2021 BMW 3 Series Expert Review
An outstanding compact sports sedan, the luxurious BMW 3 Series must fend off not just the usual Mercedes-Benz C-Class and Audi A4 competitors, but also other sporty offerings such as the Alfa Romeo Giulia and Genesis G70.
This 7th-generation 3 Series, revamped last year, is packed with the latest technology and safety features, and its performance ranges from good to great. The base 4-cylinder 330i, with 255 horsepower, gets the job done, but the M340i, powered by a 382-horsepower turbocharged inline-6, really gets our heart pumping.
Even more potent is the new 2021 BMW M3 sedan, which is powered by a twin-turbo 3.0-liter inline-6 with 473 horsepower mated to a 6-speed manual transmission. The M3 Competition has an even more powerful version of that engine, with 503 horsepower. It comes standard with an 8-speed automatic transmission and AWD.
Also new for 2021 are two plug-in hybrid (PHEV) models: the BMW 330e and the all-wheel-drive (AWD) 330e xDrive, both of which promise to be fuel-efficient and fun to drive. A turbocharged 2.0-liter engine with 181 horsepower is teamed with a 107-horsepower electric motor. The total combined output of the new BMW 3 Series PHEV is 288 horsepower.
Equally significant, the new PHEV 3 Series models can travel 22 miles on electricity alone (cut that to 20 miles for the xDrive model), getting power from a lithium-ion battery beneath the car’s back seat. EPA combined fuel economy is 28 mpg for the rear-drive 330e and 25 mpg for the 330e xDrive AWD version.
Both of the new 3 Series PHEV sedans have what BMW calls XtraBoost, which is available only in Sport mode and offers an extra 40-horsepower increase for up to 10 seconds. As such, the 330e PHEV hits 60 mph in 5.6 seconds (5.7 for the xDrive model). Of note, both cars can be driven up to 87 mph in purely electric mode.
Driving the 2021 BMW 3 Series
The entry-level 2021 BMW 330i sedan is acceptable in terms of driving and performance. With 255 horsepower, it hits 60 mph in 5.3 seconds. That’s quick, and its ride quality is taut but supple, able to please most enthusiastic drivers. Drivers can dial up an even sportier feel via this BMW’s adjustable suspension settings.
While the Alfa Romeo Giulia and Genesis G70, with their manual transmissions, are a bit more engaging, the BMW 3 Series shines as a quick and nimble sports sedan.
On the other hand, the potent BMW M340i, new last year, proves that BMW still has the magic touch. With a proper inline-6 under the hood and a performance-tuned chassis, the M340i lives up to its high-performance billing. We sampled an M340i on a track at BMW’s performance center outside Palm Springs, and were stunned by its tenacious grip. The M3 models promise even better performance.
All models of the BMW 3 Series (except the M3) are equipped with a smooth 8-speed automatic transmission that shifts when expected. Even the new PHEV models use the 8-speed automatic, but with revised hydraulics and shorter gearing for improved acceleration.
Fun detail: The 8-speed Steptronic transmission communicates with the navigation system and optional active cruise control so it can avoid unnecessary gearchanges on twisty roads and when approaching a slower vehicle from behind.
The M3 has an almost mythical name, and the all-new 2021 model lives up to the billing. Fast, agile and fit for the track, the new M3 is the preeminent BMW sport sedan, powered by a perfectly balanced twin-turbo inline-6 with 473 horsepower.
The new 3 Series PHEV sedans have what BMW calls XtraBoost, which is available in Sport mode and provides a 40-horsepower boost for up to 10 seconds. As such, the 330e PHEV hits 60 mph in 5.6 seconds (5.7 for the xDrive model). Of note, the new PHEVs can be driven up to 87 mph in purely electric mode.
2021 BMW 3 Series Interior
The BMW 3 Series’ interior is clean and elegant, but not revolutionary. Some might find the 5-seat environment a little clinical and sterile. But if you’ve ever owned a BMW, you probably know this and prefer it that way. The overall build quality is excellent, and the caliber of the interior materials is high.
Soft-touch surfaces abound, as do intelligent touches like physical knobs and switches where needed. A large 8.8-inch touchscreen linked to BMW’s iDrive controller handles the rest of the in-car functions and features.
The seats are firm and supportive (especially those in the M Sport version), and the 3 Series has room for a pair of adults on its back seat. That seat, by the way, is a split-folding 40/20/40 unit that provides access to the 17-cubic-foot trunk.
2021 BMW 3 Series Exterior
The BMW 3 Series, now in its seventh generation, does not look drastically different from previous versions. Everything is a little larger than prior generations, but the proportions work well, and we are thankful that the 3 Series’ grille isn’t ostentatious.
The performance-oriented 2021 BMW 340i sits 0.4 inches lower than the 330i, owing to its sportier suspension tuning. The front fascia has larger side intakes, while the rear sports a beefier valance and larger exhaust housings.
Eighteen-inch wheels are standard on the 2021 BMW 3 Series, with 19s optional. The M3 has 18-in front wheels and 19-inch rears, while the M3 Competition is equipped with 19-inch fronts and 20-inch rears.
2021 BMW 3 Series Standard Features
A rear-drive BMW 330i in Sport Line form includes 14-way power-adjustable front seats, 3-zone automatic climate control, auto-dimming rearview mirror, power moonroof, universal garage remote, and BMW’s SensaTec faux-leather upholstery.
Safety features include automatic emergency braking and lane-departure warning. The new 3 Series’ standard infotainment bundles an 8.8-inch display with navigation and a 205-watt/10-speaker audio system with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto integration.
The new BMW 3 Series PHEVs, not surprisingly, are generously equipped. Standard equipment on these new hybrid models includes adaptive cruise control, navigation, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, and a generous safety suite with automatic emergency braking and a lane-departure warning.
In addition to the 473-horsepower engine and 6-speed manual transmission, the 2021 BMW M3 is equipped with a limited-slip differential, adaptive M suspension, heated M sport seats, active cruise control, a Harman Kardon surround-sound audio system and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto.
2021 BMW 3 Series Options
All-wheel drive is a $2,000 option on the 2021 BMW 330i, 330e and M340i. Choosing the Luxury line adds chrome flourishes and ambient lighting, while the M Sport line grants a sport suspension, variable sport steering, LED fog lights and other performance-oriented bits and aesthetics. As is the case with BMW, many more options are available bundled in packages or as stand-alone options. Among them are genuine leather upholstery, wood or aluminum interior accents, and an upgraded Harman Kardon audio system.
We would recommend the Convenience package, which includes blind-spot monitoring, parking sensors, a hands-free power trunk, keyless entry, and lumbar support. A Driving Assistance Professional package adds semi-autonomous driving abilities. Other notable options on the 2021 BMW 3 Series include heated front and rear seats, a heated steering wheel, a head-up display, and a fully digital dashboard.
The new M3 models are available with an Executive Package that includes a head-up display, adaptive LED headlights, a power trunk lid, a heated steering wheel, a wireless charging pad and a Wi-Fi hotspot.
Stand-alone M3 options abound. They include carbon-ceramic brakes, black or red brake calipers, a moonroof, carbon-fiber interior trim, and the M Driver’s Package, which raises the M3’s top speed to 180 mph and includes a voucher for BMW driver training.
2021 BMW 3 Series Engine
The standard 2021 BMW 3 Series has three available powertrains. The 330i models use a 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder that makes 255 horsepower and an ample 295 lb-ft of torque. This will be more than adequate for the majority of buyers simply seeking a luxurious sports sedan. At up to 36 mpg on the highway, this 330i also is very efficient.
If you want better acceleration, get the M340i. Its turbocharged inline-6 puts out 382 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque.
Even quicker is the brand-new 2021 BMW M3 sedan, which is powered by a twin-turbo 3.0-liter inline-6 with 473 horsepower. If that’s still not enough for you, consider the all-wheel-drive (AWD) 2021 BMW M3 Competition. It packs a 503-hp punch, which reaches all four wheels via an 8-speed automatic transmission.
Folks looking for efficiency and fun should consider the new BMW 330e PHEV, in rear- or all-wheel-drive form. It’s powered by a turbocharged 2.0-liter engine with 181 horsepower that works with a 107-horsepower electric motor to propel the car. Total combined output: 288 horsepower.
The new PHEV 3 Series models can travel up to 22 miles on electricity alone, drawing electricity from a lithium-ion battery beneath the 330e’s back seat. BMW says EPA combined fuel economy for the 330e is 28 mpg for the rear-drive model and 25 mpg for the xDrive AWD version.
All new 3 Series models (apart from the M3) use an 8-speed automatic transmission.
2.0-liter turbocharged inline-4 (330i, 330i xDrive)
255 horsepower @ 5,000-6,500 rpm
295 lb-ft of torque @ 1,550-4,400 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 26/36 mpg (RWD), 25/34 mpg (AWD)
3.0-liter turbocharged inline-6 (M340i, M340i xDrive)
382 horsepower @ 5,000-6,500 rpm
369 lb-ft of torque @ 1,600-4,500 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 22/30 mpg
2.0-liter turbocharged inline-4/electric motor (330e, 330e xDrive)
181 horsepower @ 3,800-6,500 rpm
258 lb-ft of torque @ 1,450-3,600 rpm
Permanent-magnet electric motor
107 horsepower @ 3,170 rpm
77 lb-ft of torque @ 0-3,140 rpm
Total combined output: 288 horsepower, 310 lb-ft of torque
EPA combined fuel economy: 28 mpg/75 MPGe (330e), 25 mpg/67 MPGe (330e xDrive)
Electric-only range: 22 miles (330e), 20 miles (330e xDrive)
3.0-liter turbocharged inline-6 (M3)
473 horsepower @ 6,250 rpm
406 lb-ft of torque @ 2,650-6,130 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 16/23 mpg
3.0-liter turbocharged inline-6 (M3 Competition)
503 horsepower @ 6,250 rpm
479 lb-ft of torque @ 2,750-5,500 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 16/23 mpg
How Much Does the 2021 BMW 3 Series Cost?
A new 2021 BMW 330i sedan has a Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) of $40,760, plus a $995 destination fee. All-wheel drive adds $2,000 to the price. The potent M340i with its 6-cylinder engine starts at $54,000.
The all-new BMW 330e and 330e xDrive PHEV models start at $44,550 and $46,550, respectively. Fully optioned, a 2021 BMW 3 Series can exceed $60,000.
The 2021 BMW M3 starts at $69,900, while the M3 Competition, which arrives in the summer of 2021, begins at $71,800.
For comparison, the all-new 2021 Mercedes-Benz C300 starts at $41,600, with a loaded C300 4Matic sedan approaching $60,000. A Mercedes-AMG C63 S sedan starts at $76,200.
Before you buy, always check the KBB.com Fair Purchase Price to see what others are paying for their new BMW 3 Series sedans. Resale values are about average, which means not up to those of the Mercedes-Benz C-Class.
Which 2021 BMW 3 Series Model is Right for Me?
2021 BMW 330i
Apple CarPlay/Android Auto
Automatic emergency braking
2021 BMW 330i xDrive
All features of standard 330i, plus all-wheel drive
2021 BMW M340i
3.0-liter turbo inline-6
2021 BMW M340i xDrive
All features of standard M340i, plus all-wheel drive
2021 BMW 330e
Plug-in hybrid powertrain
181-horsepower 2.0-liter gasoline engine
107-horsepower electric motor
288 total combined horsepower
2021 BMW 330e xDrive
All features of standard 330e, plus all-wheel drive
2021 BMW M3
473-hp twin-turbo inline-6 engine
6-speed manual transmission
Adaptive sport suspension
2021 BMW M3 Competition
503-hp twin-turbo inline-6 engine
8-speed automatic transmission
Adaptive sport suspension