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Is the 2021 BMW M3 a Good Car? 5 Things We Like and 4 We Don’t

bmw-m3-competition-2021--01-angle--blue--exterior--front.jpg 2021 BMW M3 Competition | Cars.com photo by Aaron Bragman

The long-awaited 2021 BMW M3 sedan and M4 coupe have finally arrived, following the launch of their redesigned 3 and 4 Series stablemates in 2020. Like many iconic models, these are cars with a strong and vocal following, and any update brings a mixture of angst and anticipation.

The good news is, the latest M3 and M4 are more capable than ever. Longer, slightly wider and taller than their predecessors, the high-performance variants of the 3 and 4 Series get a power boost in both standard and Competition trims. The base M3 gets a 473-horsepower, inline-six-cylinder engine, while the Competition serves up a 503-hp version of the same engine. The Competition trim is only available with an eight-speed automatic transmission. Notably, the base M3 is now the only 3 Series variant still available with a six-speed manual.

Related: 2021 BMW M3 Competition Review: 85% Brilliant

For better or worse, the M3 and M4 both get the new, more prominent front grille, which has already sparked plenty of discussion since its debut with the launch of this generation; let’s just say its styling is very polarizing. BMW says the grille serves a worthwhile purpose with the M3 and M4, providing additional engine and brake cooling when drivers are feeling the itch for some vigorous driving.

We recently spent some time with a new M3 Competition sedan and came away impressed with its performance and handling. But not all is perfect behind its supersized snout. Here are five things we like and four things we didn’t care for about the new M3.

For Cars.com’s complete evaluation of the BMW M3, click the link above to read Aaron Bragman’s complete review. For a quick look at what works and what doesn’t, read on.

Things We Like

1. Sweet Turbocharged Six-Cylinder Engine

bmw-m3-competition-2021--05-blue--exterior--front--grille--logo.jpg 2021 BMW M3 Competition | Cars.com photo by Aaron Bragman

There is perhaps no more agreeable engine configuration ever fitted to an M3 or M4 than a twin-turbocharged inline-six-cylinder. In the base M3, the 3.0-liter inline-six is good for 473 hp and 406 pounds-feet of torque. That represents a 48-hp bump compared to base models of the outgoing M3 and M4. In our tested Competition trim, the M3 cranks out 503 hp and 479 pounds-feet of torque, which works out to a 59-hp increase compared to the models they replace. Acceleration is explosive, yet the M3 can be perfectly civilized when driving around town.

2. Shifting Priorities

Base models of the M3 are available with a six-speed manual transmission — something that we’re happy to see. Unfortunately, that makes the M3 the only 3 Series variant still offered with a stick shift, and even then it is not available with the Competition model. We’d be more disappointed with this if it weren’t for the fact that the eight-speed automatic is so well matched with the engine that there’s never a need to second guess its choices. Shifts are smooth and effortless, and a choice of six modes lets you fine tune shifts to your liking.

3. First M3 With Available All-Wheel Drive

bmw-m3-competition-2021--07-angle--blue--exterior--rear.jpg 2021 BMW M3 Competition | Cars.com photo by Aaron Bragman

The redesign marks the first availability of AWD in an M3, bringing the promise of increased traction and drivability in any kind of weather. Available only on Competition models and with the eight-speed automatic transmission, the system has three powertrain modes: four-wheel drive for normal driving, 4WD Sport for more vigorous driving, and two-wheel drive, which sends power only to the rear wheels and disengages stability control.

4. Loads O’ Tech

Almost everything to do with performance is electronically adjustable in the M3 Competition. A choice of driving modes runs the gamut from relaxed cruising to full on track performance, tweaking throttle response, steering, brakes and suspension accordingly. Other tech features include an electronically controlled exhaust that provides a different soundtrack depending on mode, standard wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, and the latest version of the iDrive multimedia system that we’ve already praised in previous reviews. Optional is BMW’s hands-free semi-autonomous Extended Traffic Jam Assist driving system.

5. Comfortable, Functional Seats

bmw-m3-competition-2021--11-cockpit-shot--dashboard--front-row--interior.jpg 2021 BMW M3 Competition | Cars.com photo by Aaron Bragman

M sport leather seats are stylish, firm and supportive, with plenty of power adjustments for a custom fit in all the right places. Power ventilation is available for the first time. Optional M Carbon seats have additional bolstering to keep drivers in place and save 21 pounds without giving up power adjustments. They are also designed to accept either a racing harness or the standard shoulder harness.

Things We Don’t Like

1. Size Doesn’t Always Matter

In spite of a 1.8-inch increase in wheelbase and an additional 4.6 inches in overall length, the M3’s backseat is still not all that accommodating. It’s ok for short distances, but the limited leg and headroom will likely draw complaints from rear passengers on longer drives. On the positive side, there’s more than adequate room up front, and the limited backseat space is part of the price paid for the M3’s compact overall dimensions.

2. Lifeless Steering

While the M3’s steering is plenty quick and accurate, we were disappointed by the inert feel from the wheel. It’s especially disappointing and noticeable given the M3’s blistering performance and handling. We felt somewhat let down by the steering that doesn’t feel like it wants to come to the party.

3. Road and Wind Noise

bmw-m3-competition-2021--10-blue--exterior--front-wheel.jpg 2021 BMW M3 Competition | Cars.com photo by Aaron Bragman

We found road and wind noise to be more noticeable in the M3 Competition than we would have expected, particularly as speed increases. Some of this is probably due to pavement noise coming into the cabin from the large and sticky 19-inch summer tires up front, and 20-inchers in the rear.

4. Steep Price

The starting price for an M3 is $70,895 including destination. The Competition trim begins at $73,795 with larger wheels and tires, a standard automatic transmission and other tidbits. Our test car had other options including special paint and the Executive Package with a heated steering wheel, power opening trunk, adaptive LED headlights, and more, bringing the total to $93,495.

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