Let's get this out of the way: Yes, the 2021 BMW M3 Competition is a whole lot of face. The two huge vertical kidneys take up a ton of real estate on the front end, and based on the many, um, passionate Instagram and Twitter comments we've seen, it's obvious that this look isn't universally loved. Not that BMW really cares.
But beyond that questionable appearance, difficult as it may be to ignore, the BMW M3 Competition packs all the right pieces on paper: standard rear-wheel drive, a standard six-speed manual transmission (though our car rocks the automatic), and a twin-turbocharged six-cylinder that makes a hearty 503 horsepower in this application. Technically, there’s a lot to like about Bavaria's latest fast four-door – emphasis on fast – but some of the fundamentals are flawed.
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Power, Agility, And More Power
The M3 Competition absolutely hauls ass. The twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six – now one of my favorite engines, alongside BMW's larger V8 – delivers 503 horsepower and 479 pound-feet in an absolutely brutal fashion (but also totally effortlessly). Gobs of low-end torque helped by the two new turbos launches the M3 Comp to 60 in a manufacturer-estimated 3.8 seconds, but it actually feels quicker based on my butt test, on par with the larger models like M5 and M8 Competition.
Managing all that power is an updated eight-speed automatic transmission. Yes, BMW actually ditched the previous dual-clutch gearbox for a normal auto instead – in preparation for the upcoming xDrive model – but the difference is inconsequential. This gearbox still rips off lightning-quick shifts and isn't afraid to hang revs near the 7,000 RPM redline – but perhaps too often. Sometimes power lingers long after you’ve taken your foot off the gas. But the grip from the Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires (275/35ZR19 285/30ZR20), at least, is unflappable.
The M3 Competition absolutely hauls ass.
Unlike other M models that have switched to all-wheel drive, the M3 Competition maintains its iconic rear-wheel-drive status, with all-wheel drive coming as an option later. Flogging it on the only twisty-ish road in all of South Florida, the M3 Comp shows great poise. The suspension is balanced, body movements are almost entirely flat, and although this car will get tail-happy without too much effort, it never feels totally out of sorts – just a lot of fun to fling around.
The M3's suspension does suffer somewhat from typical BMW crashiness. While common in many M Competition cars, that general harshness stands out more significantly here. When taking a fast corner in the most aggressive Sport and Sport Plus settings, it feels as if the M3 is skipping over the pavement rather than smoothly attacking the corner as other performance cars might. That results in some jerkiness in the steering and makes the car feel out of sorts.
And that harshness translates to the steering itself, which is borderline offensive. Yes, the steering is very direct – credit to BMW for tweaking the rack over the standard 3 Series and making it feel more connected to the body. But it’s almost too direct, which makes it twitchy, light, and generally unpleasant in most scenarios. A simple task like driving on the highway requires constant inputs just to keep the car centered, and although the steering does get heavier in Sport and Sport Plus driving modes, it doesn't feel any more refined.
Bold And Brash
While the new BMW M3 does look busy, that’s not to say I don’t like it. In fact, this thing is pretty cool. Sure, the big vertical kidneys aren't what most would call conventionally attractive, but the styling is more appealing in person than in photos. The extra-tall schnozz gives the M3 a look that, for better or worse, you won't find elsewhere in this otherwise stoic segment, which I can appreciate.
Those big kidneys come directly from the 4 Series, which sports a busier honeycomb pattern and a big chrome outline. Instead, the M3 and M4 opt for clean horizontal black slats that run top to bottom with no busy frame. The rimless inserts mean there's more of a seamless visual transition into the bodywork, and when joined by a large lower vent just below them (for additional cooling), it makes for one hell of an aggressive look.
While the new BMW M3 does look busy, that’s not to say I don’t like it. In fact, this thing is pretty cool.
Granted, the Tanzanite Metallic Blue paint (a $1,950) on our tester certainly helps tame the styling where brighter hues like Sao Paulo Yellow or Isle Of Man Green make the big, black inserts stand out more dramatically. But even then, kudos to BMW for making something that won't simply blend into the crowd.
The rest of the body is sharp. There's an aggressive beltline that runs the length of the profile, further toughening up the look, and the staggered 19- and 20-inch multi-spoke wheels on the Competition model are standouts. The back end is comparatively subtle, but the quad exhaust tips are a nice touch that carry over from the previous gen, and the Individual Shadowline elements (a $300 option) give the taillights a cool smoked tint.
Unfortunately, BMW didn't do anything dramatic inside of this particular M3. If you've previously sat in any modern BMW product, this cabin should look very familiar. High-quality Silverstone and Black Merino leather covers the seats and bleeds onto the dash and door panels as part of the $2,250 full leather package. Our car wears the standard seats, which are nice and comfy, but you can opt for full carbon-fiber buckets ($3,800) if you so choose.
A silvery Aluminum Tetragon trim covers a portion of the dash and center console, but honestly, it’s not my favorite look. Go for one of the optional wood or carbon fiber trims instead. In terms of tech, there's a 10.3-inch touchscreen with the latest version of BMW's iDrive interface, a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster just behind the steering wheel, and a head-up display (part of the $3,000 executive package).
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There's not much to be said about iDrive that hasn't been said already – it remains one of the better systems out there, with a clean interface and settings that are easy to parse. The M3's party piece, though, is the M Mode display. While technically another carryover from prior M models, it allows you to adjust every setting from the steering to the brakes. But unlike its siblings, the M3 Comp (and M4) is the first with an M Drift Analyze function that looks like a lot of fun to use.
Essentially a drift mode with a built-in scoring system, M Drift Analyze records things like the length of drift and slip angle to determine how well you're putting this car sideways. The system even takes things like traction intensity into account (adjustable 10 different ways in the M Mode screen) to determine your overall score. That said, this system is only for the track, so there was no chance to test it out as intended.
Tough Nut To Crack
I won’t sugarcoat this: This BMW M3 Competition costs $93,000 as tested. That figure is straight-up egregious. Granted, the $72,900 starting price for the Competition model is more reasonable, considering the Mercedes-AMG C63 starts at $68,600 and the Audi RS5 Sportback is actually more expensive at $75,100. But options kill this car.
The most expensive add-on, the carbon-ceramic brakes, cost $8,150. While the optional stoppers are good, they're mostly just for show unless you're planning on taking this car to the track regularly. The Executive pack tacks another $3,000 onto that total price, adding options like remote start, a heated steering wheel, a power tailgate, and more – which, honestly, should be standard already on a $70,000-plus car. But the most offensive option is the M Driver's package. This $2,500 add-on increases the top speed from an electronically limited 155 miles per hour to 180 and gives you one free day of BMW performance driving school. That's it.
Yes, the new M3 is fast and flingable... but this car is imperfect is many respects.
It's difficult to fully crack the code of the new BMW M3 Competition in just two days of driving it. Yes, the new M3 is fast and flingable, and BMW made sure it looks like nothing else on the road, whether you like it or not. But this car is imperfect in many respects – the steering most annoyingly – and almost feels too similar to other M Competition models. I’ll definitely need more time with the M3 Competition (and hopefully on a track), but my initial takeaway is that this car just doesn't feel as special as my possibly excessive expectations led me to believe it would be.
M3 Competition Competitor Reviews:
2021 BMW M3 Competition