Whether it’s a German performance sedan or a French crossover, cars from Europe know how to turn on the charm.

WHAT IS IT?

Since the first 3 Series saw the light of day in 1975, it has been BMW’s best-selling model and accounted for a third of overall sales. You’d be excused for believing that this has changed over the years, but even in 2021 the 3 Series sold more than any other BMW, SUVs included.

WHY THIS?

The M340i is a hell of a vehicle – much like the VW Golf GTi, it is an easy car to live with and yet can turn into nothing short of a sports car when the urge strikes. It’s that rare beast that delivers two very different characters without compromising on either.

OUTSIDE                     

The 3 Series recently received a nip and tuck that has given it fresh legs. Slimmer lights, sculpted rear bumpers and a few other details distinguish it from its older brethren, while the M340i gets a subtle rear spoiler and trapezoidal exhausts to set it apart from the more mundane models. In fact, subtle seems to be the word that springs to mind again and again when describing the M340i, especially in the flat-grey paint it was wearing when it arrived at my house. This car never shouts when a quiet word will do, preferring its actions to do the talking.

INSIDE

Turn your attention to the interior, and you’ll see more substantial changes – the huge curved instrument cluster is paired with an even bigger infotainment display, and there’s also a heads-up display for added fighter-pilot feel. Because of all these screens, there are very few physical buttons – this is a shame. It does have useful voice control, though.

Also new is the small gear toggle (it’s too small to be called a lever) that sits in a recessed well in the centre console. It all adds up to a minimalist, clean design that looks great but requires delving into the menus all too often.

THE DRIVE

The M340i is not far off an M3, with a turbocharged 3-litre, straight six petrol engine that produces 285kW and propels the vehicle from 0 – 100km/h in just 4.3 seconds. That power is usable, too, since the M340i features X-Drive, an all-wheel-drive system that makes cornering and traction under acceleration simply phenomenal. An 8-speed automatic transmission is standard, with paddle-shift.

I’ve already said that this is a car that is easy to live with, and part of this is the different modes that can be selected. Sports mode, for example, tunes the engine response, gear changes, steering and suspension damping to make it a more engaging drive. Comfort mode focuses on exactly that. The result is a car that you will love to drive, day in and day out.

FINAL WORD

Having driven the M340i for a week, I am again reminded why the 3 Series remains a major part of BMW’s business strategy – not only is it an integral piece of its heritage, but the qualities that it embodies have not disappeared just because society now prefers something taller and more utilitarian. 

GO GET IT

As far as sports cars go, the M340i’s price of R1 370 000 isn’t extreme, but this is a 3 Series and not an M3 – make up your own mind. The price includes a 5-year/100 000km motorplan. Visit www.bmw.co.za for more.

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