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First Drive: 2016 BMW 340i Review by Henny Hemmes +VIDEO


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2016 BMW 340i

By Henny Hemmes
Senior European Editor
THE AUTO CHANNEL

         • SEE ALSO: BMW Buyers Guide


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BMW E 21 First-3-Series1

ACHENKIRCHEN, Austria: When I joined the event for the test drives with the renewed BMW 3 Series last week, I remembered the very first 3 Series (for insiders the E21), which I owned in the late seventies. Then, I had just started being an instructor at the race academy at Zandvoort and I regularly had to take out my 320 on the track. The handling of the BMW was not ideal, but back then suspensions were not nearly as advanced as they are nowadays. However, it was quite easy back then to improve the car’s behavior by exchanging the standard shock absorbers with sportier Bilstein units. The result was satisfying, and I enjoyed guiding the ‘students’ at a good pace and showing them what it takes to drift through the corners.

When we arrived at the hotel after our first drive with the 2016 MW 340i, the earlier generations of the 3 Series were waiting to be taken out for a spin. I did not have to think which one to chose: it was the orange E21. Because there were so many colleagues waiting in line to get behind the wheel of the Godfather of the 3 Series, we were only granted a short stint. But it was nice to drive back in time and to rediscover that the classic car was still fun to drive on the beautiful mountain roads in Tirol.

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2016 BMW 340i

Since its introduction 40 years ago, over 14 million units of the 3 Series have been sold world wide, making it the number one premium model. The Sedan and Touring models are not only accounting for more than 25 percent of BMW sales, the 3 Series is also by far the most successful BMW in history. For more than a decade, the 3 Series has been the benchmark of the segment of sporty sedans, but the competition is now very close behind. That is why BMW used the mid-life facelift of the current, sixth generation to also improve handling and dynamics.

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2016 BMW 340i

At first glance, it may be hard to recognize the differences between the current and the 2016 model. A better look shows that the facelift has resulted in newly shaped headlamps, which are optionally available with full-LED lights. The vertical bars in the kidney grille have a more angular shape, while the front and rear bumpers look more aggressive. The LED-tail lights have a new design and the 2016 model will also get new wheel designs and more exterior colors.

Inside, there are minimal changes. We see glossy black and chrome details and there is ambient lighting. BMW also installed the latest version of its navigation system, which should offer faster start-up time and faster route calculation as well as realistic 3-D images.

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2016 BMW 340i

More important are the changes that are completely invisible, which are hidden under the skin, such as new engines and an updated suspension. The ‘3’ will get a new four-cylinder engine in the 330i, delivering 252 hp. The 2016 model will also be available as 340i, that replaces the 335i and is equipped with the new six-cylinder in-line engine. The new powerplant (B58) produces 326 hp, 20 hp more than its predecessor (N55). The other engines remain unchanged.




In the course of next year, the 330 e plug-in hybrid model will arrive on the European and North American markets. The PHEV will get BMWs system of a four-cylinder gasoline engine and an electric motor, with a combined output of around 252 hp and 310 pound-feet of torque. The 330e will be able to drive up to 22 miles in electric mode and has a fuel consumption of 141.2 mpg in the combined European cycle, with 47 g/km CO2. All engines can be teamed to the six-speed manual or the new eight-speed Steptronic automatic transmission that comes standard on the 340i Touring and the 330d and 335d diesel models.

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2016 BMW 340i

We drove the new 340i that boasts 326 hp and 330 pound-feet of torque. One may be confused, because the number 4 may suggest that the 340i has a 4.0-liter engine, but nobody could explain why the number has changed.

The twin turbo I-6 engine reacts instantly to any pressure of the throttle. BMW says that the 340i can accelerate from 0-62 mph in just 4.8 seconds. We didn't have a stopwatch at hand, but acceleration certainly is fast. The engine seems to sounds better than before; more pronounced.

When I later asked Dr. Stephan Neugebauer, project leader of the 3 Series. if this feeling was right, he said that the new engine has a different application and the exhaust sound in the Sport and Sport+ modes indeed is more present.

The transmission shifts really quickly, in less than 300 milliseconds and can skip a gear, so from 6 to 4, or from 7 to 5 to 3. There is some kind of a push bubble when you really push the throttle.

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2016 BMW 340i

To keep up with the strong competition from the new Mercedes C-Class and the upcoming Audi A4, BMW has also optimized the chassis to improve driving dynamics. The suspension has not changed, but it has a stiffer set up thanks to further developed dampers. The latter have new valves that change the characteristics especially in Sport and Sport+ mode. There are also more rigid mounts to connect the dampers to the body structure. They are important to help improve steering. Also the steering rack has been changed.

It was a pity that BMW did not have the outgoing model available for comparisons. It is hard to say if you feel any difference compared to the outgoing model if you cannot drive them back to back.

But customers who own the current model and change over to the new one will notice that comfort has remained the same in Comfort mode, but that the cap is somewhat wider and that the car has a firmer set up in Sport and Sport+. The result is, and I thought that I could feel this indeed, that the car is more following the road. Steering is really defined when the speed is increased.

For the first time, the gasoline models are available with a Track Handling Package, which includes Adaptive M suspension, M sport brakes, variable sport steering and 18-inch alloy wheels with Michelin Super Sport tires.

The 3 Series has made its mark and with all the enhancements will remain a very attractive proposition again. It is good that BMW listened to the comments of its loyal customers and improved the 3 Series as much as possible. That the next generation will get all the latest technology goes without saying. Until the time is up, the ‘3’ seems well prepared to continue on its path of success.

I was really happy to learn that BMW will offer the Touring on the North American market. You may know that this body style is very, very popular in Western Europe, because it is not only stylish but also very practical.

The new 3 Series, as the previous model, will also be available with xDrive all-wheel drive and, will reach markets worldwide this summer. Prices have not been announced yet.