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2021 BMW 3 Series Review

BMW‘s 3 Series was new for 2020, so the 2021 BMW 3 Series hasn’t changed much. But an all-new BMW M3 sedan has arrived for 2021. Also, the BMW 3 Series is now available again as a plug-in hybrid model with gasoline and electric power. The new PHEV 3 Series is called the BMW 330e, and it’s also sold as an all-wheel-drive model called the 330e xDrive.

BMW says that the new PHEV 3 Series can travel 22 miles on electricity alone, or 20 miles for the xDrive model, receiving power from a lithium-ion battery under the back seat. The Environmental Protection Agency-estimated fuel economy is 28 miles per gallon in combined driving for the rear-wheel-drive 330e and 25 mpg combined for the AWD 330e xDrive. For the record, the previous 3 Series PHEV, from 2018, had an electric range of only 14 miles, but it had a better EPA fuel economy rating of 30 mpg combined.

The new 3 Series PHEVs have XtraBoost, which provides a 40-horsepower boost for up to 10 seconds. The boost, available only in the Sport line, helps the 330e PHEV hit 60 mph in 5.6 seconds, or 5.7 seconds for the xDrive model.

What’s New?

The bulk of the BMW 3 Series lineup is unchanged for 2021. But a new PHEV model, the 330e, has been added to the 2021 lineup. There’s also a brand-new M3 sedan, powered by a twin-turbo 3.0-liter inline-6 with 473 horsepower. In the M3 Competition, which has all-wheel drive (AWD), the engine produces a whopping 503 horsepower.  See the 2021 BMW 3 Series models for sale near you

What We Like

  • Fun driving manners
  • Wide range of powertrains
  • Available all-wheel drive
  • New 330e PHEV models
  • The potent M340i
  • The even more potent M3 and M3 Competition
  • Highway fuel economy in the 30s

What We Don’t

  • Top models are pricey
  • No Android Auto
  • Want a manual transmission? M3 only.

How Much?

$40,760-$71,800

Fuel Economy

When equipped with the base engine, a 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine that makes 255 horsepower and an ample 295 lb-ft of torque, the 2021 BMW 330i is rated by the EPA at 26 mpg in the city and 36 mpg on the highway. In the AWD 330i xDrive, those figures drop to 25 mpg city/34 mpg hwy.

The 2021 BMW M340i, which commands respect with a turbocharged inline six producing 382 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque at only 1,600 rpm, is naturally a little bit thirstier. It has EPA fuel economy figures of 23 mpg city/32 mpg highway/26 combined with RWD or 22 mpg city/31 mpg highway/25 mpg combined with AWD.

The RWD 2021 BMW 330e PHEV model, which can travel 22 miles on electricity alone, is rated at 28 mpg combined when using its gas engine and 75 MPGe combined when using gas and electric power. The AWD 330e xDrive gets 25 mpg combined on gas and 67 MPGe combined on gas and electricity.

Fun fact: The top speed of the new BMW 330e PHEV in pure electric mode is 87 mph.

As for the track-ready 2021 BMW M3 and M3 Competition, they are rated by the EPA at 16 mpg city/23 mpg highway/19 mpg combined.

Standard Features & Options

In its base form, the 2020 BMW 330i ($40,760, plus a $995 destination fee) includes 14-way power adjustable front seats, 3-zone automatic climate control, a power moonroof, a universal garage remote and simulated leather upholstery. Standard conveniences are highlighted by adaptive cruise control, an 8.8-in touchscreen with navigation and a 10-speaker audio system with Apple CarPlay.

In addition to its turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-6 engine with 382 hp, the 2021 BMW M340i ($54,000) is distinguished by its M Sport differential, a 12.3-in digital instrument cluster and a 10.25-in touchscreen.

The new 330e and 330e xDrive ($44,550, $46,550) PHEV models are equipped much like the standard 3 Series sedans. On all 2021 3 Series models, AWD is an extra $2,000, and the Luxury line adds chrome flourishes and ambient lighting. The M Sport line includes a sport suspension, variable sport steering, LED fog lights and other performance-oriented bits and aesthetics. Many other options are available in packages or as stand-alone options, such as leather upholstery, wood and aluminum interior trims and an upgraded Harman Kardon audio system.

The Convenience package includes blind spot monitoring, parking sensors, a hands-free power trunk, keyless entry and lumbar support. The Driving Assistance Professional package adds semiautonomous driving abilities. Stand-alone options include heated front and rear seats, a heated steering wheel, a head-up display and a fully digital dashboard.

We’re surprised that blind spot monitoring is not standard on the 2021 BMW 3 Series. On the other hand, we’re pleased that the BMW 3 Series is available with a Track Handling package that includes an M Sport differential, larger brakes and grippier tires that aren’t of the run-flat variety.

The BMW M3 ($69,900) is a rear-drive sedan with a 6-speed manual transmission and rev-matching feature that can be tuned on and off by the driver. The M3 comes with a limited-slip differential, adaptive M suspension, heated M sport seats, 18-inch front wheels, 19-inch rears, active cruise control, a Harman Kardon surround-sound audio system and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto.

If you order the BMW M3 Competition ($71,800, arriving in the summer of 2021), it’s equipped much the same as a standard M3 but with the 503-hp engine and all-wheel drive, plus an 8-speed Steptronic automatic transmission, 19-inch front wheels, 20-inch rears, and extended Shadowline exterior trim.

The M3s 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 options on the two M3 models are many. 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.

Safety

Most notably, the 2021 BMW 3 Series is fitted with Active Guard Collision, a system that can bring the car to a complete halt if it senses an impending collision with a vehicle or a cyclist ahead.

Standard on the M3, the Driving Assistant option deserves mention. It includes a blind-spot monitoring system and a lane-departure warning, which will alert the driver if the car is drifting out of its lane. Driving Assistant also includes rear cross-traffic alert, a very handy feature that prevents fender-benders when you’re backing out of a tight parking spot at the supermarket.

Behind the Wheel

The 2021 BMW 330i sedan is a good blend of everyday comfort and back-road fun. What’s more, with 255 hp, this BMW hits 60 mph in 5.3 seconds, and its suspension manages to be sporty without being uncomfortable.

Sedans such as the Alfa Romeo Giulia and the Genesis G70, with their manual transmissions, might be a bit more engaging to driving enthusiasts, but the BMW 3 Series continues to shine as a comfortable, refined, quick and nimble sports sedan.

Then there’s the M340i, which lives up to its lofty reputation with phenomenal acceleration and outstanding grip. This is a muscular sports sedan, and the potent inline-6 engine is beautifully complemented by the performance-tuned chassis.

We have no complaints about the 8-speed automatic transmission. It shifts smoothly and when expected. Even the new PHEV 330e models use the 8-speed transmission, but with different gearing for better acceleration.

As for the top-of-the-line M3 Competition, expect top-tier performance, surgical handling, and grins that never seem to fade away.  Autotrader editor Rob Nestora thinks the M3 is the best iteration yet of the erstwhile Bavarian Sports Saloon, praising its responsive handling and screaming acceleration that makes freeway on-ramps feel more like a prelude to time travel.

And while many automotive writers and enthusiasts have berated the new larger kidney(lung?) grilles, Nestora appreciates the aggressive look of the new M3 Competition, saying  “It looks like it will take an Audi’s lunch money.  It’s just a mean-looking machine.” High praise indeed.

Other Cars to Consider

2021 Alfa Romeo Giulia — The Giulia — especially in its Quadrifoglio form — is more dynamically fulfilling than the 330i, but the BMW kills it in resale.

2021 Genesis G70 — The rear-drive G70 has a manual transmission and a lower MSRP than the BMW, but it lacks the sporting legacy of the 3 Series.

2020 Mercedes-Benz C-Class — The C-Class places more emphasis on comfort and quality than on entertaining driving manners, which is BMW’s specialty.

2021 Lexus IS 350 — While you’re assured a great dealership experience and anvil-like reliability with this Lexus, the IS 350 simply doesn’t have the visceral appeal of the BMW 3 Series.

Used BMW 3 Series — Used 3 Series models from 2013 or 2014 can be as affordable as $10,000, but those cars will likely have more than 100,000 miles on them. Instead, look for a 2015 to 2017 model. Many of these will have relatively low mileage and will be priced between $15,000 and just over $20,000.

Questions You Might Ask

Is the 2021 BMW 3 Series a good car?

Yes. The 3 Series is a sporty midsize sedan with ample luxury. For many BMW buyers, though, entertaining handling manners are far more important than creature comforts.

Is the 2021 BMW 3 Series available with a manual transmission?

The standard BMW 3 Series has not been available with a manual transmission since the 2020 model year. But the new 2021 BMW M3 is equipped with a manual gearbox, a 6-speed with rev-matching technology.

Is the 2021 BMW 3 Series available with AWD?

Yes. Though most BMW 330i models are sold with RWD, the AWD 330i xDrive is popular in areas with real weather — places such as Colorado and the Northeast. In those areas, xDrive is a wise $2,000 option. The BMW M3 Competition also comes standard with AWD.

Where is the 2021 BMW 3 Series made?

Two places. The BMW 3 Series is built in Dingolfing, Germany, and, more recently, in Toluca, Mexico.

Autotrader’s Advice

Crossover SUVs might be all the rage these days, but the 2021 BMW 3 Series is a pleasant reminder that 4-door sedans — remember those? — can be practical, fast and fun in everyday use while typically boasting a fuel economy advantage. And with the arrival of the new 330e and 330e xDrive plug-in hybrids, plus the potent new M3, the BMW 3 Series lineup has been enhanced by models that are easier on the environment and scintillatingly quick on the track. Find a BMW 3 Series for sale

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