All-new BMW M3: Range bolstered as xDrive arrives

Published: 19 April 2021

► Full debrief on the new G20 M3
► Aggressive looks, all-wheel drive
► And it's auto-only in the UK

The BMW M3’s range has been expanded, with new xDrive four-wheel drive variants of both the M3 and its coupe sister, the M4.

In production from July, this marks the first time BMW’s chosen to fit its compact sports saloons with four-wheel drive – we had a similar exclamation a few years ago when the same was true of the larger M5 Competition.

The M3 Competition xDrive will be priced from £77,015, a £2200 premium over the rear-driven car. Available exclusively with BMW’s eight-speed auto, 0-62mph sprint times are reduced by 0.4s to a fiery 3.5 seconds for both M3 and M4.

BMW M3 xDrive rear tracking

More info on the M3 range as a whole follows...

Read more on the new BMW M4 coupe here

Give me the basic specs

It seems that BMW’s M Division thought it necessary to give the M3 the same look as the M4 at the front, so the new hot saloon makes its debut with the nose job that was so controversial when the new 4-series came about, diverging from the regular 3-series. Wider track, complete with fat wheelarches, quad exhausts and plenty of aero manipulation techniques have been employed, too.

Anyway – what matters more is what’s under the skin, and BMW has worked pretty hard.

Two power variants are available: a 473bhp version with a driven rear axle and the option of a manual transmission. Or you can go for an M3 or M4 Competition – 503bhp/479lb ft with a 0-62mph sprint over with in 3.9 seconds and a performance-tuned version of BMW’s eight-speed auto.

M3 rear tracking

Those numbers come courtesy of a version of the 3.0-litre twin-turbo, straight-six S58 engine already installed in the X3 M. M being M, it’s a race-bred motor that uses high-performance solutions wherever possible, from the stiffer, more tuning-friendly closed-deck block construction to the cylinder head, whose complex form requires that a foam core be 3D printed as a pattern for the sand-casting process.

Peak torque arrives at just 2750rpm on the Competition cars, but the engine spins to 7200rpm and promises a very effective combination of the grunt you need to make rapid progress together with the high-rev fireworks that help you actually fall in love with an engine.

Read our review of the BMW M3 prototype

Any other variants?

M3 interior

For the first time in M3 history, you can also tick the box for four-wheel drive (due in the UK summer 2021). There is a downside, though; the UK won’t get the 473bhp manual cars, because M buyers here overwhelmingly choose Competition derivatives, and the new Competition’s power output is simply too much for the manual gearbox.

So, where the full range is offered, you’ll be able to choose ‘normal’ (manual or auto, rear-drive or xDrive) or Competition (auto only, rear-drive or xDrive). In the UK it’ll be Competition, auto, and the option of rear-drive or xDrive.

A deal-breaker? For a few, perhaps, but previously the UK manual uptake was single-digit as a percentage of new M cars sold, so it’s a calculated gamble.

So the M3 can be all-wheel drive?!

It takes a moment to wrap your head around the concept, but only a moment – truth is the M5 Competition sells the idea of an all-wheel-drive M car pretty convincingly. ‘This new generation [of M3/M4] will reinvent itself by virtue of the widest range of drivetrain layouts we’ve yet offered in an M3, so that you can fully exploit the vehicle’s potential in all circumstances,’ explains product management man Hagen Franke.

M3 front tracking

‘This was the plan from start,’ affirms engineer Wolf. ‘The M5 is in a torque and horsepower range where you can hardly find any advantages for a rear-wheel-drive version. In the case of the M3 and M4 we are not quite in that range. We see some situations where you might be better off with rear-wheel drive. This makes the choice the M3/M4 customer has now as perfect.’

Borrowing heavily from the M5/M8 system, M’s take on xDrive powers the rear axle alone until traction is compromised. At that point an electronically controlled multi-plate clutch in the transfer box steps in to optimise the front/rear power split, with the Active M Differential juggling the power left/right on the rear axle. The default mode, 4WD, is fast, grippy and more neutral than Audi’s quattro, on the M5 Competition at least. 4WD Sport is more rear-biased and the pick of the bunch for real-world use, combining any-weather traction with a degree of playfulness, while 2WD opens the door to, as Franke puts it, ‘a lot of fun and a lot of smoke’.

It’s not an M hybrid, then…

For further evidence of M division’s gleeful autonomy, consider this. BMW CEO Oliver Zipse’s efficiency programme – which is so important it’s always written all upper-case, thus: NEXT – is targeting savings in excess of €12 billion by the end of 2022. One of its key strategies? The elimination of up to 50 per cent of BMW’s traditional drivetrain variants from 2021 onwards in favour of more electrification. He’s pretty clear on the matter – fewer powertrain options, more electric power. Got it, M? Not so much…

M3 rear quarter

‘Hybridisation is not at the level we needed it to be at right now,’ explains Franke. ‘We have gone with a more conventional approach. And when you drive the new car you will get an idea of what we are talking about. Just imagine the car having another 100kg in weight that you must pull through the corners – it’s not worth it yet.’

So, there it is – no electrification and a tonne of powertrain combinations. Poor Mr Zipse. He used all upper-case letters and everything.

When can I get one?

First ones come in March 2021 in Europe and, with all-wheel drive versions, you’ll have to wait until the summer of 2021. Want an M3 Touring? You’ll have to hang on until 2023.

As for pricing, there are no official numbers yet, but we’re expecting a base price of around £60k.

Check out our BMW reviews

By Ben Miller

The editor of CAR magazine, story-teller, average wheel count of three