BMW M3, other sporty models keeping 4-door sedans appealing in 2021

To many car enthusiasts, one combination of letter and number mean a lot: M3. As in the BMW M3, which for many years has been the benchmark for sport sedans.

And it's back for 2021, fiercer than ever. BMW's legendary inline six engine now produces a blistering 473 horsepower, or 30 more in the competition model. Oh, and purists will love that a six-speed manual transmission is again available. The M3 gets an improved chassis too, as well as aggressive looks that befit such a bona fide sport sedan. Though its large grille is controversial, and it carries a base sticker price of right around $70,000 before option packages.

Sedans are less popular than they used to be. But sport sedans are helping the segment, both directly and with overall brand cachet.

Lexus updated its IS350 model for 2021, and once again the F-Sport is the enthusiast's choice. A nice balance of Lexus luxury, and sport sedan performance, with 311 horsepower from its V6 engine, for a base price of around $43,000. A hotter IS500 model with a V8 is on the way too, arriving later this year.

For smaller budgets, this year brings a sporty version of Hyundai's Sonata, the N-Line model. The engine is small but mighty, with two liters of displacement, turbocharged, making 290 horsepower. The fun really gets going when you activate Sport Mode via a switch on the console. Commute during the week, and find your favorite twisty road on the weekends. Lots of driving fun for a base price of under $34,000.

There are really two kinds of buyers for these sporting sedans. First, there are the people who want the performance. But there are also people who won't necessarily use that performance - they just like them for the looks.

And that's especially true for luxury brands. Hyundai's premium division, Genesis, just completely revamped its mid-size G80 sedan for 2021. While most buyers see it as a luxury car, there's no mistaking its performance vibe, especially with the more powerful 3.5T model with its 370 horsepower. But inside, you'll find the luxury that buyers expect. The most powerful G80 starts at around $60,000, though if you can live with "only" 300 horsepower, the 2.5T version of the G80 starts at just under $48,000.

So while sedans are not the sales chart leaders they once were, sport sedans are keeping the 4-door segment viable.

MORE | Audi, Mercedes-Benz offer wagons with mega horsepower
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Wagons are a niche vehicle and have been since SUVs became so popular. Through the years, Cadillac, Acura and Buick all had wagons at one point and all of those quietly went away. Now, Audi and Mercedes-Benz have created niches within the wagon niche.

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