the redesigned 2020 bmw 3 series debuted at the paris motor show in october, but i got our first glance at the new m340i here at the 2018 los angeles auto show. up close, it looks like there are promising ways the new car makes a needed improvement on the previous generation.
the bmw 3 series was the champion of our challenge for luxury sports sedans in 2013 but slipped all the way to sixth place (out of seven contenders) when we retested the class in 2017. reasons for the plunge seem to have been addressed with the 3 series' redesign, starting with cabin quality.
in the m340i, the materials have taken a welcomed step forward with more consistency from front to back - there's no proliferating exposed plastics to be found by backseat passengers. the new sedan also improves passenger room with increased dimensions; it's 2.9 inches longer than the outgoing car. what was once a tight backseat now has plenty of leg- and headroom for my 5-foot-11-inch frame. the window height seems to have been increased, as well, resulting in clearer sight lines out of the vehicle. the moonroof has also been lengthened and should let more light into the cabin.
on the technology side, there are two new large screens up front: one for the gauge cluster, the other for the center stack. it's not quite the mercedes-benz setup where the two screens are touching, but there are only a few inches between the two. bmw's idrive system has come a long way in ease of use and responsiveness, so the presence of the latest iteration here is a plus.
on the outside, the m340i's kidney grille doesn't have vertical slats anymore, instead opting for a burst pattern with added dimension. the hood dips down farther into the grille, making the whole car appear lower and more aggressive - the standard m sport suspension for both rear- and all-wheel-drive versions helps, lowering the car by 0.4 inch.
related: au revoir f30, bonjour g20: next-gen bmw 3 series bows in paris
these changes are all well and good, but it will have to drive better to be a contender in this class. the powertrain details are encouraging, and a lowered coefficient of drag makes this the most slippery 3 series ever. big updates to the suspension should help, too, which now feature standard sport suspension in what bmw calls lift-related dampers that reduce body dive when going over bumps or hard cornering; an optional adaptive suspension remains available. combine that with the m340i being the most powerful non-m 3 series ever made (382 horsepower, 369 pounds-feet of torque) and there's hope for bmw to once again lift the crown, which we'll know when we drive it closer to when the 2020 bmw m340i arrives at dealerships in the summer of 2019.
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