The BMW M3 has a madness inside it. Its standard powertrain bottles up 473 horsepower from a twin-turbo straight-six, shoots it through a six-speed manual transmission, and wastes no time delivering it to the rear tires. And that’s only the start. The M3 Competition, which is only offered with an eight-speed automatic, increases horsepressure to 503 and is offered with your choice of rear- or all-wheel drive. With all that power, you’d think the M3 would be incapable of doing slow, but even when driven at law-abiding speeds, it’s quite nice. While rivals such as the Cadillac CT4-V Blackwing and Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio feel at times more refined and less edgy, there isn’t a wrong choice among the three brands’ super sedans. For an even more righteous experience, there’s the new-for-2024 M3 CS. It sheds an estimated 75 pounds from the base M3 and hammers the pavement with 543 horsepower and all-wheel drive.
What’s New for 2024?
The BMW M3 only grows crazier for 2024 with a limited-edition M3 CS model that ups horsepower to 543 from 503. Lightweight materials shave an estimated 75 pounds from the normal M3. It will use the eight-speed automatic with all-wheel drive, ensuring blistering launches. The M3 CS gets its own suspension tuning, as well as red or black brake calipers behind the M light-alloy wheels. And of course M3 CS’s exclusive M Dynamic Mode offers an aggressive track driving mode. Fitted with Michelin gummy Pilot Sport Cup 2 track-focused tires, a no-cost option, this will likely be the quickest M3 we’ve ever tested.
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 base version is hugely satisfying. We understand why some folks will be drawn to the M3 Comp–its extra power and available all-wheel drive ($4100 extra) for starters–but we prefer the one with the manual—which also rides better. Aside from the subjective exterior and interior styling choices, we’d recommend selecting the M Drive Professional package (with its 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 M4 coupe, the 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. The M3 Comp comes standard with rear-wheel drive, but it’s also available with an all-wheel-drive system that includes a rear-drive mode. The limited-production M3 CS boosts power to 543 with 479 pound-feet of torque. Every M3 also features adaptive dampers and adjustable brake-pedal feel. The sedan can be outfitted with even stronger carbon-ceramic brakes, 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. However, when compared to the raucous Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio, the M3 isn’t as immersive, connected-to-the-car driving experience.
Fuel Economy and Real-World MPG
The M3 sedan is rated at up to 16 mpg in the city and 23 mpg on the highway. Adding all-wheel drive lowers its highway estimate to 22 mpg. Its real-world highway fuel economy proved bragworthy, beating its EPA estimate by earning 32 mpg on our highway test loop—which is part of our extensive testing regimen. For more information about the M3’s fuel economy, visit the EPA’s website.
Interior, Comfort, and Cargo
Besides unique “M” badging and distinct trim details, the M3 interior is basically the same as in 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 top-of-the-line 3-series in terms of interior materials and build quality. Not surprisingly, the M3 has more carbon-fiber and microsuede accents for a racier aesthetic. The driver faces a large curved 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.
The Car and Driver Difference
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.
How to Buy and Maintain a Car
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
2021 BMW M3 Competition
Vehicle Type: front-engine, rear-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 4-door sedan
Base/As Tested: $73,795/$93,495
Options: M carbon-ceramic brakes, $8150; Executive package, $3000; silverstone/black merino full leather, $2550; M Driver’s package, $2500, Tanzanite Blue II Metallic paint, $1950; M Drive Professional, $900, front ventilated seats, $350; individual shadowline lights, $300
twin-turbocharged and intercooled DOHC 24-valve inline-6, aluminum block and heads, direct fuel injection
Displacement: 183 in3, 2993 cm3
Power: 503 @ 6250 rpm
Torque: 479 @ 2750 rpm
Suspension, F/R: multilink/multilink
Brakes, F/R: 15.7-in vented, cross-drilled carbon-ceramic disc/15.0-in vented, cross-drilled carbon-ceramic disc
Tires: Michelin Pilot Sport 4S
F: 275/35R-19 (100Y) ★
R: 285/30R-20 (99Y) ★
Wheelbase: 112.5 in
Length: 189.1 in
Width: 74.3 in
Height: 56.4 in
Passenger Volume: 96 ft3
Trunk Volume: 13 ft3
Curb Weight: 3820 lb
C/D TEST RESULTS
60 mph: 3.5 sec
100 mph: 7.6 sec
1/4-Mile: 11.6 sec @ 124 mph
130 mph: 12.8 sec
150 mph: 18.3 sec
Results above omit 1-ft rollout of 0.2 sec.
Rolling Start, 5–60 mph: 4.5 sec
Top Gear, 30–50 mph: 2.4 sec
Top Gear, 50–70 mph: 2.7 sec
Top Speed (mfr’s claim): 180 mph
Braking, 70–0 mph: 150 ft
Braking, 100–0 mph: 297 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft Skidpad: 1.03 g
C/D FUEL ECONOMY
Observed: 22 mpg
75-mph Highway Driving: 32 mpg
Highway Range: 490 mi
EPA FUEL ECONOMY
Combined/City/Highway: 19/16/23 mpg
More Features and Specs