From its debut in the 1970s to now, the BMW 3 Series has defined the compact luxury sport sedan segment. The current seventh-gen G20 model arrived for 2019, intending to provide the dynamics and comfort that made earlier 3 Series a favorite among enthusiasts. But the 3 Series has more challengers than ever before, making it more difficult for BMW to stay on top.
For 2021, the legendary high-performance M3 model makes its return, bringing the most power of the range and an available six-speed manual transmission—along with controversial front-end styling. The 330e plug-in hybrid also goes on sale, offering improved fuel efficiency and all-electric driving range.
Once the standard-setter among compact luxury sport sedans, the 3 Series seems to have lost the plot. It's still sporty and luxurious, but how it accomplishes those is a bit contrived.
The 3 Series checks basic performance boxes with its strong acceleration and brakes. Turning the too-thick steering wheel results in precise responses, even if there's a lack of feel. In our experience the available M Sport suspension is brutally stiff, better suited for smooth racetracks than the real world.
The new M3 will likely deliver a focused driving experience, and we're thrilled that it's offered with a six-speed manual. However, it might take a while for us to warm to its styling.
As a luxury car, the 3 Series works but doesn't excel. The cabin is spacious and well packaged in both rows. Some material selections feel chintzy compared to what's offered in competitors; BMW seems more focused on glitzy tech than actual luxury appointments.
Factor in the 3 Series' incohesive exterior styling and uninspired interior, and its midfield rating among compact luxury sedans is solidly earned. For some drivers, the all-electric range offered by the new 330e plug-in hybrid may redeem some of those flaws.
All 3 Series models are RWD as standard, with BMW's xDrive AWD system available. Most use an eight-speed automatic transmission, though the M3 offers a six-speed manual.
The 330i uses a 2.0-liter turbo-four engine producing 255 hp and 294 lb-ft of torque. In MotorTrend testing, 0-60 mph acceleration took 5.4 seconds in a RWD 330i, while an AWD version took 5.5 seconds. EPA-rated fuel economy is 26/36 mpg city/highway for RWD models, or 25/34 mpg for AWD models.
The 330e plug-in hybrid is new for 2021. It uses the 2.0-liter engine from the 330i, but it gains an electric motor powered by a 12.0-kWh battery. Combined output is 288 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque. Efficiency is the goal of the 330e, and it returns EPA-rated 75 mpg-e with RWD or 67 mpg-e with AWD. All-electric driving range is about 22 miles with RWD or 20 miles with AWD; both can operate in all-electric mode at speeds up to 87 mph.
The M340i features a turbocharged 3.0-liter I-6, which gains a 48-volt mild-hybrid electrical system for 2021. Output measures 382 hp and 368 lb-ft of torque. Acceleration from 0-60 mph took 4.2 seconds in MotorTrend testing of a RWD model. Estimated fuel economy is 23/32 mpg for RWD models or 22/31 for AWD models.
The legendary M3 returns for 2021, packing a twin-turbo 3.0-liter I-6. As standard, it produces 473 hp and 409 lb-ft, which is good for a BMW-estimated 4.1-second 0-60 mph time. Choosing the Competition package increases output to 503 hp and 479 lb-ft, cutting the 0-60 time to a claimed 3.8 seconds. However, choosing Competition spec precludes the M3's manual transmission option.
When it was last evaluated by the IIHS, the 3 Series earned 2020 Top Safety Pick designation when equipped with the available LED high beam adaptive headlights included in the Executive package. Regardless, it got the top good score in all six IIHS crashworthiness tests.
For 2021, automatic high beams are included on all 3 Series trims. Forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, as well as rain-sensing windshield wipers, are among the standard driver aids and active safety features. Options include adaptive cruise control with lane keep assist, lane departure warning, blind-spot monitoring, and front and rear parking sensors.
The 3 Series' trunk capacity measures 17.0 cubic feet, with split-folding second-row seats to allow storage of larger items.
Front-row headroom measures 38.7 inches in the 3 Series, which compares to 37.3 inches in the Audi A4. Second-row headroom is 37.6 inches in the 3 Series, similar to the A4's 37.4 inches. Front-row legroom is 42.0 inches in the BMW, and 41.3 inches in the Audi. Second-row legroom is 35.2 inches in the 3 Series, close to the A4's 35.7 inches.
The 3 Series is equipped with dual 8.8-inch displays as standard equipment. One is mounted in the gauge cluster, and the other works as the infotainment touchscreen. Optionally available are a 12.3-inch gauge display and 10.3-inch infotainment touchscreen. Android Auto is a new addition for 2021, and joins Apple CarPlay, Bluetooth connectivity, and GPS maps as standard. Two front-row USB ports are included, and two in the second row are available; a wireless charging pad is optional. The standard 10-speaker audio system can be upgraded to a 16-speaker Harman Kardon premium setup. Premium technology options include a 360-degree camera system, semi-autonomous parking assist, a head-up display, and infotainment gesture controls.
|$1000||BMW announces Lease/APR Credit on select models for eligible College Graduates.||12-31-2020|
|$2500||BMW announces a Military Program for cash customers.||01-04-2021|
|$500||BMW announces a Military Program for customers who Lease/OwnersChoice/Retail Finance/Select Finance through BMW Financial Services that is good towards a purchase or lease of select models.||01-04-2021|
|$2000||BMW announces a Customer Cash Credit on select models. [Regional Incentive. See dealer for availability.]||01-04-2021|
|$2000||BMW announces APR Credit that is good towards a purchase through BMW Financial Services of select models. [Regional Incentive. See dealer for availability.]||01-04-2021|
|$1500||BMW announces Lease Credit on select models. [Regional Incentive. See dealer for availability.]||01-04-2021|