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Review of the 2016 BMW 340i: Subtle Steps Forward

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On: Wed, Jan 27, 2016 at 11:10AM | By: Lou Ruggieri

Review of the 2016 BMW 340i:  Subtle Steps Forward

When it comes to performance coupes and sedans, not moving forwards is the same as moving backwards. There is so much competition that there is no time to sit on your haunches and relax, even if you are the market leader. No matter how far ahead you might be in one model generation, there are no fewer than four car companies nipping at your heels to create a newer version of their car to beat yours. For 2016, BMW has taken its perennial 3-Series and moved it a couple very small incremental steps forward in an attempt to retain its title as 'best midsize luxury sedan'.  

From the outside, it looks as though almost nothing has changed for 2016. The very subtle changes are so slight that only a side-by-side comparison, or a very, very avid Beemer fanatic, could show you the difference. Small fascia changes on the exterior, like slightly resculpting and moving the headlights farther towards the edges of the front fascia, small movements in the taillight positioning, and some metal trim strips on the interior are the only real visually apparent differences between the 2016 model and the outgoing 335i, aside from just a different badge. 

But, the 340i is much more than meets the eye. Once you get past the cosmetic, it's easy to see why the 340i is a very improved version of the outgoing 335i. The biggest news is that the engine that powered the 335i, dubbed the N55 is no more. While it was a stout engine producing a healthy 300 horsepower, BMW decided to nix it and upgrade. The new motor is an all-aluminum 3.0-liter twin-turbo inline-6 with variable valve control (Double-VANOS and Valvetronic) and high-precision direct injection, dubbed the B58. This motor ups the ante in power to a very driver-friendly 320 horsepower and 332 lb-ft of torque. The 340i is also the only BMW 3-Series model you can get in six-cylinder form, aside from the mighty (and mighty expensive) M3.

The N58 was built to be more refined, more powerful, and more efficient than the one it replaces, and accomplishes all of those goals with flying colors. It helps propel the new Bimmer to 60 mph in only 4.8 seconds, to 100 mph in 11.6 seconds, and through the quarter mile in 13.3 seconds @ 106 mph, all of which best the 335i by a few tenths or more. Top speed is still limited, however, to a still self-imposed 155 mph. Backing the new engine is a driver's choice of either a ZF-sourced eight-speed automatic that is lightning quick and actually churns out faster acceleration times than the six-speed manual, which is a no-cost option, and our clear choice for any BMW, acceleration times be damned. If you must have an automatic, you can change gears manually via steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters.

The 340i also sports some small improvements to its F30 chassis. Things like retuned rear dampers, stiffer front struts, and new programming for the electrically assisted steering all help the overall ride and feel of the 340i. Not surprisingly, the lateral grip for the 340i also bests the 335i—0.91 g vs. 0.87 g. The very successful X-Drive optional all-wheel drive is still a $2,000 option, but for anyone who wants a sports sedan and still have the ability to drive when the weather gets below perfect, it is more than worth the money. And even more good news is that you can have your X-Drive and still shift your own gears, as the manual tranny is available on both drivetrains.

Being the top dog in a BMW lineup (outside of the M-Division) comes with a lot of prestige, and pressure. Non-M cars don't get a pass if they don't embody The Ultimate Driving Machine mantra, and with that notion clearly in mind (and probably some version of it on every designer's and engineer's office), BMW has debuted the new Track Handling pack for all 3-Series models. This option pack is an assortment of hand-me-downs from the M-Division, including: M Sport Brakes, Adaptive M suspension, and variable sport steering. Essentially giving you the ability to modify your 3-Series to M-level, sans the M-engine. Another very underrated feature of the $1,700 Track Pack are the Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires that could very well be the best in the business and really turn up the Bimmer's on-road performance vs. the outgoing run-flats.

It seems the goal with the 340i was to toughen up the 3-Series' rep, as it has gotten a little soft around the edges according to quite a few of the Bimmer faithful. The first was more luxury than sport, and seemed to have lost that Bavarian thrill that first put BMW on the map. The 340i seems to have solved a lot of those issues by improving the thing that matters most: Driving. The steering does a fine job of telling the driver what's happening under the front tires, while not bothering him or her with every single little detail. The tires are track-worthy and grip like they could be partially melted to the pavement. The 340i goes quicker, stops shorter, handles better and even gets better mileage 22/33 city/highway vs. 21/32 for the outgoing 335i. Significant time was spent trying to get eventhe exhaust note of the 340i to sound a bit better and nastier, just to add a little flair to the package; nothing crazy, mind you, but a sound that a least get the blood of its driver moving a little faster than before.

All in all, the 340i isn't revolutionary so much as it is evolutionary. Even the base price of $45,800 is only about two grand more than the 335i, as every improvement does cost money no matter how slight they may seem. It is a very impressive car that has built its reputation on an already impressive car. By themselves, each small improvement may not seem like much, but altogether, those small modifications add up to a car that is noticeably better than the one it replaces, and that was the point of the 340i. BMW needs to keep improving every day on its blue-chip model because there are a host of companies that are all vying for the throne that the 3-Series has in the hearts and minds of the general public, and BMW has every intention of keeping The Ultimate Driving Machine wearing a blue and white badge.

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