Does the introduction of four-wheel-drive dilute the lineage, and does it make the M3 more usable?

What is it?

This, for the first time in history, is a BMW M3 with four-wheel drive.

The BMW M3 Competition xDrive saloon has had additional traction added because the latest-generation car, which we like a lot, gets 503bhp and 479lb ft from its 3.0-litre straight six engine. Rather big numbers. Clearly BMW supposes the rear tyres might need some help from the fronts under acceleration. Something akin to Audi RS levels of security.

Certainly the figures suggest the xDrive system is effective. With only the rear wheels driven, the M3 can go from 0-62mph in 3.9sec. In this xDrive form, that drops to just 3.5sec – a fairly whopping gain. 

In everyday driving, though, the idea is that you won’t know the system is there a great deal. Normally, drive goes to the rear wheels via an eight-speed automatic gearbox, just like it does in the regular, rear-driven M3. But with xDrive, there’s a multi-plate clutch ready to send power forwards, too, through drive shafts and to a front suspension redesigned to accommodate the halfshafts. 

The amount of power diverted forwards varies depending on how much slip the rears would otherwise have but can be adjusted by the driver too, through three modes – Normal 4WD, Sport 4WD (which is slightly more rear-biased) or, with the stability control switched off, it can be abandoned altogether and the M3 returned to rear-drive, complete with its nifty system for rating how well the driver can drift. 

In xDrive form, the M3 costs from £78,425 – a £2765 premium over the regular saloon. The system adds 55kg to the car, making the kerb weight 1780kg.

2 Bmw m3 xdrive 2021 uk first drive review hero side

What's it like?

Without a direct back-to-back comparison during laid-back road driving, you would be hard pushed to tell the difference between the rear-drive M3 and the xDrive M3. I had a two-week gap between drives and couldn’t.

Which I suspect is partly the idea. M3 is M3. That means it’s quite big these days, at 4.8 metres long and 1.9 metres wide across the body, and has a classy and solid-feeling interior. The user interface for the infotainment retains a separate dial and array of buttons, too, thankfully – not the sort of thing you should overlook in a daily proposition. Superb driving position, too.

The engine is strong, with a little lag at low revs but eager to rev out, and snarly while it does it. And the eight-speed automatic transmission is slick.

Back to top

The ride remains firm. Even in the softest of three suspension settings, body control is given a higher priority than comfort and, actually, absorbance doesn’t seem to suffer if you move from Comfort through to Sport on the chassis settings. If anything, there’s less lateral shift and just shorter vertical movements, so it’s no more brittle. I would be tempted to leave it there most of the time.

You can also select how angry you want the engine, how heavy you want the steering and how responsive you want the brake pedal – all horses for courses.

In no mode, mind, does the M3 ever glide quite like the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio, still the benchmark sports saloon around these parts. Nearly all performance cars are too quick for the road these days, but the Alfa Romeo gives, as well as greater chassis deftness, more pleasure back at the modest road speeds that are the norm. The M3, though, wants to go more quickly before it comes alive.

Do so on poor surfaces and the new xDrive system comes into its own. Away from junctions and slow corners where a regular M3’s torque would trouble its rear tyres, the xDrive is far more secure and capable, with hardly a scrabble or a flash of the traction control light. When you do want to go quickly, by gum the M3 doesn’t half go quickly. This is a very serious performance car.

7 Bmw m3 xdrive 2021 uk first drive review dashboard

Back to top

Should I buy one?

Is the M3 Competition xDrive more fun as a result of gaining 4WD? I don’t think so, but given the M3 finds itself as a daily driver in all kinds of conditions, many far worse than an autumnal south-east England where you can still feel the difference, it only enhances the appeal of a good super saloon.

3 Bmw m3 xdrive 2021 uk first drive review hero rear


Matt Prior

Matt Prior
Title: Editor-at-large

Matt is Autocar’s lead features writer and presenter, is the main face of Autocar’s YouTube channel, presents the My Week In Cars podcast and has written his weekly column, Tester’s Notes, since 2013.

Matt is an automotive engineer who has been writing and talking about cars since 1997. He joined Autocar in 2005 as deputy road test editor, prior to which he was road test editor and world rally editor for Channel 4’s automotive website, 4Car. 

Into all things engineering and automotive from any era, Matt is as comfortable regularly contributing to sibling titles Move Electric and Classic & Sports Car as he is writing for Autocar. He has a racing licence, and some malfunctioning classic cars and motorbikes. 

Join the debate

Add a comment…
HiPo 289 27 October 2021

Fascinating how the M3 has become instantly obsolete since the Tesla Model 3 Performance arrived.  The M3 is like a Nokia dumb phone.  Fashionable one minute, terminally uncool the next.  But at least you can redeem an old M3 with an electric conversion. 

Overdrive 28 October 2021
Tesla wet dreamer?
xxxx 26 October 2021

Agreed Nick, for less than 50k you can get a RS3 Saloon

Nickktod 26 October 2021
Permanently pinned to the front page if this website for the last several months has been an “advertising feature” on the new M3 and M4. They are just not selling at these prices, they are far too expensive.

When my father bought his new (E36) M3 in the mid 90’s it was 2/3rds of the price of a contemporary 911 (£33k vs £52k from memory) now an M3 is priced a couple of choice options away from a 992 Carrera and it’s not like Porsche don’t know how to charge top dollar..