The BMW M3 is Returning For 2021 and Here’s Why We Can’t Wait
The name BMW conjures up so many images in our minds. Luxury, yes, but also a storied European racing history that’s infused into every vehicle in the BMW lineup. That’s good news for BMW buyers because it means that owning a little slice of that racing excellence and heritage is possible. There’s a BMW sports car hidden in every BMW model, and it’s as close as your local BMW dealership. While we’ve always admired the company’s commitment to performance across all categories, we’re especially excited about the rumored return of the M3. The BMW M3 is expected to make its debut as a 2021 model and take advantage of all the best features of the recent 3-Series redesign.
We’re excited to get our hands on this new 2021 BMW M3, but to appreciate the impact this launch will have on the performance sedan market, it helps to look back over the M3’s history within the BMW lineup and how it has evolved over the years. Most look at BMW as an aspirational car brand, and with good reason: the BMW name has always been synonymous with high-quality luxury. Having a BMW in the driveway conveys a sense of success.
Owning a BMW puts you in an elite club with other discerning buyers that demand a full spectrum of attributes in their cars, including refinement, quality, and superior engineering. Owning a BMW M3, however, bumps this up to the next level. You’re adding high performance, class-leading acceleration and handling, and an ownership experience that aligns with BMW’s motorsports heritage. What’s this new 2021 BMW M3 all about? Let’s separate fact from rumor and see if we can piece together an overview.
The BMW E30 M3 was born in 1986 as a sport coupe, and the first generation was sold through 1991. The M3 was available as a convertible, but only a handful were manufactured. The M3 differentiated itself from the standard BMW 3-Series by a host of exterior body refinements that added to its aerodynamic stance and improved performance. This version of the M3 was light – weighing only roughly 2,600 pounds – and included a four-cylinder high-performance engine that produced 192 horsepower and a top-end speed of 146 mph. Eventually, that motor was replaced with an upgraded 212 horsepower engine.
In its second generation (1992-1999), the BMW E36 M3 saw an upgraded 6-speed manual transmission, an exterior redesign, and the addition of a straight-six cylinder 3.2 liter, 192 cubic-inch engine, which upped the horsepower output to 240. This second generation M3 was released as a coupe, and again BMW released a limited number of convertibles. The company also began to make the M3 in a sedan body style, which ultimately became the most popular M3 version. Interestingly, the M3 was not sold in North America until 1995, and with a less powerful engine than its European twin.
The third generation BMW E46 M3, introduced at the turn of the new millennium, looked more like a 3-Series BMW. Gone were the telltale racetrack-inspired design cues and the spartan interiors. Instead, BMW added comfort and luxury to the mix. Don’t worry – performance stayed front-and-center, with horsepower boosted to 333 from the same inline six-cylinder engine, getting the M3 from 0-60 in a mere 5.1 seconds.
Next up, the fourth generation M3 (2007-2013) and fifth generation (2014-present) continued to blend the M3 with the overall 3-Series in appearance. The fourth gen M3 disappointed some with the addition of a bigger V8 that added weight and subtracted from its agility. BMW corrected this in the present iteration by returning to the inline 6-cylinder engine, adding turbo, and increasing performance numbers to 425 horsepower and 406 lb-ft of torque. In addition, the vehicle’s weight was reduced, returning it to the nimble, sports car-oriented performance vehicle it was intended to be. The coupe was given its own model name: the M4.
We know performance and nimble handling at all speeds are the cornerstones of the M3’s identity. What can we expect, then, with its 2021 resurrection? In a word – performance. In two words – thrilling performance. The 2021 M3 will be powered by a twin-turbo inline 6-cylinder engine, a nod to its most recent powertrain, that produces in the range of high 400 to low 500 horsepower, giving the car exhilarating acceleration from a dead stop and plenty of speed when and where you need it.
We’re hearing the M3 will come in a choice of rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive and will have a wider stance, along with higher-end wheels and performance tires, and a more sophisticated braking system. Further, we know that there are likely to be two versions of the M3: a base (or Regular) model and a Competition model. The difference? The base is rumored to deliver 480 horsepower and includes a manual transmission. This is notable because it will be the only model in the entire BMW lineup to feature a manual.
The Competition model takes performance to the next level. BMW essentially gives buyers a street-legal race car, with this model allegedly achieving an output of 510 horsepower with the aid of an eight-speed automatic transmission. Leaked photos show the test car equipped with Michelin PS4 tires, a high-performance tire that offers another hint at BMW’s laser focus on speed, agility, and handling.
While we’d love to see more leaked photos, the ones we’ve gotten our hands on tell us a few things about how this beast will look sitting at the curb. We know its exterior styling will mirror what’s going on under the hood. Aggressive is the word we’d use, starting with the flared fenders and rear spoiler, and continuing with a quad exhaust setup that has automotive journalists puzzling over how it works. The arc, centered, and the diamond-like pattern is unlike anything we’ve seen before, and we’re not sure if it’s coming on the sedan or if it will just be configured this way for the coupe.
Another big exterior change will likely be the M3’s grille. Dubbed a ‘kidney grille,’ this beefed-up, yet simplified design has large gaps between grille lines and lends the front end a raw, kit car kind of look. Opinions are mixed, but we think it differentiates the M3 from its more sedate 3-Series siblings and offers a functional cooling capability that once again reminds us of BMW’s emphasis on all things performance-related, even if it means sacrificing mainstream curb appeal.
As for the interior, we know that M-badged sport seats are coming, along with a larger infotainment touchscreen – possibly 10.25-inches. We also expect a sizeable digital driver information display, but beyond that, details are sketchy. There will likely be futuristic optional add-ons, like carbon fiber accent trim, but most insiders believe that overall the interior will be similar to that of the standard 3-Series.
One important note: the nomenclature for these new M-Series BMWs is a little up-in-the-air. BMW carved out the M3 coupe and renamed it as the M4. We think this will continue with the newly launched M-Series family of performance cars, but we’re speculating.
The new 2021 BMW M3/M4 is set to launch sometime in September and reach showrooms in early 2021. Even though quite a bit of information was leaked, we still expect that this new generation of M-Series sedans and coupes to take us by surprise…and we can’t wait until they do.