What Car? Awards 2012 website
BMW 3 Series
List price £25,920 Target Price £23,845
There's no need for a drumroll or an X Factor-style dramatic pause. When all three of our finalists come from the same model range, there’s only going to be one winner.
The simple fact is this: however much you’re spending on your compact executive, the BMW 3 Series is your best option. The car is now six years old, but it’s had various engine, suspension and styling tweaks along the way, so it still leads the class in almost every area.
In many of those areas, it leads by no small margin. That is the mark of a truly great car.
For us, the best all-rounder is the 320d ES. The 181bhp four-cylinder turbodiesel engine provides all the punch you’ll ever need, and it’s as flexible as it is powerful. Even more impressive is the way BMW combines this with class-leading figures for emissions and fuel consumption, which means more affordable running costs than for any competitor.
What we really love about the 3 Series, though, is its ability to make you smile every day. Yes, the ride has a firm edge, but it’s never harsh or uncomfortable, and it’s well worth living with the firmness for the strong body control you get in return. It’s complemented by sensational grip, wonderful balance and sharp, feelsome steering, so the 3 Series will make mincemeat of any country lane. If you’re looking for sheer driving pleasure, none of the BMW’s rivals can get anywhere near it.
It has the edge on the rest for quality, too. Every surface you come into contact with is made from dense, appealing materials, and the standard of the assembly is verging on flawless. You get a feeling of classiness the second you climb in, and that’s exactly what a BMW should deliver.
Your passengers are equally well catered for. There’s bags of interior space for four tall adults, and although the boot isn’t an ideal shape, it lacks nothing in volume. ES trim isn’t the most luxurious on offer, but it’s affordable and it provides all the equipment you need, too, including air-conditioning, alloy wheels, four electric windows and a host of safety aids.
In short, the 320d is all the car most people will ever need, and although it’s a prestige product, it won’t cost the earth to buy or run.