The winner is… Compact executiveBMW 320d ESList price
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£24,850 Target Price
£22,754It's not exactly a surprise — after the 3 Series' domination in this category, the BMW was always going to be our winner.
Domination like this doesn't come easy, and only a car like the 3 Series could pull it off. Not only is it awesomely talented in every area, but it's also class-leading in most — by a mile. That's why the BMW is the best bet, no matter how much money you've got to spend here.
It's the stand-out leader in the class for driving pleasure. Grip and body control are so strong that it feels glued to the road, whatever the conditions. The steering is packed with feel, so you're always in tune with what's going on. It's involving, yet unflappable — a mightily impressive combination. Granted, the ride has a firm edge at low speed, but mostly it's comfortable enough.Performance
The 2.0-litre diesel engine in our favourite, the 320d, is the smoothest and quietest of its kind, and it never leaves you short of performance. The BMW is also the quietest compact exec — you hear a little wind noise, but that's only because both road and suspension noise are so well isolated.
Despite its power, the 3 Series has the strongest green credentials in its class thanks to Efficient Dynamics. This includes a Stop-Start system that cuts the engine in traffic to save fuel. Such measures cut your CO2 output and fuel consumption to minuscule proportions, so it's cheap to run. The premium image means you won't suffer much depreciation, either.Class act
Where does this premium image come from? Well, the blue-and-white badge helps, but it's also due, in no small part, to the class-leading quality and attention to detail of the interior. It oozes class, thanks to sumptuous materials and chic design, and the controls work with the sort of slick feel that reminds you every day that you're sat in something pretty special. It's roomy enough for four gangly adults to travel long distances without grumbling, and there's a big boot, too.
We've gone for the 320d, because it provides all the performance you'll ever need at a reasonable cost. Likewise, ES trim provides all the essential kit, but keeps things relatively cheap.
In short, the 3 Series is great at pretty much everything. It's been around for almost four years now and, with only one minor face-lift under its belt, it's still streets ahead of the rest. Newer versions of the Audi A4
and Mercedes C-Class
have tried to topple it but, to be honest, they never even got close. The 3 Series is the real deal: it's hard to see it being beaten any time soon.