2016 BMW 340i Review - The Lightest of Refreshes
2016 BMW 340i
The BMW 3 Series has been the benchmark to which all manner of vehicles are measured. The comparisons go beyond the likes of the Audi A4, Mercedes-Benz C-Class and Volvo S60, and include BMW M3 vs Chevy Camaro and BMW 328d vs Toyota Prius. It seems that every car company in America makes at least one “3-Series fighter.” But there’s a problem with your largest volume product being put on this kind of pedestal: die-hard fans hate change.
Enthusiasts claim that BMW ruined the 3 Series when they redesigned it in 2012. The “F30” sedan got bigger, fatter, softer, and more gadget-filled than ever before. BMW fanbois cried in their gemüsesuppe, Road & Track called it an “also ran” and … BMW laughed all the way to the bank.
For 2016 the 3-Series gets a facelift, new engines and a redesigned suspension. What isn’t changed, however, is BMW’s new direction. And that’s a good thing in my book.
The 3 Series has grown so much over the years that it is just one inch shy of a 1998 5 Series. American and Chinese shoppers who love big cars are driving this growth trend. You can even get a stretched 3 Series in China. And the latest 3 Series does nothing to curb that growth.
Instead, BMW stuck to its usual process of refining its design instead of replacing it. The tweaked front bumper is so subtle that I had to refer to BMW’s PR website to confirm the bumper is actually new. The headlamps, however, are a welcome change with the 340i now getting BMW’s excellent full-LED modules. Out back, some new taillamps and gentle bumper tweaks join the party. This means the 3 Series is still the simple-yet-elegant entry in its segment. It’s not as visually exciting as a Cadillac ATS, nor as jarring as the Lexus IS350 F-Sport, but it’s likely to age better than an Acura TLX or Infiniti Q50.
Changes to the interior are just as subtle. The cup holders gain a hinged lid instead of the silly tray they had before. BMW also added more ambient lighting, some extra chrome strips and a refreshed color palette.
As before, all models except for the M3 start with “leatherette” and you have to pony up $1,450 if you want the real cow. On the flip side, BMW continues to offer some of the most comfortable and adjustable seats in the segment.340i models start with BMW’s 10-way power front “sport” seats with inflatable side bolsters, four-way lumbar support and extending thigh cushion. You can option-out the sport seats at no cost if they are too bolstered for your tastes.
Although others in this segment post greater rear-seat legroom on paper, there is more usable space in the 3 Series than just about every competitor — except for the Q50 — because of the overall shape of the interior. BMW also gives you 13 cubic feet of trunk space, which is above average for the segment.
I’m surprised that BMW didn’t take the opportunity to swap out more of the interior panels for fresher parts, especially the questionable plastic below the climate control unit. This interior is still more luxurious and more cohesive in style than the Lexus IS or Infiniti Q50, but the new Audi A4 and Mercedes-Benz C-Class have moved the bar further than expected. Hopefully BMW takes note.
While some companies are jamming multiple enormous screens in the dash in their base models, BMW continues to charge gadget lovers extra. Even the 340i starts with BMW’s basic 6.5-inch iDrive system that offers basic USB and Bluetooth integration. If you want the snazzy 8.8-inch LCD seen in our model, you either need to get the $2,750 technology package — which also bundles the heads up display and BMW smartphone apps — or you can select the $1,950 stand alone navigation option. The enhanced USB and app integration is also available separately for $350. The current app suite allows you to Facebook, tweet and stream internet radio from your iPhone to the car’s radio.
iDrive wins the award for the most expensive infotainment system in this small segment yet again, but the latest iDrive software is also the most feature rich. The system’s tasteful high-res graphics, fast interface and superior phone integration, intuitive touch controller with finger-writing input and voice recognition software are all more polished than Audi’s MMI or even the latest Mercedes COMAND system — if you can afford it.
BMW is in the middle of a brand-wide drivetrain overhaul and it’s taking a while for this to filter down to America. In the EU, BMW has replaced the four-cylinder N20 engined with a new modular design (B48) shared with Mini. Still, the 320i and 328i’s engines remain unchanged in America.
Never mind that for now. We’re here to talk about the new 340i that replaced the outgoing 335i.
The new B58 engine is a member of BMW’s new modular engine family based around half-liter cylinders, which ranges from the 1.5-liter three-cylinder turbo found in the MINI Cooper and BMW i8 to the new 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbos in the new European versions of the 320i and 330i. For the moment, however, the new 3.0-liter inline-six is the only member of the family found in a BMW in the U.S.
Like the outgoing engine, the new six uses a single turbocharger with a twin-scroll turbine. The new engine’s turbo is slightly larger and BMW has moved to a water-to-air intercooler to reduce the length of plumbing and decrease turbo lag. Power figures take a bump to a rated 320 horsepower and 330pounds-feet of twist. A ZF eight-speed automatic transmission powers the rear wheels in the 340i and all four wheels in the 340i xDrive. If you’d rather row your own, you can select a six-speed manual as a no-cost option.
The 2016 refresh (or Life Cycle Impulse as BMW inexplicably calls it) sticks a fork in any hope that BMW plans to return the 3 Series to the way theE90 felt out on the road, even though a new suspension rides under the familiar sheetmetal. That’s not a bad thing in my book. (Yes, I’m ready for the pitchfork wielding villagers to run me out-of-town.)
Acceleration is blistering if you equip the 340i with the automatic transmission, running from 0-60 mph in 4.8 seconds in a dealer provided model. Opting for the manual transmission may make you feel more connected to the car, but it’ll add over half a second to your 0-60 time unless you’re a professional driver. That puts the 340i ahead of the Audi S4 or Mercedes-Benz C450 AMG, and just a hair behind the new Infiniti Q50 Red Sport 400 depending on what tires each vehicle has and if they’re equipped with all-wheel drive.
Our tester had the optional track handling package with upgraded tires, brakes and the M-Sport adaptive suspension. This package allowed the 3,665-pound sedan to brake to a stop from 60 mph in an impressive 110 feet with little fade. The updated suspension dramatically reduces the body roll found in the 2015 model and firms up the ride in the process.
Even with the new suspension and steering, the 2016 BMW 340i continues to show the automaker’s softer side. The 340i may accelerate like a 2006 M3 and brake like an ultra-light MX-5, but it rides more like a Mercedes-Benz than any BMW from the last decade. Steering is precise with perfect weight, but there’s precious little feedback from the tires. Despite hopes that the new suspension tune would unseat the Cadillac ATS or Lexus IS in terms of dynamics, the 340i is still a fast and comfortable daily driver.
When it comes to competition, things get tricky. The 340i isn’t the most direct IS 350 or ATS 3.6 competitor because the 328i is just about as fast as its naturally aspirated V6 competition. Instead, the 340i is in the next tier up where you’ll find the new Audi S4, Mercedes-Benz C450 AMG and Infiniti Q50 Red Sport — but below the Cadillac ATS-V, Mercedes-AMG C63 and BMW M3.
That said, BMW positions the 340i a little differently. Starting at $46,795, the BMW undercuts the Audi by $3,000 and the Mercedes by $4,000. The big reason isn’t overt value; it’s that jumping from the 328i to the 340i changes little other than the engine. That’s not the case for the Audi or Mercedes that get standard braking, suspension and trim upgrades. The S4 and C450 are therefore thematically more similar to the 340i optioned with either the M-Sport or Track Handling packages.
BMW also plays a different game when it comes to performance. Although you can get a six-speed manual in the S4 and the steering is more engaging than with the 340i, there is no rear-wheel-drive version. Also, the weight distribution of the S4 poses a challenge when it comes to handling, and that makes the 340i feel nimble in comparison. Meanwhile, the Mercedes has a nicer cabin, but the in-house designed seven-speed automatic isn’t a team player, and car’s the isolated nature is at odds with its performance mission. The BMW is simply smoother and more at ease than either competitor. Pitted against its peers, the 340i is like the smug kid in gym class that doesn’t break a sweat while the others bust their rears.
After a week with the 340i, I started drawing parallels to the Honda Accord in my head. (You may see this as positive or negative depending on your inclination.) The 340i doesn’t score top marks in any one area for me. The Q50 Red Sport is faster, the ATS handles better, the IS has better steering feel, the Q50 has more rear legroom, the C450 has a nicer interior, and the upcoming XE is likely to be a screaming deal. It’s actually easy to be the best in one metric like acceleration. What’s harder is building a sedan that scores second in nearly every category. Like the Accord, that’s exactly what the 340i does. BMW has wisely turned the 3 Series from a savant into a polymath.
I like the 3 Series for all the “wrong” reasons according to a buddy of mine who will let his E46 go over his cold dead body. I like the well-damped highway ride. I like the quiet cabin. iDrive is my favorite luxury infotainment system. I like the big back seat and the enormous trunk. I also like the prodigious, straight-line power, and I appreciate the chassis tuning that gives the handling crown to Cadillac in exchange for a daily-driver-friendly highway ride. That’s blasphemy to many of the BMW faithful, but it’s also true. That said, if my money were on the line, I’d take the less polished Infiniti Q50 Red Sport. Why? Because it is not as polished as the BMW. Go figure.
[Images: © 2016 Alex L. Dykes/The Truth About Cars]
BMW provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review.
Specifications as tested:
0-30: 2.4 seconds (manual)
0-60: 5.5 seconds (manual)
1/4 mile: 13.7 seconds @ 106 mph
Kosmo on Apr 01, 2016
Lots of comments. Has anybody said they'd take one of these tomorrow, in a wagon? Because I would, and I'm not internet-kidding. Always thought I'd have a BMW wagon until I died, then they quit allowing U.S. buyers to select the manual transmission, not too mention the big engine (though I could live with the new I4 and a stick shift).
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