A guy in a gas station parking lot with a stern look that quickly turned to a big smile asked if we could switch cars. Another onlooker boasted he had the best BMW ever made, but that mine looked pretty good. Unsolicited commenters hated the matte exterior color and split “kidney grilles,” but other onlookers couldn’t offer complimentary superlatives fast enough.
So it is with the 2021 BMW M3 Competition, the debut of the model’s sixth generation. It’s a track-oriented sports car thinly disguised as a family sedan.
The M3 is far removed from quotidian BMWsparked in suburban driveways and counted on to transport children, grocery bags and golf clubs. The Competition trim is the boastful, polarizing family member. It needs to perform. It’s fast, loud and too handsome for its own good.
It also needs to be seen. The Frozen Marina Bay Blue exterior paint matched to a Kyalami Orange interior is the least conspicuous color scheme available—for those who need more flash, Twilight Purple, Fire Orange, Voodoo Blue, Velvet Orchid or Isle of Man Green Metallic redefine ostentatiousness.
The M3’s turbocharged 3.0-liter I-6 engine advances with an eight-speed automatic transmission and rear-wheel drive. Like other components, the M3’s engine growl is polarizing. It’s loud but not pleasing; a raspy cough, not the soothing baritone of a radio station’s late-night jazz host.
A further annoyance: For increased economy, the BMW’s engine shuts off at stoplights. It’s a good idea and it works smoothly in other vehicles, but the M3 restarts with a jolt as if something is wrong.
Carbon fiber is nearly everywhere, including in the unyielding, race-oriented, shell-shaped front seats with oblong holes and grab handles. They’re best only for competition purposes, an uncomfortable nuisance in daily driving. The pass-through front seats are handy if a backseat passenger is interested in providing a lower back massage to the occupant in front.
Technologically, BMW has joined competitors with top-tier offerings. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard, as are a Harman/Kardon sound system and a one-year Sirius/XM Radio subscription.
Value is not a strong BMW trait, with the M3 a prime example. The base MSRP is $73,795; the purchase price, $104,245. Consider a few option examples: carbon-fiber brakes ($8,150), M Carbon Exchange Package ($4,700), M Driver’s top speed increase package ($2,500), carbon interior trim ($950).
The new generation BMW looks great and drives with as much authority as any BMW. But the M3 belongs on the open road or on a track; the German Autobahn seems right. A steady, long haul at 90 mph in the Utah desert would showcase the car at its best. (Let’s go!) The legacy of the manufacturer’s slogans, “Ultimate Driving Machine” and “Designed for Driving Pleasure,” would be upheld.
So buy the M3 Competition and celebrate far away from big-city commuting, urban shopping malls and other daily driving routines. Take the BMW somewhere where automotive high performance is best appreciated, and have at it.