2021 BMW 3-Series

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Updated: February 5, 2021

2021 BMW 3-Series

The 2021 BMW 3-Series is a compact luxury sedan that’s been a benchmark for decades thanks to the thrust under its hood, good handling, a composed ride, an excellent interior, and conservative styling.

After a redesign in 2019, BMW now stretches both ends of the 3-Series lineup, with two new models for 2021: a plug-in hybrid 330e using a 288-hp turbo-4 mated to batteries and a motor, and a wild high-performance M3.

Other changes for 2021 are small, including standard lane-departure warnings on all models, and some changes in available trim.

The base 330i uses a 255-hp 2.0-liter turbo-4 that’s either rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive in the xDrive versions, and is mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission.

The M340i uses a turbo-6 making 382 hp, mated to that same 8-speed.

The new 330e has an all-electric range of 22 miles, and, with 33 more horsepower than the 330i, it’s expected to be quicker.

The new M3 is a beast with a turbo-6 making as much as 503 hp, using an 8-speed automatic or 6-speed manual gearbox.

The 330i is EPA-rated at 26 mpg city, 36 highway, 30 combined, with the XDrive model getting about 2 mpg less.

BMW says to expect 75 MPGe from the 330e, or 28 mpg combined. The EPA estimates the electric-only range to be about 22 miles.

The M340i sedan can achieve as much as 32 mpg on the highway.

The M3 hasn’t been EPA-rated yet, but BMW estimates 23 mpg highway.

Premium fuel is required.

The 2021 has aced its crash tests so far. The IIHS calls the 3-Series a Top Safety Pick. Automatic emergency braking is standard, although other safety equipment is optional and expensive. For example, upgraded LED headlights, and adaptive cruise control that allows limited hands-free driving.

Model Lineup

The 3-Series comes as 330i, 330e, M340i and M3.

The 330i starts at $42,500. The 330e costs about $45,500. The M3 starts at about $71,000.

With BMW, options always drive the cost up. For example, the Driving Assistance Professional Package adds safety and self-driving equipment, but requires other options that can push the 330i to nearly $50,000. Other options for the 330i include Adaptive M Suspension and the M Sport trim package.

The M3 offers a Competition Package for $3,000 that adds 30 horsepower, a firmer suspension, and an automatic transmission. The M3 comes standard with a 6-speed manual gearbox.

An M3 Competition with all the bells and whistles like matte finish paint, carbon fiber seats, driver assistance features and more, can run nearly $105,000.

Exterior

The standard 330i and M340i are clean and conservative, with good detailing. The M340i is a little chunkier with the body kit, but doesn’t scream for attention like the M3, with its gaping snout.

Interior

The cabin of the 3-Series generally makes it feel worthy of its price. Synthetic leather is standard, while real leather is about $1,500 more. There’s a low dash with digital displays in front of the driver and atop the center stack. A sliver of wood or aluminum trim dresses the cabin, along with ambient lights. The 8.8-inch touchscreen incorporates a lot of technology, including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility.

The front seats are superb, with standard power adjustment. The rear seats are tolerable, as long as there’s nobody in the middle seat. The rear seatbacks fold 40/20/40 to carry cargo.

The trunk is quite big for a compact car, with 17 cubic feet of space.

Driving Impressions

It’s expected for the turbo-6 to be fast, but the turbo-4 is quick too, as the 330i’s 255 hp propels the base sedan from 0-60 mph in about 5.5 seconds. It wasn’t that long ago that only the M3 had that kind of acceleration. The intriguing new 330e plug-in hybrid should be at least as quick as the 330i.

The M340i uses 3.0-liter turbo-6 good for 382 hp and 360 lb-ft of torque; as with the turbo-4 models, it’s rear-wheel or all-wheel drive, mated to an 8-speed automatic. This gem of an engine is totally composed while delivering epic grunt. It can hustle the all-wheel-drive version to 60 mph in a tick over four seconds.

The handling of any BMW 3-Series is excellent, with a double-joint front strut suspension and five-link rear. Most of our seat time is with cars equipped with the optional adaptive dampers and M Sport setup with a lowered ride height and sportier tires.

The ride with the standard suspension is plenty compliant. But the standard all-season run-flat tires don’t ride as well as the optional conventional tires, which also provide more grip that’s useful on winding roads.

Still to come: the new M3, with an awesome 473 hp and an available 6-speed manual transmission—or for another $3,000, 30 more horsepower in the Competition Package. BMW says to expect 60 mph in under four seconds. If you really want to go big (as in $8,150 big), you can add carbon-ceramic brakes and an M Driver’s Package, which raises the top speed through electronic tuning, and includes a one-day driving school at a BMW Performance Center.

Final Word

The 2021 BMW 3-Series comprises four very different cars. Base 330i sedans are great cars with few weaknesses. The new plug-in hybrid offers all-electric driving, while the 340i offers a more electrifying driving experience. For a mind-blowing cruise, the M3 has it all: more than 500 hp and whip-crack handling.

 

—by Sam Moses with driving impressions by The Car Connection