Based on the recently redesigned 3-series sedan, the new 2021 BMW M3 successfully resurrects the nameplate’s storied driver engagement. BMW shows its commitment to that sentiment by continuing to provide a manual transmission, at least on the regular model. An eight-speed automatic is mandatory on the more powerful M3 Competition. Behind their prominent, albeit polarizing, grille is a familiar twin-turbo 3.0-liter inline-six that makes between 473 and 503 horsepower. The latter is reserved for the aforementioned Competition variant, which will be offered with all-wheel drive for the first time, but not until the 2022 model year. Still, the 2021 M3 Competition further highlights the sports sedan’s performance potential with track-ready hardware that should terrify rivals such as the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio and Mercedes-AMG C63.
What’s New for 2021?
For 2021, the M3–along with the two-door M4 coupe, which we review separately–is all-new and represents the sixth generation of the iconic sports sedan.
Pricing and Which One to Buy
It’s a pity that the more powerful M3 Competition is only offered with an automatic transmission because the six-speed manual on the regular version is hugely satisfying. We understand why some folks will be drawn to the M3 Comp–its extra horsepower and torque (and the future availability of all-wheel drive), for starters–but we prefer the only one with the manual. Aside from the subjective exterior and interior styling choices, we’d recommend selecting the M Drive Professional package (onboard drift analyzer and lap timer) and the M Driver’s package (unlocks a higher top speed and includes a high-performance driving class).
Engine, Transmission, and Performance
As with the new M4 coupe, the 2021 M3 sedan features a twin-turbo 3.0-liter inline-six. The normal version sends 473 horsepower and 406 pound-feet of torque to the rear wheels. A six-speed manual is the only transmission offered. The M3 Competition’s engine is even more powerful, generating 503 horses and 479 pound-feet, but it’s only offered with the eight-speed automatic. Rear-wheel drive is standard, but the Competition will eventually be offered with all-wheel drive, too. Every M3 also features adaptive dampers and adjustable brake-pedal feel. The sedan can be outfitted with even stronger carbon-ceramic brakes, too, which feature cool gold-painted calipers. Our first drive of the regular M3 and the Competition variant showcased their ability to pull off lurid drifts, which were encouraged by the optional M Drift Analyzer (part of the M Drive professional package). We also fell in love with the satisfying shifts of the manual gearbox, and we were just as pleased with the engine’s tenacious acceleration. Ultimately, when compared to the raucous Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio, the more reserved M3 doesn’t quite measure up.
Fuel Economy and Real-World MPG
The EPA estimates the 2021 M3 sedan will earn 16 mpg in the city and 23 mpg on the highway. However, we haven’t run the Bimmer on our 75-mph highway fuel-economy route, which is part of our extensive testing regimen, so we can’t evaluate its real-world mpg.
Interior, Comfort, and Cargo
Besides unique “M” badging and distinct trim details, the M3 interior is basically the same as the regular 3-series. That means the M3 has the same design, passenger space, and outward visibility as its more pedestrian counterpart. While M cars are known for their heartier performance, they also meet or exceed the materials and build quality of the top-of-the-line 3-series. Of course, the M3 has more carbon-fiber and microsuede accents for a racier aesthetic. The driver faces a 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster that will switch to M View in the sportier drive modes; they are activated via prominent red buttons on the M3’s chunky steering wheel. Switching to M View adds a shift indicator and replaces the regular tachometer with one that’s easier to read. A set of heavily bolstered, lightweight front seats are available (standard on the Competition) and provide incredible support without sacrificing much comfort, although that might not ring true on long road trips.
Infotainment and Connectivity
The M3’s infotainment system runs through a 12.3-inch touchscreen that’s primarily manipulated via a rotary knob and buttons on the center console. The system has multiple charging ports as well as a selection of standard and optional features. Thankfully, BMW no longer requires a paid subscription for Apple CarPlay and has finally adopted Android Auto. Both are standard along with a Harman/Kardon sound system and a one-year subscription to SiriusXM satellite radio. The system can be optioned with gesture controls, a subscription-based Wi-Fi hotspot, and a wireless charging pad.
Safety and Driver-Assistance Features
While driver engagement is BMW’s main priority with its M cars, the sedan has a roster of standard and optional driver-assistance technology. For more information about the M3’s crash-test results, visit the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) websites. Key safety features include:
- Standard blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert
- Standard lane-departure warning and lane-keeping assist
- Available adaptive cruise control
Warranty and Maintenance Coverage
BMW includes a limited and powertrain warranty that aligns with rivals such as Audi and Mercedes-AMG. It also provides longer complimentary scheduled maintenance than those alternatives, however, it’s still shorter than what Jaguar provides.
- Limited warranty covers four years or 50,000 miles
- Powertrain warranty covers four years or 50,000 miles
- Complimentary maintenance is covered for three years or 36,000 miles