Climb into the M340i xDrive and you’re met by a classy-looking cabin, which on first acquaintance feels more luxurious and of higher quality than any direct rival’s.

The front seats provide a good deal of support, the leather-bound multi-function steering wheel is nicely proportioned and the dashboard reflects BMW’s efforts to give its most powerful 3 Series model a truly upmarket air, with digital instruments, expensive-looking chrome trims and a 10.3in touchscreen display for infotainment functions. It instantly feels special and suitably sporting.

One must-have option for every prospective M340i xDrive buyer is the head-up display, as featured on our test car. It operates over a much wider section than rival units, providing the driver with an impressive range of information, including selected driver assistance systems, cruise control and navigation directions – all in your natural line of sight.   

On the road, the car BMW officials like to refer to as the junior M3 is tremendously smooth, flexible and, when you want it to be, terrifically determined, as evidenced by the German car maker’s official 0-62mph claim of just 4.4sec – a full 0.5sec faster than the old 340i despite its larger dimensions and 1670kg kerb weight.

To put this in perspective, that’s just 0.3sec slower than the outgoing fifth-generation M3, whose twin-turbocharged 3.0-litre in-line six-cylinder punches out 425bhp and 406lb ft.

The M340i xDrive’s engine revs freely and eagerly up to 6800rpm, making it more entertaining than the smaller unit used by the 330i. It’s also nicely tuned, with an exhaust note that goes from whisper quiet to raucous, depending on your mood.  

All up, there are four driving modes, which help endow the new BMW with broad driving appeal. At high speed on the autobahn, the M340i xDrive devours miles with unwavering resolve. Stability and refinement are clearly among its strongest suits. On more challenging roads, the handling is suitably direct, although the new range-topping 3 Series model never feels quite as delicate or precise as you might expect of an M-badged car due to the less than engaging qualities of the standard variable sports steering with Servotronic assistance around the straight-ahead.