Here’s a question for you to ponder: if you could have M3-ish levels of performance in a package that costs significantly less than the F80 M3 sedan’s asking price - but had none of the badge cachet - would you do it?
It’s a quandary. After all, the M3 is a highly-accomplished and incredibly focused sports sedan, but that’s perhaps its greatest issue. To some, it may be too focused. Henceforth, could a roided-up 340i step in as a more street-friendly (and budget-friendly) package? BMW’s M Performance catalogue may provide the answer.
WHAT IS IT?
A regular ol’ BMW 340i sedan, except enhanced with a range of dealer-fit go-fast products from BMW’s M Performance line of accessories.
WHY WE’RE TESTING IT
Because not everyone can stretch their budget to the M3’s $139,900 asking price, but nevertheless crave some RWD, turbo-six, Bavarian-flavoured thrills.
Mercedes-Benz C43 AMG, Audi S4, Infiniti Q50 Red Sport
THE WHEELS VERDICT
Be selective with the parts you pick, and the M Performance catalogue can help transform an otherwise unassuming BMW 340i into a much hotter sports sedan that’s surprisingly close to a full-fat M3 in terms of point-to-point speed. It’ll also be easier to live with, too.
PLUS: M Performance gear transforms the 340i into an animal; sounds better than an M3; more liveable than an M3
MINUS: Restraint is required to keep costs down
THE WHEELS REVIEW
Modifying a brand new car can understandably have some people breaking out in sweat when they consider the ramifications for their vehicle’s warranty (especially when the canvas is as expensive and complex as a BMW), but BMW hopes that its factory-sanctioned range of M Performance bits will give its customers the ability to tailor their car to individual tastes without any aftermarket angst.
The M Performance menu is extensive and caters to all appetites. Just want to juice up your Bimmer’s visual aggression with a bodykit and some stickers? M Performance has your back, but more serious customers can bypass the cosmetics for real-deal mechanical upgrades that deliver tangible performance benefits. Or they can go down both paths if they wish, wallet permitting.
Is there enough benefit to have punters questioning whether they should spend big on BMW’s pukka performance machines like the M3? In the case of the 340i M Performance we’re testing here, we’d argue the end result even eclipses the mighty M3 in some key areas.
But first, a rundown of what we have here. The bodykit is the most obvious piece of M Performance gear, with bold orange accents to offset the satin black additions to the front bumper and side skirts. Personally I’m not crazy about the orange (especially against gloss bodywork), but the whole thing can be had in body-colour if you wish.
At the back is a matt black diffuser curling beneath the standard 340i rear bumper, with a bootlip spoiler finished in exposed carbon with glossy clearcoat. Other M Performance addenda include carbon mirror caps, black kidney grilles and carbonfibre tailpipe finishers, but that’s all window dressing. Their effect on this car’s performance is questionable – at road speeds anyway.
But fret not, for there’s plenty of ‘go’ to match the ‘show’ on this demonstrator.
Lightweight M Performance alloy wheels cleave kilos from each corner thanks to forged (rather than heavier cast) construction, and they also benefit from extra milling to further trim weight. On this car they measure 20 inches across the face and 8 inches wide at the front, 8.5 inches wide at the rear. Shod with Pirelli P-Zeros, these wheels may look like party girl stilettos, but are more akin to a sprinter’s spikes.
A sizable 357mm brake package is another M Performance item, and thanks to its dinner plate sized rotors and fixed calipers (four pistons up front, twin-pistons at the rear) provides big stopping power.
On the inside is an Alcantara-clad steering wheel with an integrated LED display that can display a lap timer, 0-100km/h data, quarter-mile times, G-forces or, somewhat incongruously, fuel efficiency.
But the single M Performance option that makes the most profound difference is what BMW calls the “Power and Sound kit”. Thanks to an aggressive ECU tune and a freer-breathing set of exhaust pipes, it takes the 340i’s power to 265kW and bumps torque up to 500Nm in auto-equipped cars. Manual models achieve the same power increase, but only make 480Nm with the kit.
It may cost $4830, but it’s a box worth ticking.
Why? Because though the 340i is already an accomplished vehicle, rocking a turbocharged 3.0-litre inline-six and taking a stout 240kW and 450Nm to the back axles, the Power and Sound Kit ratchets up the performance quotient significantly.
On a night time drive through the hills that skirt the Mornington Peninsula south of Melbourne, the 340i, with this combination of M Performance gear, justifies every aftermarket dollar spent. The extra power is easily felt, but it’s the extra 50Nm of twist that makes the most profound difference to the car’s behaviour. After a brief pause as the turbo fills its lungs, the car lunges forth with greater urgency than a vanilla 340i, and will easily lay a pair of black lines if you deactivate traction control entirely.
And it’s not like the 3 Series chassis can’t handle a few extra herbs. Having more kilowatts and Newtons at your beck and call enables that well-balanced platform to be exercised more completely. It’s not as sophisticated as an M3, but work it right and it’ll serve up classic RWD thrills all day – or night, as the case was.
That’s the Power part of the equation. What about the Sound? The exhaust is utterly raucous in Sport mode, with crackles and snarls on the overrun and plenty of turbocharged sonic histrionics when at full load. Windows down, those decibels bounce off the scenery and into the cabin. Windows up, there’s perhaps a little too much insulation in the way to fully enjoy it. That’s maybe the only downside, but nothing a well-placed sound pipe in the boot couldn’t fix, if BMW’s engineers were that way inclined.
And to be honest, the resulting sound is far more natural and appealing than the artificially-enhanced M3’s engine note. That car sounds like a beast from outside, but oddly robotic from within. The 340i with the Power and Sound kit may be quieter than we’d wish, but it’s only the volume that’s the problem – the straight-six melody itself is blissful.
It’s not just that aspect that the M Performance-enhanced 340i has over an M3. Drivetrain refinement is another positive, with the 340i’s eight-speed torque-converter auto being adept at both stop-start city driving and flicking up and down through the ratios on a snaking mountain pass.
It’ll even hold gears against redline if the stability control is in sport mode, and it’s fast to react to paddle flips. There’s none of the shunting and stumbling that the M3’s twin-clutch gearbox can occasionally exhibit during low-speed ‘garage’ manoeuvres.
That racecar-style steering wheel is also cool. Once you memorise the correct sequence of button-taps to make the alcantara-clad steering wheel’s computer do your bidding, it comes alive. A string of bright LEDs light up as you rise up through the rev range, converging on the 12-o’clock position before flashing to tell you to pull the right paddle. Short-shifting is a thing of the past with this tiller.
But what of the cost? This car had $25,570 worth of options applied and that’s just the M Performance equipment. On top of the 340i sedan’s retail price of $89,900, that brings the total tally to $115,470 – and that’s not accounting for any non-performance options you may want.
When the more powerful Mercedes-AMG C43 has more power and torque for $101,900, that’s a problem.
But really, all you need is the Power and Sound Kit. For $94,730 you could have a rip-snorting RWD luxury sports sedan that makes all the right moves and all the right noises, yet flies completely under the radar. It’s the perfect kind of sleeper, and a more than acceptable consolation to those who can't spring for an M3.