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BMW M340i xDrive prototype 2019 first drive review

BMW has created a new warmed-up 3 Series for enthusiasts needing easy driving performance.

Audi has been selling the S4 for years attracting buyers who are either new to the brand’s high-performance cars or don’t want the brashness of the super-hot RS4.

The S4 has been a success story on a global basis, although the last time it was sold officially in Thailand was some 20 years back.

Not too long ago, Mercedes-Benz became the first German luxury brand to introduce a second-from-top model for the C-Class in the country. But rather than coming in saloon form, the Mercedes-AMG C43 Coupe was a two-door made even better by being finished at Thai assembly lines for lowered prices.

For the first time ever, BMW has unveiled a theoretical rival for the S4 and C43 four-door cars in the guise of the M340i from its M Performance division. It slots right below the M3, which will be renewed in 2020.

Due to go on sale in world markets in the second half of 2019, the M340i is harnessed with BMW’s latest development of the 3.0-litre inline-six engine featuring an upgraded fuel injection system.

Unlike the peak outputs of 320-340hp in existing models like M140i, M240i and X3/X4 M40i, the M340i produces 374hp and 500Nm and transmits its power to all four wheels (hence the additional xDrive badge) via eight-speed automatic transmission.

Apart from having the chance to drive the all-new 3 Series in 320d and 330i forms in the Portuguese countryside, there was also the opportunity to have a first taste of the M340i at the Portimao race circuit.

We’re not so sure why BMW has dressed up the M340i in camouflage when the production-ready article has already premiered at the Los Angeles auto show late last month.

Even so, there’s hardly anything separating the M340i from its lesser siblings. The only visual distinctions are the twin rectangular exhausts, a signature of M Performance models, mixed-size tyres and dotted front grille (first used in the Z4 we tested recently).

Likewise, the interior of the M340i is generally 3 Series fanfare. Which is why BMW’s new M Performance Parts business might come in handy for enthusiasts wanting splashes of carbonfibre, Alcantara leather or some specially painted brake calipers, as such.

Visual attractions (or distractions) aside, the M340i is quite a remarkable sporty saloon to drive, at least on the race track. In a bid to make it as rewarding as possible to drive,

BMW has thrown all options into the M340i including adaptive suspension, beefed-up brakes, variable-lock rear differential and variable-ratio steering.

In a nutshell, the M340i handles extremely well by being an utterly easy car to place around this hilly circuit. The steering is precise, handling balance near-perfect and ride virtually roll-free. In other words, the driving experience is very clinical and should suit drivers new the BMW’s high-performance cars.

But it can be fun at the same time, as well. Switch the drive mode into Sport Plus and the rear-biased AWD allows some degree of slip in the twisties.

You can really exploit the 374 horses the M340i has to offer in fast sweepers. The six-potter spins freely at all engine speeds rather than providing maximum thrills at the redline.

Despite yielding impressive stopping distances, the pedal feel of the brakes don’t feel progressive enough at most times which is probably due to the hard work the international media has given to the M340i in such closed conditions.

In terms of aural thrills, the engine and exhaust note is still on the sedate side despite it being tuneful to delicate ears. Maybe BMW is keeping the all-out music for that pending M3.

Which is why we could probably sum up the M340i as a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It’s fast, convincing to drive, understated and a fine stepping stone before getting into the M3.

The Thai BMW office hasn’t decided yet whether to sell the M340i on an official basis. Of course, it’s a great car. But Thais probably won’t associate sportiness with a four-door saloon even if the potential price is less than five million baht.

This is why BMW’s archrival has chosen to market the C43 Coupe instead in Thailand. Maybe the M440i treatment for the next-gen 4 Series Coupe might be a better bet.

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