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If you need a high-performance luxury sedan, the BMW M3 has traditionally stood at or near the top of the suggestion list. And 2021 sees BMW bring back the even higher-performance M3 Competition. But over the last few years, the German automaker has seen increased competition from Italy in the form of the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio. So, which sporty sedan is the one to buy?

What do you get with the 2021 BMW M3 Competition?

A blue 2021 BMW M3 Competition on a runway
2021 BMW M3 Competition | BMW

In the past, the Competition Package merely gave the BMW M3 some suspension and stability control tweaks. But the 2021 M3 Competition gets more than just that.

Like the standard 2021 BMW M3, the M3 Competition has a 3.8-liter twin-turbocharged inline-six engine. And while optional AWD is coming on the 2022 M3 Competition, for 2021 it’s RWD-only, just like the ‘base’ M3. However, although the latter offers a six-speed manual, the former is only available with an eight-speed automatic. That’s because the manual transmission isn’t rated for the Competition model’s extra power.

Compared to the standard 2021 BMW M3, the M3 Competition has 30 more hp and 73 more lb-ft of torque. That means a total of 503 hp and 479 lb-ft of torque, which BMW claims is good for a 3.8-second 0-60 mph time. And to keep the M3 Competition’s transmission from over-heating, the sedan has a dedicated transmission cooler.

Otherwise, though, the 2021 BMW M3 Competition is the same as the ‘standard’ M3. That means, compared to the regular 3 Series, it has a stiffer chassis, sport seats, upgraded suspension components, and a retuned power-steering system. Plus, an electronically-controlled limited-slip differential, adaptive dampers, ventilated disc brakes, and a carbon-fiber roof. And both M3 models offer the same optional features, such as carbon-fiber bucket seats and carbon-ceramic brakes.

The 2021 Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio packs plenty of speed

A green 2021 Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio on a racetrack
2021 Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio | Alfa Romeo

In the US, the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio is the sportiest version of the Giulia sedan, as we aren’t getting the Giulia GTAm. However, don’t think of the Quadrifoglio as some kind of consolation prize. It has the specs and features of a genuine luxury sports sedan.

To start, the 2021 Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio has Ferrari power—kind of. Under the Alfa’s hood is a 2.9-liter twin-turbocharged V6 based on the Ferrari California T’s V8. And it makes 505 hp and 443 lb-ft of torque sent to the rear wheels via an eight-speed automatic. It’s actually the same eight-speed automatic the BMW M3 Competition uses, MotorTrend notes.

Unlike the M3 Competition, the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio doesn’t have optional AWD. But otherwise, it matches the M3 well in terms of performance features. The Giulia Quadrifoglio has adjustable driving modes, dampers, and exhaust settings, Top Gear reports, as well as larger brakes, grippier tires, quicker steering, and sportier suspension than the standard Giulia. Plus, it has not just a carbon-fiber roof, but a carbon-fiber driveshaft and hood, too. And as on the M3 Competition, carbon-ceramic brakes and carbon-fiber bucket seats are optional.

MotorTrend only called one of them “driving ambrosia”

Despite the extra carbon-fiber components, MT found the 2021 Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio to be slightly heavier than the BMW M3 Competition. So, despite its slight horsepower advantage, the Alfa is slower to 60 mph. Both sedans, though, beat their manufacturers’ 0-60 mph claims. MT recorded a 0-60 mph time of 3.7 seconds in the Giulia Quadrifoglio and 3.5 seconds in the M3 Competition.

But while the M3 Competition eked out more speed, MT preferred driving the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio, if only slightly. That’s not to say the BMW is a bad performance car by any means. To quote MT, “if you covet outright capability…mark down the M3 as the winner.” Its transmission shifts quickly and crisply at all times and the “spectacular engine” makes “brutal power.” Plus, the suspension and tires let the M3 Competition put that power down “incredibly well,” MT says.

However, that last point only stands if you’ve set the BMW M3 Competition in the correct mode. Turn off too many aids or put the car in the wrong setting and it’s easy to overdrive those rear tires, MT says. And compared to the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio, the M3’s driver settings are more difficult to adjust.

The 2021 Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio sparks more joy for MotorTrend

To be fair, MT notes that the Giulia Quadrifoglio’s one-dial adjustment method is arguably too simplistic. And while the M3 Competition’s carbon-ceramic brakes are a bit mushy, the Alfa’s brake-by-wire system is slightly too touchy. Plus, in its most aggressive drive mode, the Giulia Quadrifoglio disables the traction and stability control systems.

But even so, the Alfa Romeo is “simply beautiful to drive,” MT gushes. The steering is light but delivers more feedback than the M3’s steering. Even with the aids off, it’s more neutral and flows more easily down the road than the BMW. The M3 Competition might be enormously capable, but the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio is more fun. That’s why MT gave it the win, if only just.

It’s worth noting that Autocar put the M3 Competition ahead of the Giulia Quadrifoglio in part because of the former’s capability and adjustability. But it was also a tough decision for Autocar precisely for the same Alfa qualities MT mentioned.

That’s ultimately what sets these two sports sedans apart. In terms of outright speed and handling, the 2021 BMW M3 Competition stands ahead of the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio. But the Alfa focuses less on the destination and more on the journey, giving up some capability for sensation. It’s for drivers who care less about how fast they’re going than how much they’re enjoying the drive.

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The 2020 Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio Takes on Its Classic Counterpart