Prices start at just under £38,000 for the 320i and up to more than £54,000 for the range-topping M340i xDrive that we’re testing. That means 369bhp and 369lb ft from the peachy turbo six delivering a 0-62mph sprint of 4.4sec. For a bit of yardstickery, that’s compared with 336bhp and 4.6sec for the (diesel) Audi S4 or 444bhp and 3.2sec in the (electric) Tesla Model 3 Performance.

More important than the numbers game is that the M340i, while clearly a way short of the full frothing lunatic that is the M3, looks to be a proper M car in the ways that matter. Over and above standard 3 Series variants, it gets M-specific tuning for all of the important bits, including the suspension and its adaptive dampers, the rear-mounted electronic differential lock, the gearbox software and the launch control. The xDrive four-wheel drive system also gets more of a rearward bias, so on paper there’s some proper M magic to look forward to.

And of course it doesn’t disappoint. Our test route around Regensburg took in a variety of rapid autobahn sections through to small villages and flowing rural roads, which did a brilliant job of showing the breadth of talents that this car has.

This is really where the 3 Series has always excelled, almost regardless of which variant you pick. The 320d Tourer estate that we also spent time in was also as ruthlessly brilliant as ever. Yet arguably the M340i saloon is the best of them at balancing superb touring sophistication with proper enthusiast’s handling.

Even in standard Personal mode (‘Normal’ was clearly deemed far too self-explanatory), the car feels taut and responsive. The steering is light but tactile enough to feel reasonably engaging and communicative, even on faster bits, and it’s only in properly spirited driving that the heavier response in Sport mode becomes a little more confidence-inspiring.

There’s a delightful cheekiness to the set-up of the xDrive system. It gives you a safe yet fun little squirm of oversteer if you accelerate hard out of a tight corner, but it generally does an excellent job of delivering unflappable security without compromising the fluid, alert cornering style that has always set the 3 Series apart.

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