What Car? Car of the Year awards 2010 - Compact executive contenders

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Best buy less than £25,000
BMW 316d ES
List price £23,837
Target Price £22,129

At this end of the compact executive market, it’s all about numbers – and, in most cases, the smaller the better. That’s where the BMW 316d has every single one of its rivals knocked into a cocked hat.

How does a CO2 output of just 118g/km sound? Pretty good, we reckon, especially when it puts the car into the lowest (13%) band for company car taxation. There’s more good news – the car’s carbon dioxide output is so low you don’t pay any road tax.

Leasing rates are also what you might call ‘advantageous’, with the 316d commanding a monthly cost of just £422, so the company accountants will celebrate your choice, too.

Private buyers haven’t been forgotten – they’ll benefit from the fact that the 316d will still be worth a hefty 43% of its list price three years down the line.

The 316d does, however, have one number that is bigger than that of any rival – its average economy figure of 62.8mpg means you’ll probably be taken aback by how much your local fuel station attendant has aged between your visits.

It’s not even as if you have to put up with yawn-a-minute performance, because there’s more than enough oomph to keep you engaged. On top of all this, the 316d is simply a brilliant car to drive.

BMW 316d performance
0-62mph 10.9 seconds Top speed 123mph
Running costs
Economy 62.8mpg CO2 118g/km Insurance group 21

What the testers thought...
Just look at those numbers – the ultra-low CO2 emissions and fuel consumption make the 316d an unbelievably tax-efficient company car, and it’s brilliant to drive. Roger.Stansfield@whatcar.com


Best buy £25,000 – £30,000
BMW 320d ES
List price £25,936
Target Price £24,080

This is where the hottest compact executive competition is fought out – and in the 2.0-litre turbodiesel area, the 320d ES had a new rival to sort out this year.

Audi came along with its beautiful-looking A5 Sportback, which aimed to offer a sleeker, hatchback-oriented alternative to the traditional four-door saloons that have dominated the sector.

The Audi’s 2.0-litre TDI engine is certainly pretty sweet, revving smoothly and quietly, and giving the Sportback enough pace to keep things interesting. It isn’t as efficient as the BMW’s, though, failing to match both its high mpg figure and low CO2 output.

The same is true of Audi’s traditional compact exec contender, the A4. What of Mercedes? Its C220 CDI Sport is certainly good looking and comfortable but, while it equals the BMW’s mpg figure, it falls down on CO2 and running costs.

The 320d ES has all of its rivals beaten when it comes to the sheer enjoyment of driving the thing, too. It’s the sort of car that’ll make you want to take the scenic road home from that meeting miles away, but if you can’t be bothered it’ll keep you quite happy on the motorway, too. It’s quiet and smooth at all times, and if the ride can be occasionally a touch firm, it’s never harsh and is always beautifully controlled.

BMW 320d performance
0-62mph 7.9 seconds Top speed 143mph
Running costs
Economy 58.9mpg CO2 128g/km Insurance group 28

What the testers thought...
I love the driving position in the 3 Series – the controls and seat are spot-on. It’s one of the few cars I can get out of after a long journey without any aches and pains. Leo.Wilkinson@whatcar.com


Best buy more than £30,000
BMW 330d SE
List price £31,541
Target Price £29,271

So we reach the highest price bracket and you might notice there’s a bit of a theme developing. Yes, if you’ve got at least £30,000 to spend, the best compact executive car you can choose is… another BMW 3 Series.

This one has a 3.0-litre turbodiesel engine under the bonnet, producing 242 horses that feel like they’re ready for the Grand National. Performance is seriously swift, so even the hottest of hatches will need a serious work-out if it’s to keep up.

Again, Audi and Mercedes offer similarly engined rivals, and again they fall by the wayside. The A4’s 3.0-litre TDI certainly has the straight-line pace to make life interesting, but the UK’s roads tend to have one or two corners thrown into the mix, and the Audi doesn’t do nearly as much as the BMW to entertain and enthral. The BMW is quieter on the motorway, too.

The Mercedes C350 CDI actually offers more torque than the BMW, but this doesn’t translate into better performance, and again the Merc neither steers nor handles as sharply as the 330d.

The final victory is reserved for the balance sheet, because while the BMW outdrives its adversaries, it manages to do so while using less fuel, pumping out less CO2, and in the process costing a lot less to run than either of its rivals here.

BMW 330d performance
0-62mph 6.1 seconds Top speed 155mph
Running costs
Economy 49.6mpg CO2 152g/km Insurance group 35

What the testers thought...
What’s not to like? The 3 Series looks great, it’s astonishing to drive and it’s unbeatable as a company car. If you go for the 330d, it’s also a serious performance car. Steve.Fowler@whatcar.com


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What Car? Car of the Year awards 2010 - Compact executive winner


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