2021 BMW M3 first drive review: Redemption through performance

Look, I hate the BMW’s huge new grille as much as the rest of you, but there are far more important things to talk about with this brand new M3. This is the sports sedan by which all other sports sedans are judged, and once you get past those unfortunate nostrils, I promise there are many redeeming qualities.

In fact, apart from the failed nose job, I think the M3 looks pretty hot. It’s 2.4 inches wider than a base 3 series, highlighted by bulging front and rear fenders, and large exhaust tips protrude from the diffuser like a freshly polished brass quartet. All M3s have offset wheels and tires, with 18 standard front and 19 rear, although my tester has the optional 19/20 inch configuration. Oh, and as for this new paint job on the Isle of Man, when we are allowed to be in contact with other humans again, I owe the high five to the person who lit (huh) this color.

If the sedan’s body style isn’t your thing, there’s also the new one Coupe M4, which is basically the same car just a little uglier and a little more expensive. Both the M3 and M4 are available in base and racing specs with rear-wheel drive, and by the end of the year, all-wheel drive versions of the racing models will join the party.

Each M3 and M4 uses the BMW I6 twin-turbo 3.0-liter S58, which is a nice upgrade from the older S55 engine. Basic tuning offers 473 horsepower and 406 pound-feet of torque and you can achieve that with a six-speed manual or eight-speed automatic transmission. The competition update pushes those figures up to 503 hp and 479 lb-ft, though you also get stuck in the automatic transmission.

The vast majority of M3 and M4 buyers will undoubtedly choose automatic transmission regardless of engine power, but I’m still happy to see BMW keep the manual alive. It’s good drivetrain too – the clutch is heavy with a predictable absorption point, and while I’ve heard other people describe the M3’s shifter as rubbery, I enjoyed the notch and precise action on the stick.

The 3.0-liter twin-turbo I6 engine produces 473hp or 503hp, depending on specification.

Jonathan Harper / Roadshow

Also, the most powerful and car-only racing cars are not much faster. Despite their extra oomph and faster drivetrain, both the M3 and M4 Comp will do the run from 0 to 60 mph in 3.8 seconds; base / manual cars will do the same sprint in 4.1 seconds. The only time you’ll notice the discrepancy is in a drag strip, or as my photographer correctly points out, as you rip between traffic lights on Melrose in Hollywood at midnight.

The manual is also well matched to this I6 turbo. The S58 is surprisingly content with revs for a turbocharged engine, but because there’s so much torque at low revs, it’s not always necessary to lower a gear or two to recall the necessary passing power. Speaking of which, manual shifting will automatically pair with gear changes, although you can disable this feature if you wish. I’m sure real male riders will scoff at that, but I actually love the auto lap matching technology, just because you get guaranteed smooth shifts 100% of the time, and sometimes I just don’t feel like a heel-and-toe in traffic.

Do you know what else is great? The frame. The standard configuration of the G20 3 series is pretty good, and the extra brackets and an aluminum subframe make the M3 stiffer and more durable. Each M3 is equipped with electronically controlled adaptive shock absorbers, which can react instantly and individually to each wheel, providing excellent composure on smooth and unpleasant road surfaces alike. I can really feel a difference between the Comfort, Sport and Sport Plus suspension modes. And while BMW’s larger M cars sometimes crash even in their most customized settings (looking at you, M5 is X5 / X6 M), the M3 is flexible enough not to hate driving it every day.

Jonathan Harper / Roadshow

A standard limited-slip differential keeps the power handled at the rear, and Michelin Pilot Sport 4S 275 / 35ZR19 front and 285 / 30ZR20 rear summer tires offer great grip. There are 10 different levels of traction control to choose from, which is completely overkill, even if it means you can really have more handling over how much leeway you have in terms of slip. The M3 will also fully pull out controlled slides, and there is also a feature called M Drift Analyzer, which records the distance, duration and angle of a drift and then scores your performance so you can improve your game. . Okay, but please don’t be one of the idiots trying to use it on a public road.

As sweet as the chassis is, the M3’s steering is a mixed bag. The speed-sensitive variable ratio setup means the M3 transforms quickly and responds instantly to changes in direction, but the whole experience is lifeless. The wheel is well-weighted but is also insensitive to the flatline and, strangely enough, to the edge of the nervous in its more aggressive Sport setting. It’s a shame to see BMW still struggling with steering after all these years.

Likewise, the brakes are hit or lost. Standard steel brakes have 15.0-inch front discs with six-piston calipers and 14.6-inch rear discs with single-piston floating calipers. This is a perfectly sturdy stopping setup, but the M3 uses a version of the brake-by-wire system you’ll find in the 8 Series, where you can switch between Comfort and Sport settings, none of which actually feel that different from the other. ‘one another. BMW claims that the advantage of this technology is the constant braking sensation in all situations, but that’s not what I’ve experienced on the road. There is an artificial accumulation of weight which is not always related to the impact force, and it is difficult to get used to. The credit is due, however: this is one of the best Brake-by-Wire systems when it comes to low-speed modulation.

The orange skin looks great against the green paint on my test car.

Jonathan Harper / Roadshow

If you prefer stronger, carbon-ceramic brakes, they’re available for $ 8,150 and feature classy gold-painted calipers. Given how strong the stock setup is, unless you’re using the M3 as a track car, I’d skip the carbon-ceramic option. Eighty thousand is a lot of money.

The base M3 comes with a decent list of standard driver assistance features, including parking sensors, traffic sign recognition, lane departure warning, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic warning and more. Unfortunately, things like Adaptive Cruise Control, Lane Keeping Assist, and BMW’s Extended Traffic Jam Assist (which combines those aforementioned technologies) are hidden behind a $ 1,700 package available only on Competition models. It is a bit boring to lock that technology into the most expensive set-up of the competition, although I suppose these are characteristics that I could theoretically live without. But you do.

Every M3 has the same technology as the cabin: BMW’s iDrive 7 software, with a 10.3-inch central touchscreen and 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster. This is exactly the same as what you get in the base 3 Series, as is pretty much every other new BMW. iDrive 7 has a pretty steep initial learning curve, but I appreciate the screen’s quick responses to inputs and the fact that you can control it via a knob on the center console or via voice commands. wireless Apple CarPlay is Android Auto are also included.

Jonathan Harper / Roadshow

Most of the internal touchpoints are carried over from the 330i and M340i to the M3, with the exception of a few M-specific badges and colors and a thicker diameter steering wheel. You can add BMW’s wild-looking carbon bucket seats to any version of the M3 or M4 for $ 3,800, and I’ve heard they’re seriously supportive. My test car has the standard sports seats, which are perfectly in place and look great with Kyalami Orange leather. For $ 2,550, you can extend the skin color to the lower dash panel as well, so yeah, go crazy.

The basic M3 starts at $ 70,895, including $ 995 for the destination. All finished with special paint and interior colors, carbon-ceramic brakes, updated wheels, and an executive package (heated steering wheel, head-up display, wireless charging, those dumb gesture controls, etc.), the M3 pictured here costs $ 90,295 – again, nearly 10% of that price comes from the brakes alone. As for the rest of the lineup, the M3 Competition comes in at $ 73,795, the M4 starts at $ 72,795, and the M4 Competition is the more expensive variant at $ 75,695.

To see? Looks great from the back.

Jonathan Harper / Roadshow

Likewise the regular 3 Series is an improvement over its predecessor, as is the M3. This sports sedan is better to drive and easier to live with, and the M3 continues to stack well against the well-rounded Audi RS5 and with V8 engine Mercedes-AMG C63 in terms of price and performance. Ultimately, deciding which one to choose depends on which brand you like best or which car you think is the most beautiful.

Oh shit. Maybe that grid is more important than I thought.


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