CHIHUAHUA, Mexico — We’ve had something of a love/hate relationship with the current-generation BMW 3 Series since it debuted for the 2012 model year. We tested a 328i luxury line model as a Four Seasons car and appreciated the power and pace from its turbocharged 2.0-liter four-banger. But we couldn’t shake the feeling that something was missing — that this 3 Series was lacking the magical fun-to-drive quotient that has traditionally secured its status as the gold standard of the compact sport sedan class.
Then we drove a sport line variant of the 328i equipped with BMW’s optional adaptive M suspension. Now this was more like it. The steering and chassis response, the grip, the controlled ride — they were all present and accounted for. We simply did it wrong. The correct option boxes were left unchecked, and this made all the difference between a sport sedan and a luxury sedan. The “new” 2016 BMW 3 Series (refreshed is a more accurate term) continues to have this split personality. Fill out the options form incorrectly and you risk winding up with a 3 Series your mom will love, but you’ll regret.
A cursory look at the exterior of 2016 3 Series reveals the expected nip/tuck treatment at each end. The nose gets new LED headlights spaced farther apart, along with larger air intakes in the front valance. The rear end is similarly revised with new LED taillights, dual exhaust tips, and a sportier looking rear apron. Inside the cabin, new ambient lighting and various trim bits further jazz up BMW’s bread-and-butter model. BMW has also decided to make certain sport line trim elements — including black exterior trim, sport seats, and the sport instrument cluster — standard equipment for the 320i and 328i.
BMW has also tuned up a few key mechanical and chassis elements, including revising the electric-assist steering system, strengthening the mounting points of the front suspension struts, and firming up the rear dampers for better dynamic response. The standard eight-speed automatic transmission is claimed to be more fuel-efficient with a wider spread of gear ratios and reduced torque converter slip between shifts.
But the big news for the 2016 BMW 3 Series lineup centers on waving goodbye to the 335i model and saying hello to the new 340i. What’s this BMW 340i all about? A new engine, primarily. The 340i’s all-new inline-six (B58 for you BMW code geeks) shares its 3.0-liter displacement with the outgoing N55 engine from the 335i, but little else. The all-aluminum mill is part of BMW’s new EfficientDynamics engine family. Its closed-deck design and thermally joined, specially coated cylinder liners will eventually be shared with other BMW four- and six-cylinder engines. The newly designed twin-scroll turbocharger helps boost output to 320 horsepower (up 20 hp over the 335i) and torque to some 330 lb-ft that’s available from just 1,380 rpm. If you prefer (and you probably do), a six-speed manual transmission is a no-cost option and features a new dual-mass flywheel with an available rev-match function for downshifts. Like the 320i and 328i, the 340i comes standard with the sport line package and is available in either rear-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive (xDrive in BMW speak) configurations.
But here’s the really special part. BMW’s new track handling package is available on all gas-powered 3 Series models for 2016 and includes a number of options that would-be hot shoes will crave. Variable-ratio sport steering, adaptive M suspension and M Sport brakes with high-temperature pads are all part of the group, along with 18-inch cast-aluminum wheels wrapped in Michelin Pilot Super Sports (one of our favorite street/track tires).
Feeling the difference
And so it was that BMW turned us loose in a fleet of gleaming new 340i sedans to attack the scenic switchbacks in the majestic Copper Canyon region outside of Chihuahua, Mexico. The first of two cars we drove was an automatic-equipped, rear-drive 340i with the standard suspension, brakes, and tires. The new 3.0-liter inline-six is a sweetheart of an engine, though with a faint hint of initial turbo lag. But the pull from 3,000 rpm to redline is ferocious, and the engine sounds just as happy to rev as we were to rev it, with BMW’s silky smooth straight-six delighting us at full growl. The revised eight-speed auto was also a pleasure to use, with speedy manual shifts with the paddles, though the upshifts could have been a bit smoother. Built-in harshness designed to elicit a sportier feeling? Wouldn’t be the first time.
Still, there was something amiss with the first BMW 340i we drove, that same feeling we had with our long-term 328i. It wasn’t until we’d sampled a manual-equipped car with the track pack that we figured it out. In the track pack version, the steering feels sharper and better weighted; the car turns in more eagerly on the Super Sport tires (and dare we say it, rode even better); brake pedal feel is significantly firmer and more responsive. This 340i was also equipped with xDrive all-wheel drive, which helped put power down coming out of corners. At quick-but-sane speeds, the setup allows for a bit of rotation toward the apex in the corners and virtually no push. While the standard 340i felt oddly disjointed and uncoordinated, the track pack-equipped car felt dynamically fluid and completely of a single piece.
Later in the day, after the BMWs were shut down and stashed away, engines softly ticking as they cooled, a BMW engineer asked us for our impressions of his latest baby. As we emphasized how much fun the track pack car had been to drive and that we were left a little cold by the standard model, he nodded slowly and smiled a knowing smile. Most 3 Series buyers won’t care a lick about brake or steering feel, or the way their car turns in and takes a set through a series of S curves. But for prospective 2016 BMW 3 Series buyers who think like us, bliss is just a $1,700 option package away.
2016 BMW 340i Specifications
- On Sale: Now
- Base Price: $46,795 ($48,795 xDrive)
- Engine: 3.0L turbocharged DOHC 24-valve I-6/320 hp @ 5,500-6,500 rpm, 332 lb-ft @ 1,380-5,000 rpm
- Transmissions: 8-speed automatic, 6-speed manual
- Layout: 4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, RWD/AWD sedan
- EPA Mileage: 20-22/29-33 mpg (city/hwy)
- Suspension F/R: Strut-type, coil springs/multilink, coil springs
- Brakes F/R: Vented discs
- Tires F/R: 225/45R-18 Michelin Pilot All-Season run-flat (225/45R-18/255/35R-18 Michelin Pilot Super Sport)
- L x W x H: 182.8 x 71.3 x 56.3-56.5 in
- Wheelbase: 110.6 in
- Headroom: 40.3/37.7 in (front/second)
- Legroom: 42.0/35.1 in (front/second)
- Shoulder Room: 55.1/55.1 in (front/second)
- Cargo Volume: 17.0 cu ft
- Towing: N/A
- Weight: 3,665-3,820 lb
- Weight Dist. F/R: N/A
- 4.6-4.9 sec
- 1/4-Mile: N/A
- Top Speed: 130/149-155 mph (base/optional)