooded performance for significantly less cash, which brings us neatly to the recently facelifted, £60,605 M340i xDrive Touring.
Sitting between the 330i and the M3, the spec sheet tells that the M340i isn't your ordinary trim level - there are meaningful hardware upgrades on offer here, such as uprated brakes, adaptive dampers and an electronically controlled locking rear diff. BMW’s B58 straight-six is front and centre, with a single variable vane turbo and 48V mild hybrid system pushing power and torque to 369bhp and 369lb ft, respectively. That puts it right at the sharp end against the 336bhp Audi S4 Avant and 355bhp Peugeot 508 PSE.
The M340i’s motor isn’t a bespoke M unit by any means, but it’s closer than you might imagine given that the M3’s S58 is, in essence, a heavily reworked B58. An eight-speed ZF torque converter automatic is the only gearbox available, which distributes power to all four wheels; useful in what is pitched as a benign fast estate to use all year round. With sub-zero temperatures and snow lining the roads on the day of this test, we find ourselves exploring that brief fully.
BMW has quite a handle on this engine and gearbox pairing. The unstressed, torque rich delivery simply can’t be emulated by rivals with fewer cylinders, but beyond that, the calibration and shift points are expertly tuned. Of course, you can dial up the powertrain to Sport+ for maximum attack, by which point the M340i wakes up to minute twitches of the throttle and piles on speed at an almost indecent rate. This is an awfully fast car, estate or otherwise.
The gear shifts are just about sharp enough to keep pace with the closely stacked intermediate ratios, and while it doesn’t simmer right at the top end, there’s really no need to batter the redline with so much mid-range pull. The noise is more of an issue, because it really is just that: a noise. It makes enough of it, but the synthesised, muted tone falls flat from inside the car. It’s like listening to an E46 M3 with earmuffs on.
But it's the xDrive system that colours the way the M340i drives, particularly in these conditions. Set the dampers to Normal and you can lower your guard as the car finds purchase, the stability systems smothering your inputs but not intruding as they might in something rear driven. You simply get on with the job of driving, marvelling at the traction and enormous speed you can carry.
So configured, the M340i is the dummy-proof all-weather machine you’d hope it would be, but xDrive has another trick in the toolbox if you decide to turn off the driver aids. Up to 100 per cent of torque can be sent to the back, so with a direct line between your right foot and the rear end, the M340i will rotate under power and hold an angle at will. The locking rear diff hooks up immediately and it feels almost entirely rear driven, but if you trust it and hold a steady right foot, the car will eventually drag itself straight as drive is directed towards the front. The key is to not overcorrect, and it's deeply satisfying when you nail it. Neither the Volkswagen Arteon R or the Peugeot 508 PSE have such a malleable balance.
It's all the more impressive when you consider the M340i Touring weighs 1,870kg, or about the same as an E60 M5. Truth be told, the impression of mass is well hidden and much of it can be dialled out with the dampers set to Sport+, where they manage to find breadth and control even through the most brutal dips and undulations. The trade-off is a lack of ultimate fluidity outside of these extremes, but the softer settings do claw some of this back.
That aside, it's in the finer degrees of control that the mask comes off and the M340i gives up its impression of a sports car. It isn’t one, to be frank, but there are some snags that aren’t tied to the fact that it’s a plush, heavy estate. The steering for instance loses clarity over rough tarmac, and doesn’t build with a natural sense of weight in any of the three modes (Comfort gives the most transparent feel). The brake pedal isn’t reassuring either, with too much squish before any meaningful bite.
That’s not to take away from the M340i Touring’s overall appeal, though, as it’s undeniably a mighty all rounder. The cabin feels beautifully made and modern without being a total screen fest, it’s effortless at a cruise and the boot is bigger than a Porsche Macan’s. A cut price M3 Touring? Not quite, but in the context of similarly positioned rivals from Audi, Volkswagen or Peugeot, the BMW has the sweetest powertrain of the lot, and none are as expressive or dynamically adept.
Price and Rivals
With petrols, plug-in hybrids and even diesels in the form of the Audi S4, there’s no set formula for fast estates in 2023, but BMW’s approach has the rest covered. But that’s not to say there aren’t any endearing alternatives - Peugeot’s 508 PSE offers a wonderfully fluent chassis and undercuts the £60,605 M340i by nearly six grand, despite its PHEV powertrain.
The trouble is, the 508’s cabin and comparatively plain 1.6-litre four pot feel like they warrant that price deficit. Despite costing more than the Peugeot, the flat-footed Volkswagen Arteon R has fewer redeeming qualities over the BMW - the Mercedes-AMG C43 gets much closer.
3-litre turbocharged straight-six