What’s the best non-M BMW 3 Series of all time?
This new generation of 3 Series is an interesting one. More specifically, the BMW M340i is a very interesting in the history of the famous model line. The M340i is the fastest non-M 3er ever made and it’s even faster than most M3s of the past. In fact only a couple of exception M3s are faster, such as the F80 BMW M3 CS. So that got me thinking; is the BMW M340i the best non-m 3 Series of all time? If not, what is?
Let’s take a look back at some of the best non-M 3 Series ever made, because there are actually quite a few excellent ones. So it’s hard to choose.
Let’s start with the E30-generation. The E30 is the darling of 3 Series history and it’s not just because of the M3. Each iteration of the E30 was fantastic but there were two standouts. One was the BMW 325i Coupe, which was a brilliant little car and one that had almost as much power as the M3 but packaged into a silky-smooth inline-six. It sounded fantastic, was easier to drive than the M3, looked great and still featured that iconic E30 handling. It was a gem of a car. There was also the BMW 325iX, the brand’s first-ever all-wheel drive car. The 325iX wasn’t the fastest or most nimble E30 but it did have better all-weather capability than the rest and proved to be hugely important to the brand moving forward.
Following that was the E36-generation BMW 328is. Maybe I’m a bit biased because I owned a 328i sedan and loved every second of it but the 328is Coupe was a sensational car. It packed a 2.8 liter naturally-aspirated inline-six with about 190 hp, a five-speed manual gearbox, rear-wheel drive and a limited-slip differential into a great looking two-door sports car. It also had lowered, tighter suspension and thicker sway bars than the standard car. So, like the E30 325i, it was a very special 3 Series that provided almost as much fun as the M3 for less money and with more livability.
With the E46-generation, BMW debuted a 3 Series that may very well be the absolute best non-M 3er of all time — the E46 330i ZHP. Despite being a sedan (which isn’t always the enthusiast’s choice), the 330i ZHP was a wonderful and special car. Because BMW ditched the M3 Sedan for the E46 generation, it wanted to give something back to the North American market that missed the E36 M3 Sedan so much. So it created the ZHP.
The E46 330i ZHP was the very best non-M3 3 Series you could buy at the time and, in some ways, it was actually a bit better to own. It packed a 3.0 liter naturally-aspirated inline-six with a six-speed manual gearbox, not the usual five-speed. It also had rear-wheel drive and a limited slip diff. Its suspension was lower, it looked cooler, had better wheels and even a nicer interior. But it was the combination of all of that which made the 330i ZHP feel so special. There are ZHP owners today that don’t want to sell their cars, despite being able to afford “better” BMWs, simply because they love their car so much.
Following that, the E92-generation BMW 335is was also a pretty special 3 Series. Thanks to its turbocharged (twin or single, depending on the year) inline-six, potential six-speed manual and rear-wheel drive all packaged into, in my opinion, the best looking 3 Series body of all tie, the E92 335is was an incredible car.
I’m going to skip the F30-generation because, while good, it never really had a standard version that made customers drool. Sure, the 340i (and 440i) was a good car but it wasn’t as special as the others.
That leaves us with the BMW M340i. Its 3.0 liter turbocharged I6 makes a whopping 382 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque and, with all-wheel drive, can nail 60 mph in under four seconds. That makes it faster than the standard F80 M3 to sixty. It’s seriously, shockingly rapid and it does so with a silky-smoothness that belies its indicated speed. If there’s a complaint, it’s that it’s almost too easy to drive quickly in. Its performance is so accessible that it loses a bit of zing.
Personally, if I’m choosing, I’m taking the E46 BMW 330i ZHP. As far as non-M 3 Series’ go it’s the most special, the most engaging to drive and the one that owners can’t seem to get rid of.