The 2021 BMW 3-series epitomizes the modern sports sedan with its comprehensive performance and innate sophistication. The German brand offers two phenomenal engines for this model—a 255-hp four-cylinder and a 385-hp straight-six—both of which are as quick as they are refined.
There's also a plug-in hybrid for the green crowd. While we're saddened by BMW's decision to eliminate the 3's manual transmission, the perceptive eight-speed automatic is a worthy substitute. What's more, the 3's fantastic chassis can seamlessly shift from calm to frisky at a moment's notice.
Unfortunately, its steering—although improved over the previous generation's—still lacks the tactility that enthusiasts once idolized. The 2021 3-series fulfills its mission as an entry-level premium sedan with ample cabin and trunk space as well as copious amounts of luxury and technology.
Although BMW hasn't divulged the full list of updates to the 3-series, it has announced the return of the 330e plug-in-hybrid model.
Compared with the last-gen PHEV, the latest version boasts several improvements, such as a higher top speed in electric mode (87 mph versus 75), a larger battery (12.0 kilowatt-hours versus 7.6), and a longer EPA-rated all-electric range (up to 22 miles versus 14).
We prefer the gas-powered versions to the plug-in hybrid. There's no question that the M340i packs the most performance, but its asking price is too high for us. Instead, we'd choose the 330i for its surprisingly sufficient power and truly athletic behavior.
Those who want all-wheel drive can add it for $2000. We would equip our example with the M Sport package that brings additional features, unique styling bits, and a specially tuned suspension. Most colors cost extra and not all are compatible with the M Sport option, so we'd choose the pretty Portimao Blue.
For the cabin, we'd select one of the Vernasca leathers to enrich the interior. We'd also add the Premium package for its blind-spot monitoring, hands-free passive entry, head-up display, heated steering wheel, larger touchscreen, and more. The Track Handling package optimizes the sedan's driving dynamics via adaptive dampers and upgraded brakes.
Other desirable but affordable options include the Harman/Kardon sound system, heated front and rear seats, remote start, power-operated trunk-lid, and a Wi-Fi hotspot and wireless charging.
The 3-series offers two smooth and potent gas-powered engines. The 330i features a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder that makes 255 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque.
The M340i pairs with a turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six that produces 385 ponies and 369 pound-feet. The 330e plug-in hybrid combines a turbo 2.0-liter engine with an electric motor that together generate 288 horses and 310 pound-feet.
My first impression of the 330e revealed a harmonious relationship between the gas and electric elements, and I like the plug-in's new Xtraboost function that provides a burst of power that feels like a shot of nitrous. Each power-train pairs with an exceptional eight-speed automatic transmission and standard rear-wheel drive.
You can power all four wheels for a price. Unfortunately, a manual gearbox is no longer available. (Purists should hold out for the all-new BMW M3 if they need the stick.) Buyers can choose between two suspension setups on the 3: the base arrangement or the upgrade with adaptive dampers.
Our first drive of this G20-gen 3-series was encouraging. The car's newfound steering feel provides more road-surface information and variable effort than its predecessor did, but it's still lacking compared with that of the 3's iconic early generations.
The four-cylinder Bimmer proved its worth by winning a comparison test against other sports sedans. We applauded its ability to transition from relaxed and refined to sharp and playful.
The 330i also secured its spot at the top of its class by thwarting the gorgeous Alfa Romeo Giulia in a two-car comparo.
BMW and the EPA have released fuel-economy estimates for only the 2021 330e plug-in models so far, but I don't expect the figures for the gas-powered versions to change from the previous model year's.
The rear-drive 2021 330e is rated at 75 MPGe and 28 mpg combined; the all-wheel-drive version, 67 MPGe and 25 mpg combined. The former has an estimated all-electric driving range of 22 miles whereas the latter can go only 20 miles.
The government says the rear-drive 2020 330i earns 26 mpg in the city and 36 on the highway; adding all-wheel drive drops those ratings by 1 and 2 mpg, respectively.
The 2020 M340i has estimates of 22 mpg city and 30 highway regardless of its drive-train configuration.
Inside, the 3 has a modernized design complete with excellent materials and impressive build quality. Nothing feels cheap inside the 3-series, and its controls are well placed.
BMW also improved outward visibility, and the standard sport seats are well bolstered and supportive, and they offer extensive adjustment so it's easy to get comfortable. The car's extra-cost content includes a detailed head-up display, customizable ambient interior lighting, heated front and rear seats, remote start, and wireless charging.
The BMW's digital instrument cluster is a bit cluttered but still attractive. Some may find the counterclockwise sweep of the tachometer needle odd at first, but you get acclimated to it quickly.
The 3-series has a big trunk with an available power-operated lid. With 17 cubic feet of cargo space, the gas-powered sedan can fit six carry-on suitcases back there and 17 total with the rear row folded.
For comparison, the Mercedes-Benz C300 sedan held one fewer suitcase in both tests and the Alfa Romeo Giulia could fit five and 15, respectively. The 330e has less trunk space (13 cubes) because of its battery pack, and we haven't tested its carry-on capacity.
The standard infotainment system runs through an 8.8-inch touchscreen, but the interface can also be controlled with a large knob and buttons on the console or with voice commands.
The Live Cockpit Plus suite of features, which includes navigation, is standard. For the really good stuff, you'll need to spring for the similarly named Live Cockpit Pro package, which increases the size of the touchscreen to 10.3 inches and gives you the latest and most capable iteration of BMW's iDrive system.
A subscription-based Wi-Fi hotspot is optional, but the sedan does come with two USB ports. Apple CarPlay integration is standard but Android Auto is not available.
One interesting option is BMW's Gesture Control, which allows the driver or passenger to input certain commands with hand gestures. It's more novel than helpful, but it'll wow your friends for a few minutes.
The 2021 3-series hasn't undergone crash testing by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). However, the 2020 model earned a Top Safety Pick+ from the IIHS.
BMW is skimpy when it comes to standard driver-assistance technology, providing only forward-collision warning and automated emergency braking. Other features are available, though. For example, the Parking Assistance package will practically park the car for you. Key safety features include:
Available blind-spot monitoring and rear-cross-traffic alert
Available lane-departure warning and lane-keeping assist