BMW M3 Competition Saloon (2021) review
With the styling and the weight, you might think BMW has dropped the ball on the new M3. Not a bit of it.
Matt Robinson
Matt Robinson
Pics by Uwe Fischer

Published on March 9, 2021

BMW's legendary M3 returns for its sixth outing, alongside a new M4 Coupe. Available in Ireland only as a Competition-spec car, the latest M3 Saloon is the practical one of the new pairing, due to its four doors, but don't let that make you think for a second that it's somehow gone soft. Strange front-end styling aside, this car is absolutely sublime.

In the metal

We've had our say about the kidney grilles, so don't ask. Frankly, there are already rising two strong, opposing factions regarding the M3's calling card, those massive facial appendages - this writer is happy to say he thinks they're an abomination that's bad enough to (almost) mar the rest of the car's experience, while others seem to love the sheer daring of them on the part of BMW's designers - and you will already know which one of these two you fall into. Nothing we say or do is going to convince you to swap sides.

If you're not into the couple of singularities masquerading as cooling intakes in the nose of the latest BMW four-door hot rod, the shame is that the rest of the car looks quite superb. There's no doubt the M3 is better to behold than the flabbier M4, its tauter rear flanks, extra set of doors and far more appealing rear all adding up to a cracking-looking machine... if you can't see the very front of it. Bold colours suit its flared, blistered-out form nicely and it's a really lithe, attractive thing in the main.

And one with an exemplary cabin. BMW has made the steering wheel just a little less chunky in the padding department than in other sporty models, has blessed the M3 with a divine set of carbon shift paddles on the wheel for the eight-speed M Steptronic gearbox, has sprinkled yet more carbon about the place and has also added an M Mode to the 12.3-inch digital cluster that really focuses the graphics into a pleasant and informative display. Add in that our test car had the spectacular M Carbon bucket seats, which will be a pricey cost option but so, so worth the money, and it all adds up to a phenomenal passenger compartment. And one that has genuine space in the back for two, maybe three adults, as long as they're not all gargantuan of frame.

Driving it

BMW M has thrown the technical kitchen sink at the M3 Competition to mask the fact it is a bigger and heavier (1,805kg!) car than any of its predecessors. It has also screwed whopping outputs of 510hp and a simply goliath 650Nm out of the twin-turbocharged 'S58' 3.0-litre straight-six under the bonnet, which makes this the most powerful production M3 yet to see the light of day by ten horses, eclipsing the old M4 GTS in this singular regard.

But power, someone once said, is nothing without control and so there's also three-stage Adaptive M Suspension, an Active M Differential for the rear-wheel-drive set-up (an all-wheel-drive M3 is on the way soon), two-stage brakes like you'd find on the M8 Coupe, the same eight-speed torque-converter M Steptronic transmission as on the M5 and even new, ten-stage-adjustable M Drive Professional traction control and a Drift Mode Analyser function.

We could drill down into every last technical minutia of these one by one to explain why they do what they do, but there's really no need for us to go into chapter and verse on the oily bits. Because all you need to know is that these features all add up to one rather stunning, borderline magical end product. Seriously, if you're going into this thinking the M3 Competition will feel like the ho-hum M340i with a tad more juice in its veins, think again. It feels like a completely different beast. It feels, put plainly, utterly tremendous.

It's not quite perfect in the dynamics department, as the Comfort-mode suspension does not offer enough of a contrast to the Sport setting to make it worth your while using it. There's a granularity to the M3's ride quality at all times, it never letting you forget it's on 19s at the front and 20s at the rear, but apart from cat's eyes and larger transverse ridges sending sharp thumps through the BMW's structure, it generally rides with a decent, limber grace - especially as the speeds build. There's none of that hideous crunchiness to its comportment, as you might get in an M8 Gran Coupe Competition or one of the X-model Ms. Oh, and the S58 isn't the most melodious engine that has ever made it into an M3 over the years; the soundtrack is actually fairly good on the new Competition, but it's not nape-tinglingly crisp like the S54 in the E46 M3 (2000-2006) or V8 brutish like the S55 in the E92 M3 that followed the E46.

From thereon in, it will astound you. While it can happily play the long-distance cruiser, thanks to superb noise suppression in the cabin and that aforementioned ride quality settling into an accomplished gait at motorway speeds, you don't want to be cruising along in the M3 Competition with its mighty powertrain in eighth gear, barely tickling the underbelly of 2,000rpm. You want to make that motor sing. When you do, not only will you be thunderstruck by how ferociously quick the M3 feels - and, crikey, it feels as quick as anything this side of a hypercar or the nonsensical and mind-blowing Porsche 911 Turbo S - but you will also unlock a chassis of sheer joy.

It starts communicating to its driver with crystal clarity through the steering. Pick Comfort or Sport, it doesn't matter; the helm is hyper-responsive, weighted oh-so-exquisitely and even has useful feel coming through the rim of the three-spoke wheel. Click-clack on those majestic paddles and the gearbox never fails to respond instantaneously to any reasonable, rev-serviceable request from the driver, while the vertical control of the body movements in either Sport or Sport Plus damping is out-of-this-world good. The M3 never bashes, never skitters, never tramlines its way down even appalling road surfaces - it just seeks out traction and grip, and then delivers them to its human occupant in a torrent of feedback through wheel and seat.

This allows the lucky so-and-so in charge of the BMW supersaloon to best exploit the M3's glittering dynamic talents, but it's the rear axle that is the divine highlight of this entire celestial show of kinematics. Rarely, if ever, have we been in a forced induction car with such a stonking amount of torque on disposal that feels so accessible, so controllable and so downright playful as this one. It clearly lets you know when the limits of adhesion are being approached, the M diff apportioning out power to the relevant rear wheel to dig the back of the car into the curve and hunker you through, but if you feel brave and keep pressing the razor-sharp throttle then the rear tyres relinquish their hold on the tarmac in a sweet, elegant, even balletic fashion. This M3 transitions to oversteer without any sudden alarm or snappiness, but it's not a boring machine in the corners as a result. Dial the BMW's traction control down to 2/10 on the new setting available in the iDrive menu, or even switch it off completely, and you can feel the car dancing, cavorting and jinking its way along sinuous, intricate back roads in a twinkle-toed manner that completely belies its 1.8-tonne bulk. It is remarkably good in this regard, and a thorough step-change from our earliest tries of its direct predecessor.

Where early F80 and F82 M3 and M4 models felt savage and spiky if you provoked them in the wrong conditions, as if they were turbocharged experiments whose fixed rear-subframe chassis were struggling to cope with the sheer grunt they were being tasked with corralling, the 'G80' M3 Competition is something else entirely. It still commands respect, still demands its driver put some thought and care into truly unleashing the full 650Nm in any of the lower gears of the gearbox, but it doesn't terrify its driver. It's approachable. It's fun. It's engaging. It's completely bloody glorious and addictive. Phenomenal.

What you get for your money

Unsurprisingly, all this magnificence does not come cheap. The M3 Saloon will be solely offered in Competition specification in Ireland, with the automatic gearbox. For now, we know that the rear-drive model will cost €122,900. For that you get the carbon-fibre roof, a 10.25-inch infotainment system, the 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, the M Head-Up Display, carbon-fibre interior detailing, a 16-speaker Harman Kardon sound system, 19-inch front and 20-inch rear alloy wheels, M Adaptive Suspension, dual-zone climate control, cruise control and a lot more.


Just when you think BMW has gone loopy, with its outlandish aesthetic treatment of its cars and its combative marketing tactics, it goes and delivers a masterpiece like this. The new 'G80' is an M3 in the finest tradition: outstanding and thrilling when you want it to be, useable and compliant when you don't. It's got a bonkers face and it'll likely have a bonkers price tag too, but apart from that... this is nigh-on compact supersaloon perfection, right here. Almost every bit as good as the M2 CS, in fact, and that really is saying something.


Tech Specs

Model testedBMW M3 Competition (G80)
Enginetwin-turbocharged 3.0-litre straight-six petrol
Transmissioneight-speed M Steptronic automatic with Drivelogic, rear-wheel drive with Active M Differential
Body stylefour-door, five-seat saloon
CO2 emissions234g/km
Motor tax€2,400 per annum
Combined economy27.7mpg (10.2 litres/100km)
Top speed290km/h with M Driver's Package
0-100km/h3.9 seconds
Power510hp at 6,250rpm
Torque650Nm at 2,750-5,500rpm
Boot space480 litres
SafetyEuro NCAP rating for the BMW 3 Series
Rivals to the M3 Competition Saloon (2021)