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BMW M3 Competition 2021 review

‘M3’ is a name synonymous with BMW performance.
EXPERT RATING
7.9
If the BMW M3's twin-turbo six-cylinder performance isn't enough for you, Munich's finest has another option. The M3 Competition adds more power, more torque, and $10K to the price tag. Could you settle for a 'base' M3 knowing this machine is available?

You could argue the BMW M1, a stunning wedge of late ‘70s Giorgetto Giugiaro design, first inserted the Bavarian maker’s 'M' performance brand into the public consciousness. 

But there’s a second, more enduring alpha-numeric BMW nameplate, that’s more likely to pass the person-in-the-street word-association test.

‘M3’ is synonymous with BMW performance, from touring car competition around the globe, to more than three decades’ worth of superbly engineered and entertainingly dynamic road cars. 

Read more about the BMW 3 Series

The subject of this review is the current (G80) M3, launched globally last year. But more than that, it’s the even spicier M3 Competition, which adds six per cent more power, and 18 percent more torque, as well as $10K to the price tag.

Does the Competition’s extra bang justify those additional bucks? Time to find out.  

BMW M Models 2021: M3 Competition
Safety rating
Engine Type3.0L turbo
Fuel TypePremium Unleaded Petrol
Fuel Efficiency—L/100km
Seating5 seats
Price from$154,900

Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?   8/10

With an entry-price of $154,900, before on-road costs, the M3 Competition lines up directly with Audi’s RS 5 Sportback ($150,900), while an outlier at the edge of the M3’s orbit is the Maserati Ghibli S GranSport ($175K).

But its most obvious, long-time sparring partner, the Mercedes-AMG C 63 S has temporarily stepped out of the ring. 

An all new Mercedes-Benz C-Class is set to emerge in September this year, and the hero AMG variant will adopt F1-derived hybrid tech in a 2.0-litre, four-cylinder, powertrain. 

Expect huge performance, with a price tag exceeding the outgoing model’s circa $170K ask.

And that AMG hot rod better be loaded because as well as a bunch of performance and safety tech (covered later in the review), this M3 boasts an impressively long standard equipment list.

Included are, ‘BMW Live Cockpit Professional’ with a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster and 10.25-inch high-res multimedia display (managed via touch, voice, or the ‘iDrive’ controller), sat nav, three-zone climate control, customisable ambient lighting, ‘Laserlight’ headlights (including ‘Selective Beam’), ‘Comfort Access’ keyless entry and start, and 16-speaker harman/kardon surround sound audio (with 464-watt, seven-channel digital amp and digital radio).

  • Up front are ‘Laserlight’ headlights with ‘Selective Beam’. Up front are ‘Laserlight’ headlights with ‘Selective Beam’.
  • The 10.25-inch high-res multimedia display features Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The 10.25-inch high-res multimedia display features Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
  • Inside is a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster. Inside is a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster.
  • There's a 16-speaker harman/kardon surround sound system. There's a 16-speaker harman/kardon surround sound system.

Then you can add, a full leather interior (including the steering wheel and gearshift), electrically-adjustable heated ‘M Sport’ front seats (with memory for the driver), ‘Parking Assistant Plus’ (including ‘3D Surround View & Reversing Assistant’), an auto tailgate, a head-up display, adaptive cruise control, rain-sensing wipers, wireless smartphone integration (and charging) including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, anti-dazzle (interior and exterior) mirrors, and dual-spoke forged alloy wheels (19-inch fr / 20-inch rr).

As visual icing on the cake, carbon-fibre is sprinkled over and inside the car like shiny, lightweight confetti. The entire roof is made of the stuff, with more on the front centre console, dash, steering wheel and manual shift paddles.  

The whole roof is made from carbon-fibre.   The whole roof is made from carbon-fibre.  

That’s a solid features list (and we haven’t bored you with all the details), substantiating a strong value equation in this small, but mega-competitive market niche.  

Is there anything interesting about its design?   7/10

It feels like once in a generation, BMW feels the need to polarise automotive opinion with a controversial design direction.

Twenty years ago, then head of design for the brand, Chris Bangle, took a fearful hammering for his determined push towards more ‘adventurous’ shapes. Passionate BMW fans picketed the company’s famous ‘four-cylinder building’ HQ in Munich demanding his departure.

And who else but Bangle’s second-in-command from those days, Adrian van Hooydonk, has been leading the design department since his boss eventually left the building in 2009.

Van Hooydonk has created another firestorm of opinion in recent years by gradually increasing the size of BMW’s signature ‘kidney grille’ to what some see as comical proportions.

BMW’s latest ‘kidney grille’ has received mixed reactions. BMW’s latest ‘kidney grille’ has received mixed reactions.

The latest variation on the oversize grille theme has been applied to various concept and production models, including the M3, and its M4 sibling.

As always, a purely subjective call, but the M3’s large, descending grille puts me in mind of a well known carrot-munching, cartoon rabbit’s upper incisors.

Time will tell whether such a bold treatment ages well or lives in infamy, but there’s no denying it dominates first visual impressions of the car.

A modern M3 wouldn’t be an M3 without pumped up guards. A modern M3 wouldn’t be an M3 without pumped up guards.

Almost as much as our test example’s ‘Isle of Man Green metallic’ paint, a deep, lustrous shade that highlights the cars’s curves and angles, and regularly stopped passers by in their tracks.  

The bulging bonnet carries angular strakes back from the grille, and features a pair of faux vents, which along with darkened headlight interiors (BMW M Lights Shadow Line), accentuate the car’s tough expression.

A modern M3 wouldn’t be an M3 without pumped up guards, in this case filled by fat 19-inch forged alloy rims at the front, and 20s at the rear. 

The M3 Competition wears 19 and 20-inch dual-spoke forged alloy wheels. The M3 Competition wears 19 and 20-inch dual-spoke forged alloy wheels.

The framing around the windows is ‘M high-gloss Shadow Line’ black, balancing the dark front splitter and side skirts. 

The tail is a multi-layered stack of horizontal lines and sections, including a thin ‘Gurney Flap’ style bootlid spoiler, and a protruding lower third housing a deep diffuser with quad, dark chrome tailpipes either side.

Sidle up closer to the car and the crowning glory is a gloss carbon-fibre roof. It’s flawless, and looks stunning.

Just as stunning is the first viewing of our test car’s full ‘Merino’ leather interior in ‘Kyalami Orange’ and black. In combination with the bold exterior colour it’s a bit rich for my blood, but the technical, athletic feel is strong.

The dash design is little changed from other 3 Series models, although the digital instrument cluster strengthens the high-performance flavour. Look up and the ‘M headliner’ is in ‘Anthracite.’  

Our test car had full ‘Merino’ leather interior in ‘Kyalami Orange’ and black. Our test car had full ‘Merino’ leather interior in ‘Kyalami Orange’ and black.

How practical is the space inside?   8/10

At just under 4.8m long, a fraction over 1.9m wide, and a little over 1.4m tall, the current M3 is right in the Audi A4 and Mercedes-Benz C-Class size bracket. 

There's plenty of room up front, and lots of storage, including a big box/armrest between the front seats, as well as two large cupholders and a wireless charging pad in a recessed section in front of the gear shift (which can be closed off with a roll-top style cover).

There's plenty of room in the front of the cabin. There's plenty of room in the front of the cabin.

The glove box is large and there are sizable bins in the doors with separate sections for full-size bottles.

At 183cm (6’0”), sitting behind the driver’s seat set to my position, there’s lots of rear head, leg, and toe room. Which is surprising, because in other current 3 Series models, headroom’s been tighter for me.

One of three climate control zones is reserved for the rear, with adjustable vents and digital temperature control at the back of the front centre console.

Rear passengers get adjustable air vents and digital temperature control. Rear passengers get adjustable air vents and digital temperature control.

Unlike other 3 Series models there’s no fold-down centre armrest (with cupholders) in the back, but there are pockets with big bottle holders in the doors.

There’s lots of rear head, leg, and toe room. There’s lots of rear head, leg, and toe room.

Power and connectivity options run to a USB-A slot and 12V socket in the front console, a USB-C port in the centre console box, and two USB-C outlets in the rear.

Boot space is 480 litres (VDA), which is slightly above average for the class, with a 40/20/40 split-folding rear seat increasing cargo flexibility. 

  • Boot space is rated at 480 litres (VDA). Boot space is rated at 480 litres (VDA).
  • We could comfortably fit the CarsGuide pram in the back. We could comfortably fit the CarsGuide pram in the back.
  • Even all three suitcases could be stored in the boot. Even all three suitcases could be stored in the boot.

There are small, netted bays on both sides of the load space, tie down anchors to secure loose loads, and the boot lid has an auto function.

The M3 is a no-tow zone and don’t bother looking for a spare of any description, a repair/inflator kit is your only option.

What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?   9/10

The M3 Competition is powered by BMW’s (S58B) 3.0-litre in-line, six-cylinder engine, an all-alloy, closed deck unit featuring direct-injection, ‘Valvetronic’ variable valve timing (on the intake side), ‘Double-VANOS’ variable camshaft timing (intake and exhaust side) and twin mono-scroll turbos to produce 375kW (503hp) at 6250rpm and 650Nm from 2750rpm, all the way to 5500rpm. A solid jump from the ‘standard’ M3’s already substantial 353kW/550Nm.

Not known for sitting on their hands, BMW M’s engine techs in Munich have used 3D printing to manufacture the core of the cylinder head, incorporating internal forms not possible with conventional casting. 

The 3.0-litre twin-turbo six-cylinder engine produces 375kW/650Nm. The 3.0-litre twin-turbo six-cylinder engine produces 375kW/650Nm.

This tech has not only reduced the head’s weight, but allowed its coolant ducts to be re-routed for optimal temp management.

Drive goes to the rear wheels via an eight-speed ‘M Steptronic’ (torque converter) paddle-shift automatic transmission, with ‘Drivelogic’ (adjustable shift modes) and a standard ‘Active M’ variable locking differential.

An all-wheel drive ‘M xDrive’ version is scheduled for Australian launch before the end of 2021.

How much fuel does it consume?   7/10

BMW’s official fuel economy figure for the M3 Competition, on the ADR 81/02 - urban, extra-urban cycle, is 9.6L/100km, the 3.0-litre twin-turbo six emitting 221g/km of C02 in the process.

To help get to that impressive number, BMW has deployed numerous cunning devices including, an ‘Optimum Shift Indicator’ (in manual shift mode), on-demand operation of ancillary units, and ‘Brake Energy Regeneration’ which tops up a relatively small lithium-Ion battery to power an auto stop-start system, 

Despite this tricky tech, we averaged 12.0L/100km (at the bowser), over a range of driving conditions, which is still pretty good for such a powerful and focused performance sedan.

Recommended fuel is 98 RON premium unleaded although, amazingly, 91 RON standard fuel is acceptable at a pinch. 

Either way, you’ll need 59 litres of it to fill the tank, which is enough for a range of over 600km using the factory economy figure, and close to 500km based on our real-world number.

What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?   8/10

The M3 Competition hasn’t been assessed by ANCAP, but 2.0-litre 3 Series models received a maximum five-star rating in 2019.

Standard active crash-avoidance tech includes ‘Emergency Brake Assist’ (BMW-speak for AEB) with pedestrian and cyclist detection, ‘Dynamic Brake Control’ (helps apply maximum braking power in an emergency), ‘Cornering Brake Control’, a ‘Dry Braking’ function that periodically skims the rotors (with the pads) in wet conditions, ‘integrated wheel slip limitation’, lane change warning, lane departure warning, and rear cross-traffic alert. 

There’s also ‘Park Distance Control’ (with sensors front and rear), Parking Assistant Plus (including ‘3D Surround View & Reversing Assistant’), an ‘Attentiveness Assistant’ function, and tyre pressure monitoring. 

But if an impact is unavoidable there are front, side, and knee airbags for the driver and front passenger, as well as side curtain bags covering both rows of seats. 

On sensing a crash the car will make an ‘Automatic Emergency Call’, and there’s even a warning triangle and first aid kit on board.

There are three top tether points across the rear seat with ISOFIX anchors on the two outer positions for securing baby capsules/child seats.

Warranty & Safety Rating

Basic Warranty

3 years / unlimited km warranty

ANCAP Safety Rating

ANCAP logo

What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?   7/10

BMW offers a three year/unlimited km warranty, which is off the pace given the majority of mainstream brands have stepped up to five-year cover, with some at seven, or even 10.

And the luxury tide is turning with premium players, Genesis, Jaguar, and Mercedes-Benz now at five years/unlimited km.

On the upside, bodywork is covered for 12 years, the paint for three, and 24-hour roadside assistance is complimentary for three years.

The M3 is covered by BMW's three year/unlimited km warranty. The M3 is covered by BMW's three year/unlimited km warranty.

The ‘Concierge Service’ is another three year, complimentary deal, providing  24/7/365 access to a personalised service through a dedicated ‘BMW Customer Information Centre.’

Servicing is condition based, so the car tells you when maintenance is required, and BMW offers a range of ‘Service Inclusive’ capped price servicing plans, starting from three years/40,000km.

What's it like to drive?   9/10

Any production-based performance sedan claimed to accelerate from 0-100km/h in less than four seconds is straight-up fast. 

BMW says the M3 Competition will hit triple figures in just 3.5sec, which is properly rapid, and a full-bore, launch-control assisted start in this car is... impressive.

Aural accompaniment is suitably raucous, but beware, at its loudest it’s mostly fake news, with synthetic engine/exhaust noise able to be dialled down or turned off altogether.

That said, with maximum torque (650Nm!) available from 2750rpm all the way to 5500rpm, mid-range pulling power is prodigious, and despite the twin turbos this engine loves to rev (thanks in no small part to a forged, lightweight crankshaft). 

Power delivery is beautifully linear, and a surge from 80-120km/h takes 2.6sec in fourth, and 3.4sec in fifth. With peak power (375kW/503hp) arriving at 6250rpm, you can thunder on to a maximum velocity of 290km/h. 

That’s if the electronically-controlled limit of 250km/h isn’t enough for you, and you’ve ticked the optional ‘M Driver’s Package’ box. Enjoy the big house!

Suspension is basically strut front, five-link rear, all in aluminium, and working in concert with ‘Adaptive M’ dampers. They are brilliant, and the transition from ‘Comfort’ to ‘Sport’ and back is amazing. 

The ride quality this car delivers in Comfort mode is nuts given it’s riding on huge rims shod with licorice thin tyres. 

BMW says the M3 Competition will hit triple figures in just 3.5sec. BMW says the M3 Competition will hit triple figures in just 3.5sec.

The sports front seats also offer an amazing blend of comfort and extra lateral support (with the touch of a button).

In fact, fine-tuning the car’s set-up across suspension, brakes, steering, engine, and transmission calibrations through the ‘M Setup’ menu is easy and adds extra involvement. Blaringly red M1 and M2 pre-set buttons on the steering wheel allow storage of preferred settings.

The electrically-assisted steering points nicely, and road feel is excellent. 

The car remains flat and stable in enthusiastic B-road corners, the active ‘M Differential’ and ‘M Traction Control’ putting all that power down from a steady state mid-corner, through to a scorchingly fast and balanced exit. 

No surprise, front to rear weight distribution for this 1.7-tonne machine is 50:50. 

Rubber is ultra-high-performance Michelin Pilot Sport 4 S (275/35x19 fr / 285/30x20 rr) which deliver confidence-inspiring grip in the dry, as well as a couple of torrentially wet days during the latter part of our week with the car. 

And washing off speed is a fuss-free experience thanks to standard ‘M Compound’ brakes’ consisting of big ventilated and cross-drilled rotors (380mm fr / 370mm rr) clamped by six-piston fixed calipers at the front and single-piston floating units at the rear.

On top of that the integrated braking system offers Comfort and Sport pedal feel settings, altering the amount of pedal pressure required to slow the car. Stopping power is immense, and even in Sport mode brake feel is progressive.

One technical niggle is the wireless CarPlay connectivity, which I found frustratingly patchy. Didn’t test the Android equivalent this time around, though.

Verdict

Is the M3 Competition worth $10K more than the ‘base’ M3? In percentage terms it’s a relatively small jump, and if you’re already in the $150K ballpark, why not take it?  Extra performance in a technically sophisticated package more than capable of handling it. Add top-shelf safety, a laundry list of standard features, with the practicality of a four-door sedan and it’s hard to resist. The way it looks? Well, that’s up to you?

Pricing guides

$188,900
Based on Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP)
Lowest Price
$102,900
Highest Price
$274,900

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
M440I Xdrive 3.0L, PULP, 8 SP AUTO $135,900 2021 BMW M Models 2021 M440I Xdrive Pricing and Specs
M4 3.0L, PULP, 6 SP MAN $149,900 2021 BMW M Models 2021 M4 Pricing and Specs
M2 Competition 3.0L, PULP, 7 SP AUTO $109,900 2021 BMW M Models 2021 M2 Competition Pricing and Specs
M2 CS 3.0L, PULP, 6 SP MAN $139,900 2021 BMW M Models 2021 M2 CS Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
7.9
Price and features8
Design7
Practicality8
Engine & trans9
Fuel consumption7
Safety8
Ownership7
Driving9
James Cleary
Deputy Editor

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Disclaimer: The pricing information shown in the editorial content (Review Prices) is to be used as a guide only and is based on information provided to Carsguide Autotrader Media Solutions Pty Ltd (Carsguide) both by third party sources and the car manufacturer at the time of publication. The Review Prices were correct at the time of publication.  Carsguide does not warrant or represent that the information is accurate, reliable, complete, current or suitable for any particular purpose. You should not use or rely upon this information without conducting an independent assessment and valuation of the vehicle.