The BMW M3 is priced from $84,300 in Canada, $69,900 in the US.
For the first time since the E46 M3, I felt a connection to a new M3.
Driving this M3 is something of a chore, and I love it for this.
After spending a week with the all-new 2021 BMW M3, it’s become clear to me that the M3 is one of the cars I feel most bonded to as an enthusiast, way up there with the Golf GTI and 911. It is likely this deep affection for the M3 is what pushed me to hate the F80 M3 and not quite like the E90.
I can best explain my dislike for the previous two generations as being the result of BMW focusing more on the show, as though they focused more on the M3’s image instead of the driving experience. All is right and ideally balanced with the G80 which is why it reclaims its title of one of my all-time favourite cars.
The manual gearbox makes it a true M3
There is one crucial element with the tested 2021 BMW M3 that ties it all together for me: the 6-speed manual transmission. The bottom line is that anyone can be “fast” when the transmission does all the work but a true driving experience can only be achieved when there are three pedals present.
It is this extra “work” that sets the M3 apart. In fact, driving the new M3 is nearly a chore and this fact alone will send M3 (and M4) buyers towards the automatic transmission or elsewhere though there are no alternatives to the manual BMW M3. The job that is to be at the M3’s controls is something to be embraced in a time when more and more facets of driving are being taken over by soulless software.
The shifter needs a firm hand and shove or push to get through the gates. The weight behind the clutch pedal is such that I can almost sense the throw-out bearing or the pressure plate’s diaphragm springs doing their thing. And perfectly synchronizing the shifting motion is a must in order to avoid looking like a noob when leaving a full stop. This, this is driving. And the “Gear Shift Assistant” must be off! The pedals are nicely positioned for heel and toe.
And it gets better as the twin-power turbocharged 3.0-litre straight-6 cylinder engine is plainly epic. There’s always power, there’s plenty of noise, and there’s just enough drama. The non-Competition M3’s mill produces 473 horsepower at 6,250 rpm and 406 lb.-ft. of torque between 2,650 and 6,130 rpm – there’s no off switch to this engine. When done right, with dedication, the M3 6-speed will reach 100km/h in 4.2 seconds, or 0.3 seconds off the 8-speed automatic’s time. But I don’t care.
Like most “true” BMWs, the 2021 BMW M3 settles into its own the harder it is driven. It’s as though its reflexes focus harder as speeds and corners increase. The included M adaptive suspension is configured for all eventualities, from urban comfort to Autobahn cruising on the way to Hockenheim. For the daily commute, the Comfort setting via the numerous drive modes is the best option. It enables 90% of the car’s available performance without troubling occupant sanity. From there, however, into Sport, Sport+ and beyond, the M3 delivers 120% more than what the average driver can handle. This car is invigorating and unbelievably satisfying.
And speaking of handling, the M3’s M Servotronic power steering served as a reminder, at least to me, that I’ve not yet gone senile. In the M5, the assistance provided was off, or exaggerated – essentially, it wanted to do the thinking for me. Not so in the M3 as inputs are honestly transmitted to the front wheels. It’s important to note that this applies mostly when steering assistance is also set to comfort. As well, the M compound brakes can also be set in sport mode, from comfort, but the pedal then becomes a switch limiting the ability to progressively apply stopping power. The brakes are quite powerful though.
Still a premium high-performance car
The 2021 BMW M3, with the aforementioned manual transmission, is a tool designed for driving despite all the driving aids which can mercifully be switched off. From the driver’s seat, it’s mostly business where all important functions fall easily underhand. The standard perches are supportive and comfortable and the rear bench can take on two normal-sized adults. Standard with the M3 is a 12.3-inch digital instrument panel, a 10.25-inch touchscreen display, iDrive 7 (which works just fine), Merino leather and much more.
There can be no doubt that the M3’s cabin is also dedicated to luxury. The wonderful leather, Kyalami, a shade of orange, in the tested car is breathtaking, as is the integration of other premium materials. The tetragon aluminium trim found throughout is superb.
The grille and manual transmission truly make it unique
Now, the elephant. Look, for all the negative things I’ve said over the last year about BMW’s oversized-buck-toothed-nostril-like kidney grille, it works on the M3. Its presence, combined with the Firebird Trans-Am inspired 20-inch wheels, tasteful aero, and carbon fibre roof, actually make for a subtly beautiful and vicious-looking sedan.
As tested, the M3 included the Premium Package (head-up display, rear heated seats, power trunk lid, and more) and retailed for a total of $91,750. The bottom line is that if you want an exclusive high-performance car like the M3 with a manual transmission, well, there are no alternatives. Mercedes-AMG and Audi RS have dumped the manual leaving only Porsche to compete with, to a certain point, at this level.