So I did a most un-BMW-like thing and ignored it. As you can tell from the images, this is the most subtle of facelifts for the compact exec that, pre-Jaguar XE, used to lead the class. Testing this was all about sweating the details, like discovering the ride is now less irritated by pimply surfaces despite stiffening the handling, or that the interior appears better quality and less plasticky without apparently changing one little bit (when BMW boasts about a sliding cover for the cupholder, you know it’s about subtleties).If you’re scratching your head, here are the PH pointers: the headlights are new, with more distinctive LED running lights and a full LED option (the ‘eyes’ are further apart, too). The bumper is more sculptural, the air intakes wider. There are rear LED lights, and engine-specific exhaust shapes, from 75mm single tailpipe on repmobiles to dual 80mm pipes on the 340i. New colours and wheels feature outside, more chrome bits and piano black inside.
Hardly radical. Unlike the all-new, all-turbo engine range, which now stretches from a three-cylinder 1.5-litre 318i to the hot 3.0-litre turbo 340i that replaces the 335i and, with 326hp, vies with an E46 M3 for overall power. For all its lack of BMW tradition, the 340i branding sounds pretty cool too, no? It’s easy to ignore the steering when you’ve an engine this good.Part of BMW’s new modular EfficientDynamics family, each cylinder is 500cc so it really is twice a 318i. The 2,998cc motor combines 326hp between 5,500-6,500rpm and 332lb ft between 1,380-5,000rpm for 0-62mph in 5.1secs with the choice eight-speed auto. This is further improved from an already high benchmark and is a tenth faster than the self-blipping six-speed manual, which carries a significant mpg/CO2 penalty too. See below for the numbers. Even more non-turbo in feel than the M3, lag is minimal, torque delivery is beautifully linear and you can drive it on the throttle with more control than any forced induction BMW to date. With so much power and low-down grunt, it’s very effective and sounds suitably straight six-ey at higher revs as well.
It’s important to use such effervescence, because at first, the enhanced new 3 is almost too good for its own good. Unlike the more obvious enthusiasm of the new XE, the new car’s improved ride, even better-controlled dynamics and 10mm lower ride height give it sophistication that borders on aloof.
Like, say, an E60 M5, you don’t realise quite how good it is until you start hoofing it. Only then will the beautifully precise and clean turn-in and sense of roadster-like rear-led chassis control be revealed, its wonderful balance and adjustability be engaged with. The new car’s sophistication is absolute, particularly on the choice Adaptive M suspension and optional new Michelin Pilot Super Sport rubber, but digging down reveals the charisma that we know and love from a 3 Series.But for the horrible steering. It’s sticky straight ahead, snatchy in response, seems to magnetically ‘freeze’ in corners and lacks any of the finesse I recall from the first-gen F30 3 Series. Praise be then – it’s the optional Variable Sport Steering, and should be avoided at all costs. No wonder it’s only £290, because it’s awful. Put it instead towards £570 of blue-calipered and powerful M Sport brakes and cross fingers that the standard cars are as good as they used to be (and a touch less aloof in everyday driving than this tech-laden range-topper) when they arrive in the UK from September. If they are, Jaguar may just have to relinquish that class-leading status.
BMW 340i (2015)
Engine: 2,998cc straight-six turbo
Transmission: 6-speed manual/8-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 326@5,500-6,500rpm
Torque (lb ft): 332@1,380-5,000rpm
0-62mph: 5.2sec (5.1)
Top speed: 155mph
Weight: 1,605kg (EU, including 75kg driver)
MPG: 36.7 (41.5, NEDC combined)
CO2: 179g/km (159g/km)
(Figures in brackets for automatic)