2021 BMW 3-Series

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Andrew Ganz Andrew Ganz Senior Editor
March 16, 2021

Buying tip

With so many ways to configure a 3-Series, you’ll want to watch your budget—and your needs—closely.

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The flexible 2021 BMW 3-Series lineup offers something for everyone, so long as they’re not smitten with SUVs.

What kind of vehicle is the 2021 BMW 3-Series? What does it compare to?

The 2021 BMW 3-Series is a compact sedan with a decidedly sporty personality. It squares off against the Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Volvo S60, and Audi A4, among others. 

Is the 2021 BMW 3-Series a good car/SUV?

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In its latest edition, the 3-Series has regained a lot of the magic that once made it an easy favorite. We give it a TCC Rating of 7.7 out of 10. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

What's new for the 2021 BMW 3-Series?

Last reworked for 2019, the 3-Series gains two bookends to its lineup this year. At the efficiency end of things, a new plug-in hybrid 330e with a 288-horsepower turbo-4 and an electric battery pack that team up for 22 miles of gas-free driving on a full charge. At the top of the performance ladder, there’s a wildly-styled M3 that comes with an enthusiast-pleasing 6-speed manual transmission option.

Otherwise, the lineup sees newly standard lane-departure warnings and some minor trim package revisions.

The 3-Series comes only as a sedan, though it is closely related to the 4-Series coupe and convertible.

The base 330i is plenty of sedan for most drivers. Its 255-hp 2.0-liter turbo-4 can send power rearward or to all four corners in xDrive versions. This year’s new 330e should be a little quicker than the base 330i, making its $3,300 premium easier to swallow.

From there, the lineup goes into M territory—sports sedan drivers know that letter stands for Motorsport, not Mediocrity. The M340i puts 382 hp to the ground, while the ferocious M3 offers as much as 503 hp. An 8-speed automatic is standard fare except in the M3, which can be had with a proper manual. 

Most versions of the 3-Series break little ground when it comes to styling with their conservative three-box bodies and relatively limited adornments. BMW saves all its penwork for the bonkers M3, a bucktoothed beast that is definitely not to every taste. 

Inside, all versions of the 3-Series are far more restrained and offer good comfort for passengers as well as plenty of technology including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility through an 8.8-inch touchscreen. Automatic emergency braking is standard, though adaptive cruise control and fatigue-reducing driver assist features can be pricey options. 

At least the 3-Series has aced crash tests performed so far. 

How much does the 2021 BMW 3-Series cost?

BMW wants around $42,500 for the least-costly 330i, and options ranging from paint colors other than white, leather upholstery, and various convenience features can inflate that substantially.

There’s not a bad pick in this lineup, but our tastes run toward either a restrained 330i (or a 330e if you do the math and find its electric range suits your commute) or the bonkers M3 (if you can take its styling). 

Where is the 2021 BMW 3-Series made?

In Mexico and Germany.


2021 BMW 3-Series


Most 3-Series sedans are conservative. Not so the wild M3.

Is the 2021 BMW 3-Series a good-looking car?

That depends on what you think about a distinctive front end. The standard 330s and M340i are clean and conservative, with good detailing and an upmarket interior. They rate a 7 on our scale, with points above average in and out. M340is are a little chunkier with their body kits, but they don’t scream for attention the way the M3 does.

Certainly you have an opinion on the M3’s gaping snouts. Decide for yourself. 

Inside, the 3-Series has a low dash augmented by digital displays in front of the driver and topping the  center stack. A sliver of real wood or aluminum trim and a stretch of ambient lights dress things up while adding the illusion of width. The 3-Series is expensive, and yet it rewards with upscale touches inside that make it feel worth the hefty price. 

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2021 BMW 3-Series


The 3-Series offers thrills for every driving ability.

Is the BMW 3-Series 4WD?

Though BMW staked its reputation on rear-wheel-drive dynamics, most 3-Series sedans are actually all-wheel drive. Just look for the xDrive moniker, it’s the tell. 

How fast is the BMW 3-Series?

BMW doesn’t build a slow 3-Series. This lineup boasts turbo-4 and turbo-6 engines with excellent performance all around. We haven’t driven the M3s yet, but the 3-Series cars for us mere mortals rate 8 out of 10 on account of good handling, composed rides, and underhood thrust.

The gateway to the range is the 330i with its 255-hp turbo-4, which hustles power rearward or to all four corners through an 8-speed automatic. The intriguing new 330e starts with that engine and adds an electric motor and a lithium-ion battery for a combined output of 288 hp plus an EPA-estimated 22 miles of electric-only range.

The base 330i is plenty quick for most drivers, with 0-60 mph zips in around 5.5 seconds—that was M3 territory not very long ago. We haven’t driven a 330e yet, but experience with this engine in the X3 bodes well for acceleration plus the ability to hang onto electric charge for when you can best use it, such as for a high-traffic, low-speed part of your commuting slog.

The M340i swaps in a 3.0-liter turbo-6 good for 382 hp and 360 lb-ft of torque, again hustled to the rear or all four wheels through an 8-speed automatic. This engine provides masterful grunt and composure. It’s a gem, and it can hustle the all-wheel-drive version to 60 mph in a tick over four seconds. 

The M3 soars to performance heights with a 473-hp twin-turbo-6—tuned to 503 hp in Competition form. It's capable of 0-60 mph times of 3.8 seconds and a top speed of 180 mph.

Handling is excellent. Underneath, you’ll find a double-joint front strut setup and a five-link rear-end. We’ve largely driven cars with the optional adaptive dampers and the M Sport setup, which results in a lower ride height and sportier tires. The more commonly-ordered base setup is plenty compliant.

One recommendation: swap out the all-season run-flat tires BMW makes standard for the optional conventional tires, which both ride better and provide more winding road grip.

The M3 exudes even more driving confidence with its standard 6-speed manual transmission, but the optional Competition package only gets an 8-speed paddle-shifted automatic. It's up to the task of making the most of the sophisticated suspension (with standard adaptive damping), a limited-slip differential, and launch control. The M3's handling nears brilliance; it's exceptionally poised in terms of ride quality and road grip, even if the steering's less sharp than expected. A brake-by-wire setup could use more progressive feedback, too; carbon-ceramic brakes are a hefty $8,150 option but will likely prove their worth on track. The M Driver’s Package ups the car’s top speed and includes a day-long driving school at a BMW Performance Center. 

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2021 BMW 3-Series

Comfort & Quality

The 2021 BMW 3-Series has good, but not great, space inside.

Front-seat passengers will find the BMW 3-Series a magnificent place to hustle away the miles. Those confined to row two will tolerate it, as long as there’s nobody in the middle seat. We rate the 2021 3-Series at 7 based on its decent trunk and its great front seats.

Synthetic leather is standard, real hides optional. You’ll find standard power adjustment for the front seats plus good steering wheel adjustment, making the 3-Series a comfortable choice. Leather runs about $1,500 extra. 

The rear seats force passengers to sit closer to the center of the car for crash protection, a noble gesture that nonetheless means three abreast is a tight squeeze.

Cargo space is good at 17 cubic feet, and the 40/20/40 split-folding rear seatback makes the 3-Series a viable SUV-rival in terms of practicality.

The 3-Series has a quality feel inside, and a wide range of color options ensures plenty of customizability. The M3 can be had with sensational and colorful leather, and with power carbon-fiber bucket seats that confine the driver in a very snug way. Test them before you buy, if you can.

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2021 BMW 3-Series


Even without government crash testing complete, the 2021 BMW 3-Series rates highly for its safety.

How safe is the BMW 3-Series?

The IIHS calls the 3-Series a Top Safety Pick, and it comes standard with a good array of crash-avoidance features. We rate it at 9 out of 10.

BMW charges extra for adaptive cruise control plus tech that can allow for limited hands-free driving to help reduce traffic fatigue, though the features require adding a number of additional options that can elevate the price by a few thousand dollars. Additionally, the best-performing LED headlights are walled off in an expensive option package. 


2021 BMW 3-Series


The 2021 BMW 3-Series can be loaded up with tons of features.

BMW will build you just about any 3-Series version you want, though you’ll pay for the privilege of adding the best performance and luxury options. We rate the range at 9 out of 10, with points for standard and optional fare, trick infotainment, and a 4-year/50,000-mile warranty.

Which BMW 3-Series should I buy?

What 3-Series makes the most sense for you depends on your needs. For most of us, the base 330i makes the most sense, though those with commutes might be able to justify the extra cost of the 330e given its 22-mile electric-only range.

From there, the 3-Series can get expensive quickly. The Driving Assistance Professional Package adds desirable adaptive cruise control and fatigue-reducing assistance tech, but it requires several other options that can push what was a $42,500 car to nearly $50,000. 

Once you’ve started adding performance options such as the Adaptive M Suspension or even the M Sport trim package, the M340i won’t be much of a leap, either. 

The M3 runs about $71,000 to start, or a reasonable $3,000 for the extra 30 horsepower and buttoned-down suspension in the Competition. Choose wisely, though, as the base M3 comes only with a 6-speed manual while the Competition swaps in an automatic transmission—and only the Competition edition can be configured with adaptive cruise control. 

How much is a fully loaded 2021 BMW 3-Series?

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

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2021 BMW 3-Series

Fuel Economy

Most versions of the BMW 3-Series are impressively frugal.

Is the 2021 BMW 3-Series good on gas?

All but the monstrous M3 are eco-friendly sedan choices, especially this year’s new 330e. 

The base 330i rates 6 out of 10 on our scale at 26 mpg city, 36 highway, 30 combined, figures dinged by about 2 mpg with all-wheel drive.

Meanwhile, BMW says to expect 75 mpg-e from the 330e, or 28 mpg combined. The EPA figures about 22 miles of electric-only range, which drivers can access at the tap of a button for lower-speed driving. 

M340i sedans aren’t all that thirsty for their power—expect as much as 32 mpg on the highway. 

The M3 has been rated at 16/23/19 mpg.

Premium fuel is mandatory.  

Review continues below
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