2020 BMW M340i: Fun for the whole family?

Price: $69,570. Blue paint, $1,950; Driving Assistance Package, $500; Drivers Assistance Pro Package, $1,700. More noted below.

Conventional wisdom: Car and Driver likes the “382 reasons to smile, plus a great ride,” but not that the “manual deathwatch intensifies” and that it has a “stubbornly retrograde interior design.”

Marketer’s pitch: “An iconic sports sedan born to be driven.”

Reality: As long as the family isn’t too big.

What’s new: The M340i sedan is all new for 2020. It gives the fun-enough 3 Series some real performance chops and “will showcase the full dynamic potential of the new BMW 3 Series,” according to BMW.

Mr. Driver’s Seat would have to agree.

Up to speed: Put the extra M in a BMW, and it’s no surprise that this would be about the most fun I’ve experienced behind the wheel in a long time, at least since the Toyota Supra.

The M version means the sedan benefits from a 3.0-liter inline six that creates 382 horsepower. The vehicle reaches 60 mph in 3.8 seconds, according to Car and Driver.

On the road: Its handling is also tops among recent tests, thanks to the upgraded suspension, dampers, and lighter weight (down 121 pounds). The turns have a bit of brusqueness and bravado, and it certainly felt like I could ditch the sedan when I pushed it, but then again I really pushed it in some spots. Still, practice a bit before getting stupid.

Straight-line acceleration pushed the Lovely Mrs. Passenger Seat and me deeply into our seats for added fun. The M340i could get to triple-digit speeds without even trying.

Shifty: The 8-speed shiftable electronic Steptronic transmission features BMW’s clever new shifter. Bump forward for reverse, pull backward for drive, pull to the left for shifts. Shifts are handled through the lever or paddle shifters on the steering wheel. Everything worked well there, in either mode.

Drive modes include Sport, Comfort, and Adaptive. Comfort was fast and fun enough, although standing starts came a hair more slowly. Sport straightened that problem right out and added even more pressure to the turns and acceleration without any brutality

The interior of the 2020 M340i has "classic styling," according to some, while it appears "retrograde" to others.
BMW
The interior of the 2020 M340i has "classic styling," according to some, while it appears "retrograde" to others.

Driver’s Seat: As for brutality, though, the seat (covered in Oyster Vernasca leather for $1,450) provided plenty. I’m not sure how positive this review would have been without social distancing; in a more typical pre-COVID-19 400-mile week, I think I’d have gotten sore pretty quickly. (The seat and steering wheel were also heated for $1,400)

Still, few steering wheels are as rewarding to sit behind for serious drivers as BMW’s. Everything about the car feels luxurious but businesslike — the speedometer, other gauges, buttons, controls. I guess one reviewer’s “stubbornly retrograde” is another’s “rewarding to sit behind.”

Seating position is low and comfortable, though, with pretty good visibility. Mr. Driver’s Seat approves and would gladly suffer through some expensive massages if needed.

Friends and stuff: This rocket comes with some room for people as well. Not an abundance of room, mind you, as the rear seat is snug, but it has a rear seat.

And funny, that rear seat is not as bad as I expected. It’s comfortable and well angled, with a middle seat that would not be too embarrassing, although definitely not socially distant. Legroom and foot room were snug but not cramped, and head room was actually pretty nice.

Cargo space is a fairly roomy 17 cubic feet.

Play some tunes: BMW won the race for combining simple controls with luxury and has been smart enough not to mess around with it. The dial and button setup remains the clearest of all, and the menu choices add to the simplicity. (Mazda’s recent updates have shown me how it’s about more than just the knob.)

A volume knob lingers on the dashboard next to presets, and the Harman Kardon system continues to be a cinch for listeners like me, who like to fish around a bit some days before settling on a choice.

The Harman Kardon surround sound system’s $875 music playing? Awesome.

Unhelpful gesture: The $2,100 Executive Package adds spiffy LED lights, parking assist, and something called “gesture control.” It would be worthwhile if it stopped drivers from single-finger saluting, but no such luck. It just controls volume, camera angle, and other things via hand movements. Come to think of it, I did notice the volume raising and lowering when I hadn’t asked for it.

Fuel economy: I hardly went anywhere while I had the 340i — maybe 100 miles or so, cruising the countryside around home and enjoying spring blossoms. The vehicle averaged 26 mpg when I received it, and I pulled that down a few tenths. Feed the M340i only the best.

Where it’s built: Munich, Germany

How it’s built: Consumer Reports gives the 3 Series a predicted reliability of 1 out of 5. The score matches last year’s, although it had been a 4 in 2016-18.

In the end: Well, that was a disappointing penultimate paragraph. But, oh, so what, live a little.